Panafrican News Agency

Mali coup: Mali plunges into period of uncertainty – humanitarian bodies

Bamako, Mali (PANA) - The forced resignation of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on Tuesday, when soldiers arrested him at gunpoint, has plunged the West African country, into a new phase of uncertainty, according to humanitarian organizations operating in the region.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the coup – which left four people dead and more than a dozen injured, according to Amnesty International – and suspended Mali from these respective bodies.

The chorus of disapproval included statements from the European Union and the United States demanding that the military leaders release Keita, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other officials detained on Tuesday.

AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called on the ECOWAS, the United Nations and the entire international community “to combine our collective efforts to oppose any use of force as a means to end the political crisis in Mali”.

The junta leaders, who call themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), have ordered a nighttime curfew and the closure of land and air borders – a move likely to impact humanitarian organisations working in the country which has been plagued for years by extremist violence.

On Friday, however, the junta reopened the country’s borders. But  ECOWAS has closed all land and air borders between its Member States and Mali, and ordered a halt to all economic, commercial and financial flows and transactions with the country until constitutional order is effectively restored

Many fear that the group’s actions could further destabilise Mali and the wider Sahel region, , where al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic-State-linked groups continue to expand their reach, triggering record displacement of the population.

According to Malian journalist and commentator Bokar Sangaré, “a period of uncertainty is beginning”.

Local economist Etienne Sissoko has told The New Humanitarian (TNH) that the prices of goods will likely increase as trade slows and regional sanctions bite. International donors may also pause funding, he said, weakening an already lacklustre economy.

The junta has promised quick elections and a civilian transition, but its intentions remain unclear. Brema Ely Dicko, a sociologist from the University of Bamako, was quoted by TNH as saying that soldiers can expect stiff opposition should they try to hold on to power. 

“If they don’t honour their commitments, they will face further uprisings in a few months,” he said. Democratic elections won’t be enough to solve Mali’s interlocking crises if the same “old dinosaurs” get elected again.

In an email, Klaus Spreyermann, head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mali, said the needs of people affected by conflict should not be forgotten in the days ahead. “It remains the responsibility of authorities to assist them, no matter the changes of leadership in Bamako,” Spreyermann stated.

The government overthrow followed mass protests against 75-year-old Keïta – better known by his initials, IBK. He had struggled to stem jihadist and inter-communal violence that has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands internally displaced in northern and central parts of Mali.

On Wednesday, the M5-RFP coalition of opposition and civil society groups that led the protests said it was willing to work with the coup leaders, who appear popular for now, at least in Bamako, the country’s capital. 

A youth leader in the city, Mohamed Sangaré, said he was happy to see the end of an “oligarchic regime”, while Aminta Toure, an aid worker, said she saw the departure as an opportunity for change.

But Fily Keïta, a young businesswoman from Kati who is not related to the ousted president, said democratic elections won’t be enough to solve Mali’s interlocking crises if the same “old dinosaurs” get elected again. “The fall of IBK is not the solution,” she said.

A day of chaos and confusion began early Tuesday at a military camp in the garrison town of Kati – where a previous coup was launched in 2012 – just outside Bamako. Soldiers then moved to Bamako and roamed freely in armoured tanks while cheered on by jubilant crowds.

Keïta was arrested at his residence in the afternoon and driven in a military convoy to Kati camp. Just before midnight he appeared on national television in a surgical mask to deliver a brief resignation speech, in which he requested that no blood be shed.

Addressing the country a few hours later, the coup leaders – who appear to come from the upper echelons of the army, though little is known about them – insisted they won’t hold on to power and will push for elections within a “reasonable” time frame.

Analysts say that the jihadists could try and exploit the latest crisis to boost their legitimacy.

They also promised to preserve a 2015 peace agreement with northern armed groups and collaborate with international counter-terrorism forces and UN peacekeepers stationed in Mali.

But past coups have had a destabilising effect on the country. When low-ranking soldiers dissatisfied with the government’s handling of a Taureg rebellion in northern Mali toppled the government in March 2012, they created a security vacuum that jihadist groups quickly exploited – taking over parts of the desert north before turning south, towards the capital. 

Thousands of French troops and peacekeepers have since deployed to Mali – making a repeat occurrence unlikely. But analysts say that the jihadists could try and exploit the latest crisis to boost their legitimacy, while implementation of the already shaky 2015 accord with the northern rebels could be further disrupted.

Keïta vowed to put an end to corruption when he won elections by a landslide in 2013, but he was widely criticised for promoting family members to top positions and squandering money while unemployment and poverty have remained stubbornly high.

The 2015 agreement stagnated under his watch, and jihadist groups expanded their reach from northern to central parts of the country, stirring inter-ethnic conflicts that became far deadlier than anything the extremists were doing directly.

Political tensions rose in March, when the results of a long-delayed legislative election were partially overturned by the country’s constitutional court in a decision that was perceived to benefit Keïta’s party, sparking protests in various cities.

The M5-RFP protest coalition emerged with the goal of ousting Keïta. Led by the influential Muslim cleric Mahmoud Dicko, the group proved able to capture and channel the frustrations of many Malians.

According to sociologist Brema Ely Dicko, “The street mobilisation provided favourable grounds for dissatisfied soldiers to latch onto.”

As TNH wrote on Friday, referring to reports of rights groups, several ECOWAS delegations failed to mediate the crisis as M5-RFP dismissed Keïta’s concessions and the security forces cracked down in July, killing at least 11 protesters and bystanders and injuring dozens more.

-0- PANA AR/MA 21Aug2020