Military Coups in Mali


Photo source: BBC
By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

In August 2020, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was forced to announce resignation live on state television by the army. From Kati, one of the biggest garrison towns of Mali, soldiers had marched to the capital, arrested high level state officials, and surrounded Keita’s residence in Sebenikoro. 

The mutiny was done by mid and high-level officers of the armed forces. After Keita’s resignation, the coup leaders gathered under the banner of the Comite National pour le Salut du Peuple appeared on national television. Although reaffirming political transition, and allowing elections within a reasonable time frame, they vowed to the public that elections would be held sooner or later. They had justified their incursion for bringing social peace and stability to the country, as Mali was already in deeper chaos, anarchy and insecurity.

Since 1960, when Mali gained independence from France, there have been five coups, and only one peaceful transition from one democratically elected president to another.

Coups are generally disdained in democratic nations, but in Mali, people went on celebrating the last one. Malians cheered the army as they entered the Independence Square. The coup was also related to the protests that happened in June 2020. A protest movement that helped in weakening Kéita’s power, was called M5. It arose due to rising insecurity, alleged corruption, and a failing economy. But it was mostly excluded from the transition, with the few exception of a few. 

The UN security council had scheduled a closed meeting to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where it has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission.

Previously, too, Mali had witnessed protests. Back then in 1991, Malians had used successful nonviolent action to end twenty three years of one party rule. The opposition had organised a nationwide strike, and soldiers refused to fire into crowds, and instead had joined the demonstrators. As military defected, then Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure led a paratrooper unit to arrest the president. His supporters called him a ‘soldier of democracy’. Toure then suspended the constitution and called for multi-party elections. He handed power to a transitional government; in 1992 Alpha Oumar Konare was elected president, a position he held for two terms. Toure was then elected president in 2002, and again in 2007. But in March 2012, just weeks before presidential elections scheduled for April, Amadou Sanogo overthrew Toure, claiming that the military needed to remove the politicians from power to stop the rapid advance of violent extremist groups. However, the Islamic extremists and ethnic separatists had exploited the chaos in 2012 by seizing swaths of territory in northern Mali.

Many Malians also felt that Toure had derailed democracy with corruption and a lack of transparency, and supported the coup. Mali’s neighbours opposed it strongly, and immediately issued sanctions that led Sanogo to relinquish power to the president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traore, who became Mali’s interim president. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta took office in September 2013, following hastily organised elections in July and August 2013.

The formation of the new government had opened new avenue for peace talks, and the conflict largely died down in 1992, as a result of negotiations between the transitional government and Tuareg separatists.

Although, Mali was condemned by international bodies such as ECOWAS, the European Union, France, and the African Union. All had issues statements condemning the arrest of Keita and the mutineers.

Despite the condemnations, the CNSP has affirmed that it will observe all international agreements, particularly the 2015 Algiers peace agreement, and that it wishes to continue working with the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, as well as with the two ongoing French-led operations in the Sahel, called Barkhane and Takuba. 

These international partners have relied on Keita and his regime for the past seven years. As the coup received little resistance, it has been met with astonishment from Mali’s international partners.

After the wake of August 2020 coup, Malian army officers detained President BahNdaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane in 2021, who were appointed to steer the country back into civilian rule. Colonel Assimi Goita, the leader of August 2020 power grab and vice president of the interim government, had accused the pair of incompetence and violating the transitional charter.

Things haven’t changed in Mali for good. The junta, which had initially embodied a hope for change, eventually appeared to encore the system it overthrew. None of the leaders of the old regime were questioned, including those against whom there were strong accusations. After the second coup, African Union cancelled Mali’s membership. 

Andrew Lebovich, a Sahel specialist at Columbia University and the European Council on Foreign Relations commented: ‘The coup was an attempt to try to reassert some form of civilian control over the transition.’

The last coup, it seems, has geostrategic implications. According to an Oped written by Boubacar Haidara in The Conversation: ‘Since the president and his prime minister were arrested, a certain opinion has been formed by supporters of the junta who believe that the current situation comes down to a confrontation of two divergent points of view. The first, represented by the arrested executive, is seen as beholden to the interests of France, the publication of the new cabinet came barely 48 hours after Ndaw’s return from Paris. The second, representing the junta, opposes the influence of Mali’s former coloniser, promoting instead a rapprochement with Russia.’


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