Mali’s President Is Overthrown In Coup After Months Of Unrest

On Tuesday, August 18, Malian soldiers stormed the residence of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and arrested him at gunpoint. Shortly after, in the early hours of Wednesday, Keita appeared on state television announcing his resignation and the dissolution of his legislative body. “For seven years I had the happiness and the joy of trying to straighten out this country,” he said, “I don’t want any blood to be shed to keep me in my position.” 

The mutiny was the culmination of widespread protests across Bamako. For months, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding Keita’s resignation, referring to themselves as the June 5 Movement (M5-RFP). They accused him of sinking Mali’s economy and inadequately responding to internal unrest, leaving large swaths of the country’s northern and central regions ungovernable.

Ironically, Keita came to power with strong military support after a 2012 coup, which was staged in opposition to the former government’s weak response to the Tuareg insurgency in the north. The nation was hopeful that Keita, who was democratically elected in 2013 and again in 2018, would push the country towards a democratic future, after decades of unrest and kleptocracy. 

Nonetheless, turmoil continued, with the prevalence of Islamic extremist groups, linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS, carrying out attacks and engendering a worsening security vacuum. It’s also widely believed that rampant fraud occurred in the 2018 election that saw Keita’s reelection. The landlocked nation has also experienced a worsening financial situation, with nearly half the country’s inhabitants living in extreme poverty. 

Mali’s unrest poses a threat to the security of the greater Sahel region, which has experienced its fair share of instability in recent years. To combat this, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) closed Mali’s borders and has temporarily revoked Bamako’s decision-making status in the body. 

Tuesday’s coup has drawn sharp international condemnation, from ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States. Many have deemed the move as unconstitutional, demanding the soldiers release Keita. In a Wednesday morning statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced “The United States calls on all political and military actors to work towards the restoration of constitutional government.”

The coup was executed with relative ease, and experts are wondering whether the planning of the operation had been in the works for a long time. Additionally, there appeared to be no fighting between military units, which suggests Mali’s forces may have enacted the overthrow in coordination. Many of the coup leaders were soldiers that had been trained by international militaries, most prominently by the US and Russia.

According to Al Jazeera, Coronel Ismael Wague, a spokesman for the mutineers, said that the coup was intended to prevent Mali from falling further into chaos. Military officers announced that they are working to restore stability and that they plan to hold elections within a “reasonable” period. In the meantime, Mali’s near future is clouded with uncertainty, and the future leader would bode well to listen to the demands of the protestors and work diligently to remedy the country’s persisting problems from decades of inadequate leadership and unrest. 

Dorothy Settles