Military officials in Mali detained the president, prime minister, and defense minister of the interim government on Monday, according to UN and African Union officials. This worsens an already chaotic political situation in a country beset by an Islamic insurgency.

President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Defense Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all detained and taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital city of Bamako.

Their detention happened an hour after a government reshuffle resulted in Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone and Defense Minister Sadio Camara, two members of the military junta that had seized power in a coup last summer, losing their positions in the interim government. No reason was given for the junta supporters’ ouster which suggests discord within the interim government.

After Kone and Camara were excluded, the military acted quickly. Thus, it is likely that the Malian junta was aware of the two men’s removal beforehand.

International Condemnation

A joint statement from several UN members, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for the immediate release of the detained officials.

“The international community rejects in advance any act of coercion, including forced resignations,” the statement read. “They emphasize that the ill-considered action taken today carries the risk of weakening the mobilization of the international community in support of Mali.”

In addition, the United Nations mission in Mali called for the group’s “immediate and unconditional” release and said those who hold the leaders would have to answer for their actions.

The U.S. State Department also released a statement urging for the “unconditional release of those currently being held.”

Prime Minister Moctar Ouane was detained by the Malian military and held at an army base along with the president and defense minister.

Now, the elections, which were scheduled to take place in 18 months by the military junta following August’s coup against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita are called into question. 

The former French colony is fighting Islamist insurgents including groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists control large areas of the semi-arid Sahel in the north.

President Ndaw and Prime Minister Ouane were sworn in last September after the ruling military junta agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government after pressure from ECOWAS and the UN for a return to civilian authority.

Mali coup
Malian military junta leaders after the coup against President Keita last summer

Last summer, the military coup leaders had encircled the home of then-President Keita and fired shots into the air. He later resigned on national television stating that he did not want any blood to be shed in order for him to stay in office.

Mali’s Many Afflictions

Coups are more the rule rather than the exception in Mali. Prior to President Keita being deposed, he had taken office following a military coup against his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure in 2012. 

Toure’s ouster triggered an insurgency by ethnic Tuareg separatists. The insurgency was quickly hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists who swept across northern Mali before France came to the aid of its former colony in 2013 pushing the insurgents to a remote corner of the country.

Nevertheless, the insurgency’s root causes have not been eradicated and the insurgents have regrouped and come back stronger. They’re now joined by terrorists from the Islamic State. 

Mali’s insurgency has spread to the other Sahel countries Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. The violence against the population has skyrocketed and their displacement and suffering rivals only Yemen’s as the worst on the planet

The president, prime minister, and defense minister’s detention at a military base is a poor sign for a country struggling to gain international and domestic support. And with the increased violence and political instability, the international community will be reluctant to give further aid to Mali.