Second Military Coup In Mali In Nine Months: Highlights Political Instability And Deeper Tensions In West Africa’s Sahel

After a military coup ousted the president and prime minister of Mali’s transitional government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has suspended Mali’s membership. At an emergency summit held on May 30th, leaders of the 15-member bloc voted to temporarily suspend Mali and urged authorities to follow a clear timeline for a return to democracy. ECOWAS, however, stopped short of imposing any new sanctions. Days later, on June 2nd, the African Union followed suit by suspending Mali’s membership in the international body.

On May 25th, it was reported that Mali’s Vice-President Assimi Goita had removed President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and several of their advisors from office. Goita had previously led a military coup in August 2020, which overthrew then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and then-Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and replaced them with a transitional government. Subsequently, on May 29th, Mali’s top constitutional court declared Goita the new interim president. This ruling was seen as a major determinant of the decisions of ECOWAS and the African Union to suspend the nation’s membership in response to the unfolding military coup.

According to CNN, the transitional government established in 2020 promised to restore democracy by holding legislative and presidential elections in February 2022. Mali’s Local Transition Monitoring Committee, which includes the African Union, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and ECOWAS said in a statement that “along with members of the international community, including France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the EU, express profound concern regarding the situation in Mali marked by the arrest of the transitional president and the prime minister.” The committee further demanded the release of the imprisoned authorities and accountability for those responsible for their arrest. 

Top officials from France, a former colonial power and military ally to Mali, said on June 1st that they are fully prepared to sanction those involved in the coup. French President Emmanuel Macron explicitly stated “in the coming hours, if the situation hasn’t cleared up, we are ready to take targeted sanctions against the people involved. What has been carried out is an unacceptable coup within a coup which calls for immediate condemnation.”

According to Reuters, Mali’s neighbors in West Africa’s Sahel region and international partners fear this second coup will further jeopardize the commitments made to hold a presidential election next February. Foreign observers are equally concerned that regional efforts to fight Islamist militant groups, who have wreaked havoc on the political and economic landscape of West Africa in recent years will be undermined. This past March, suspected Islamist militants armed with machine guns killed nine civilians in attacks on multiple villages in central Mali. Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State regularly attack national security forces, U.N. peacekeepers, and civilians in the area and have fueled ethnic conflict amongst farming communities. According to Reuters, “Mali has been in crisis since Islamist militants seized its desert north in 2012.”

It is essential that a civilian-led, fair, transparent, and accountable government be formed as Mali navigates its transition to democracy. The UN Stabilization Mission in Mali, established in April 2013, has failed to successfully carry out its mission of ensuring the security of civilians and supporting the re-establishment of a functioning government. According to Human Rights Watch, “over 40,000 civilians fled their homes as a result of violence in 2020.” Peace processes have made minimal progress towards disarming and restoring state authority in Mali. Mali’s international partners, including the United States and France, ought to call for accountability within the Malian security forces. Progress must be made towards delivering justice for war crimes since 2012; additionally, the Malian government’s inclination towards short-term reconciliation efforts must extend to include long-term, structural efforts to mitigate communal conflict. The National Commission for Human Rights, along with the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, must investigate the human rights abuses commited by security forces to support a path towards sustainable peace and meaningful justice.