The military leaders of Mali have conducted a coup, ousting President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from power.
The military had had enough: Government corruption, economic mismanagement, the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and the Islamic jihadists’ insurgency have paralyzed and decimated the country’s outlying areas. The military’s frustration was compounded by the poor bad and bad conditions it faces. For better or worse, it decided to act.
The 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had sent a delegation to try to put together a unity government. But the military wasn’t waiting.
On Tuesday, troops surrounded Keita’s residence firing shots into the air. Keita and the prime minister, Boubou Cisse were soon detained along with other members of the cabinet. Several hours later Keita appeared on ORTM, to announce his resignation. A banner across the bottom of the television screen referred to him as the “outgoing president.”
Keita, wearing a mask to protect himself from the coronavirus, sounded like a man with very limited options. “I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” Keita said. “I have decided to step down from office.”
“If today, certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?” Keita asked.
“I hold no hatred towards anyone, my love of my country does not allow me to,” he added. “May God save us.”
President Keita was democratically elected in a landslide campaign back in 2013. He was re-elected to a five-year term in 2018. But since then, his once surging popularity had plummeted. The citizens of Mali, disheartened by the deterioration of conditions in the country, had taken to the streets calling for his resignation.
The military has organized themselves under what they are calling the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. It is led by General Sadio Camarra and Colonel Malick Diaw.
The military has promised new elections and the setup of an interim civilian government despite the international community, including many of the countries with a stake in the security situation in Bamako condemning the coup.
The military went on national television to send its message to the people of Mali.
Surrounded by troops involved in the coup, spokesman Colonel Major Ismael Wagué, the air force’s deputy chief of staff said, “Our country is sinking into chaos, anarchy, and insecurity mostly due to the fault of the people who are in charge of its destiny.”
“We are keen on the stability of the country, which will allow us to organize general elections to allow Mali to equip itself with strong institutions within the reasonable time limit,” said, Col Wagué. “With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness.”
“Civil society and political social movements are invited to join us to create together the best conditions for a civil political transition leading to credible general elections for the exercise of democracy through a roadmap that will lay the foundations for a new Mali,” said Wagué.
“As of today, all air and land borders are closed until further notice. A curfew is in place from 09:00 to 17:00 until further notice,” he added.
France, which once held Mali as a colony and has come to its aid during the Islamic insurgency, deploying over 5,100 troops in the country, condemned the coup.
French foreign minister Jean Yves Le Drian urged soldiers to return to their barracks. His call was quickly repeated by the United Nations and the African Union. The U.S. envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, tweeted that the U.S. was “opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government.”
The U.N. Security Council had a closed meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission.
Many Malian citizens are quite apprehensive about what is taking place now, because of similar events eight years ago, when another army mutiny started from the same camp. Amadou Toumani Touré, the president at the time, was forced to resign by the military after a series of victories by an alliance of jihadists and Tuareg separatists.
The Islamic jihadists, some allied with al-Qaeda and later with the Islamic State, had imposed a vicious and intolerant rule in the areas they occupied during the initial 2012 insurgency. Beheadings, mutilations, rapes, and arbitrary imprisonments ran rampant. Many of Mali’s historic sites, were destroyed, and literature — including invaluable manuscripts in Timbuktu — were burned by jihadists intent on erasing history and creating a new one.
The jihadists had overrun most of the country, including Timbuktu in the north, and were threatening to seize Bamako. The French and other allied African forces intervened in Operation Serval with 4,000 troops, helicopter gunships, and artillery and quickly pushed them back.
But al-Qaeda and ISIS, as we’ve seen elsewhere, are a resilient bunch. They have since reorganized, regrouped, and have been waging a bloody insurgency. The insurgency has spread westward and south.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said, in reference to Tuesday’s coup, that it was “aware of the events in Mali.” The U.S. has a limited number of personnel in Mali, who primarily perform counter-terrorism activities with local and international partners.
“All U.S. service members are accounted for. We will continue to monitor this situation,” AFRICOM said in a statement.