On August 18th, Malian military forces surrounded the residence in Bamako where President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse were housed. The soldiers, led by Colonel Assimi Goita and a new organization calling itself the Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple (National Committee for the Salvation of the People, CNSP), fired their weapons until the president and prime minister surrendered. Within hours, Keita announced his resignation and the dissolution of the National Assembly.
Keita gave his resignation on Malian national television, claiming, “I don’t want any blood to be shed to keep me in my position.” Not long after the address, Colonel-Major Ismaël Wagué, the CNSP’s spokesman, took the channel to assure Mali that the CNSP is committed to a peaceful transfer of power. This will be accomplished through a general election, Wagué said, to be held soon.
Al Jazeera reported that several of Mali’s West African neighbors, the African Union, the European Union, and former colonial power France “denounced the actions of the soldiers and warned against any unconstitutional change of power.” The CNSP was unfazed.
“We are not holding on to power but we are holding on to the stability of the country,” Wagué said during his live broadcast.
It is unclear if the M5-RFP (Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques) opposition group, which has been the driving force behind months of mass protests calling for Keita to resign, had any connection to the coup. Imam Mahmoud Dicko, the face of the M5 group, appeared to give approval to the coup’s leaders. “Challenge met!” Imam Dicko’s Facebook page reads. “Mission Accomplished! But we remain vigilant, Mali will no longer be governed as in the past. So let’s always stand up for Mali.” In a statement Wednesday, the M5 told Reuters that it has “taken note of CNSP’s commitment to the transferal of power via the ballot box” and intends to collaborate with the CNSP to facilitate the coming election.
Why does it matter?
This coup comes at a difficult time for Mali. The north and central regions of the country are essentially run by Salafi-jihadist groups and local militia coalitions. Both of these groups are likely to take the opportunities created from the political confusion to expand their control, as they did in 2012. Moreover, the weakened Malian military may require further intervention from France, which has had troops in the region since the 2012 Operation Serval.
Either way, the coup continues a cycle in Mali which undermines its already weak institutions. Outside of the presidency, Mali’s strongest institution is the military. When corruption and incompetent governance goes unchecked, the military is compelled to act in the “interest” of the country. But whoever takes control after a coup must confront several complex issues simultaneously: corruption, weak government institutions, security, lack of basic services and infrastructure, and poor economic conditions. All of these issues take time to appropriately address, and a new government may not have time to build and implement solutions before being ousted itself.
What came before?
This is Mali’s fourth coup since gaining independence in 1960.
The first, in 1968, also removed a president Kieta – Modibo Kieta. He was removed for familiar reasons – poor governance, economic conditions, and food shortages in an environment of rising public unrest. The leader of the coup, Lieutenant Moussa Traoré, also promised to hold democratic elections soon. Unfortunately, those elections never came. Traoré assumed the presidency and held it until his removal in 1991 – Mali’s second coup.
After decades of corruption, Traoré’s authoritarian rule and worsening economic conditions again spurred pro-democratic protests. The subsequent government crackdown, which resulted in “dozens killed or injured,” pushed Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré to lead the next coup in 1991. Touré organized elections by the following year, and Alpha Konare was elected president in the first democratic process since the 1960s. Konare would serve a second term before Touré himself was elected in 2002. Touré and Konare oversaw Mali’s few peaceful transitions of power.
By 2012, Tuareg rebels in the north were frustrating the United States-trained Malian military. Captain Amadou Sanogo blamed the president for the military’s failures and led a coup against President Amadou Touré. Ironically, the group’s disorganization led to harsh sanctions from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the loss of most of northern Mali to the Tuaregs. Eventually, President Touré and Captain Sanogo were forced to resign in a bid to end the debilitating sanctions. The country was left in the hands of a transitional government headed by Dioncounda Traoré, parliament speaker under President Touré.
What comes next?
Mali’s current chaos risks giving an opportunity to insurgent groups throughout the region, as neighboring nations use scarce resources to stabilize the areas around Mali and maintain their own security. The other African nations of the ECOWAS have already closed the borders around the country and stopped “all economic, commercial and financial flows and transactions between member countries and Mali.”
If this latest transformation is to be successful, the putschists will need to learn the lessons of the past and move quickly to reinstate democratic control. Strong democratic institutions are necessary before a strong democracy can take root. Mali must establish rule of law and an independent judiciary system to weed out corruption. In addition, the new government in Bamako must provide basic services and security to the rest of the country, or Malians will forever be fighting off jihadist advances.
Mali’s problems are multi-faceted. The solution will require more than just a new election.