Mali’s coup is applauded at home but upsets its neighbors

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EPA

Crowds rejoiced after a group of colonels took power in Mali, a vast country stretching as far as the Sahara, where troops – including French soldiers and UN peacekeepers – are fighting jihadist groups, but not everyone is happy, writes West African analyst Paul Melly.

Negotiations are reportedly underway for the exile of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, deposed Tuesday as President of Mali in a military coup and currently detained with his son, his Prime Minister Boubou Cissé and several other senior government officials.

But now Ecowas, the West African regional bloc to which Mali belongs, has drawn a firm line, with member heads of state calling for Mr. Keïta’s reinstatement as president.


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Media legendFive factors that made the coup against former Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta more likely

The tired-sounding 75-year-old announced his forced resignation in a televised statement around midnight Tuesday, apparently from a room in the Kati military base, 15 km from Bamako, where he and Mr. Cisse had been taken by soldiers this afternoon.

It came after more than two months of clash with an alliance of opposition politicians and civil society, the M5-RFP, on whose behalf massive crowds staged a series of street protests skillfully piloted by the charismatic Imam Mahmoud Dicko.

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AFP

Legend

Imam Mahmoud Dicko says he’s not interested in political leadership


The protesters had only one central demand – the resignation of Mr Keïta, although Mr Dicko refrained from asking explicitly himself.

In the negotiations negotiated by Ecowas, Mr. Keïta had made concession after concession, but without ever giving up either his own position or the decisive reforms which would have clearly put an end to his control of the state machine.

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This was not enough and finally a group of senior officers – but not high ranking ones – decided to end their occupation of the presidency.

But Ecowas is not ready to accept this unconstitutional change of power and his envoy, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, is expected to return to Bamako soon to speak to the putchists.

Difficult negotiations await us and no one can be sure how they will unfold.

Lost opportunity

When gunshots were heard at Kati barracks on Tuesday, it was not immediately obvious that this was anything other than a mutiny by ordinary soldiers angry at high-level corruption as ‘they were risking their lives in the war against the jihadists in the north.

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AFP

Legend

Mr. Keïta did not use his early popularity to deal with unrest in northern Mali where dozens of soldiers were killed


But as military vehicles swept from Kati towards Bamako to arrest Mr. Keïta and a series of senior officials, it became clear that something much more substantial was underway.

The exasperation with Mr. Keïta is much more distant than the confrontation with the demonstrators in recent months.

Faith in the slogans of restoring national pride that led him to the electoral victory over technocratic Soumaïla Cissé in 2013 had long since vanished.

International partners were dismayed by Mr. Keïta’s inability to use his early popularity to tip politicians and the public behind the difficult compromises needed to effectively implement peace with Tuareg separatists in the north, a delaying approach which left a vacuum in which terrorism could flourish.

Learn more about Mali’s battle against the jihadists

But for Malians, especially in the south and center, where most of the inhabitants live, Mr. Keïta’s administration has been the most tarnished by a series of corruption scandals, sometimes undermining basic services such as the supplying fertilizer to poor farmers, amid ostentatious life stories. of the ruling elite.

The president only got an easy re-election in 2018 because traditional opponents and a series of new centrist groups failed to establish a common front.

The issue that ultimately sparked the massive rise of popular anger that has spread through the streets of Bamako this year was rather narrowly political: the decision of the Constitutional Court to overturn the results of 31 parliamentary seats in the elections held in two tours in March and April.

It reversed the government’s humiliation by voters in Bamako constituencies – and it came at a time when feelings were already high after activists from the north kidnapped opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé as ‘he was campaigning in the north, near Timbuktu. He’s still a hostage now.

Yacht holidays

Then, after Covid-19 forced Bamako residents to undergo lockdown measures, and as Malian soldiers continued to sacrifice their lives in the northern war, images emerged appearing to show the president’s son, Karim – chairman of the defense committee of the parliament – on a vacation yacht abroad. .

The images could not be verified and may be old.

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Getty Images

Legend

French President Emmanuel Macron, pictured here with Mr. Keïta last year, wants a return to civilian rule


Karim Keïta himself insisted on the fact that no public expenditure had been incurred – yet the images could only fuel more the perceptions of a presidential circle somehow not engaged and distant from the multiple crises of Mali.

Throughout all of this, Mr. Keïta’s Prime Minister has struggled diligently to chart a political course and tackle the country’s real problems. But Boubou Cisse did not have the independent personal weight to save the besieged administration.

Ecowas mediation was progressing, but slowly – then this week the soldiers stepped in.

So where does Mali go from here?

Col Ismaël Wagué (center)

EPA

The putschists of Mali:

The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP)

  • With Assimi Goita:Head of the CNSP and head of the special forces of Mali

  • Col Malick Diaw:Vice-president of the CNSP; deputy leader of the camp where the mutiny began

  • Col Ismaël Wagué:The spokesperson for the junta; of the air force (photo)

  • Col Sadio Camara:Former head of the military academy where the mutiny began

  • Col Modibo Koné:Played a key role in the fight against jihadists

Source: BBC Monitoring et Reuters

In the very short term, the large UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, French counterterrorism forces and national military units deployed in the north and center should be able to maintain a stable security position.

But the position is fragile and jihadist groups will rejoice if there is a prolonged delay in agreeing to arrangements for a transition, new elections and an internationally accepted interim government.

One person who has already signaled that they will not take on a frontline role at this point is Mr. Dicko.

The influential imam has declared his intention to retire from politics for the time being, although he will remain an influential figure, if and when he chooses to exercise that influence.

In the meantime, many are suspended from the now awaited talks between the putschists, the M5-RFP and Ecowas.

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