Coup is Celebrated by Malians, Condemned by Others

By Liam Brucker-Casey
International News Editor

A Malian soldier driving through Bamako on August 19th is met by cheering civilians celebrating the overthrow of the country’s president (Photo courtesy of H Diakite/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

On August 18th, the West Africa nation of Mali, which has been beset by protests against the Government, saw its President ousted by a military coup d’état that has many nations and international organizations worried. The coup’s orchestrators were greeted with praise by many citizens who disapproved of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s management of the conflict against insurgent forces in the country, questioned his democratic legitimacy, and blamed him for the country’s economic plunge.

In 2012, Northern Malian groups demanding independence for the ethnically and culturally distinct Tuaregs declared independence of the Azawad region, home to the famous city of Timbuktu. The conflict between the Malian government and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, often referred to by its French initials MNLA, allowed for the insurgency of jihadist militias. The MNLA, reported to have some ties with religious extremist groups, has battled both the Government and jihadists in a long three-way war over the country’s northern territory. In late 2019 as part of a concerted effort to change the tide of the conflict, many Malian soldiers were killed by a new wave of jihadist militants and the Government responded by pulling troops from its more remote settlements, a maneuver characterized by many citizens as an additional blunder by President Keïta. Mali’s former European colonizer, France, has for years stationed troops in Mali to assist the Government in its fight against extremist militants. Unpopular with many in France, the deployment of French troops in the country is resented by some Malians who see the foreign involvement as a continuation of French colonialism.

Having been first elected to the presidency in 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta ran as the incumbent in Mali’s 2018 presidential election and defeated his opponent Soumaïla Cissé. Keïta’s victory was marred however, by claims of election fraud, and disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Malians. Due to the conflict with the militants in the North, many citizens were displaced, making it difficult for them to vote. Many polling stations were closed due to fear of attacks by militants. In another turn of events that led to widespread confusion and outrage, Keïta’s 2018 opponent Soumaïla Cissé, this time leading the electoral opposition’s campaign for the legislature, was abducted by unidentified gunmen in late March of this year, less than a week before the first round of votes in the parliamentary election. Cissé has yet to be freed, and his location and captors are still unknown. The validity of the March 29th election was further tainted as the government proceeded with parliamentary elections without alteration or postponement despite the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mali, and the disappearance of Cissé. In April the second and final round of voting was marred by the previous issues and additional disruptions. Weeks later, the election results for dozens of legislative seats were overturned by the judiciary, granting Keïta’s Rally for Mali party a plurality in the parliament. This was met with considerable discontent among Malians.

The leaders of the military coup that overthrew Malian President Keïta hold a press conference on August 19th (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo)

Despite its status as one of Africa’s top gold exporters, Mali’s economy is one of the poorest countries in the world. As of 2019 the World Bank assessed Mali to have an extreme poverty rate of 42.7%. While this lack of prosperity is not new, protestors perceived the situation to be worsening, and in June packed the streets of the Malian capital of Bamako demanding change, as the pandemic has served to lower economic demand and activity, a blow that has been painful even for prosperous nations, but has proven devastating to Mali’s frail economy.

Exhausted and desperate for change, protestors continued to occupy Bamako. For the next two months the protestors decried the President, until the August 18th military putsch. As citizens had been calling for Keïta’s resignation, when hearing reports of the coup, many Malians rejoiced and celebrated the President’s removal. The new military junta pledged to facilitate elections soon.

Malian soldiers driving through Bamako on August 19th are greeted by civilians celebrating the overthrow of the country’s president (Photo courtesy of AP Photo)

Regardless of the mutinous soldiers’ true intentions, their actions have received overwhelming condemnation by nearly all interested parties. From China, to France and the United States, expressions of unease at the military intervention were made clear. The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, condemned the coup and retaliated with its member states, which comprise the majority of Mali’s neighbors, closing their borders, and calling for a return to constitutional rule. Understandably concerned by the precedent such military action could set, ECOWAS has taken a hardline stance against the coup, and negotiations still have not yielded a clear path to the return of democratic rule. Mali, already plagued by instability and poverty, now has a hard road ahead as the new military government has been met with the suspension of most avenues for international exchange.


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