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Political turmoil in Mali as President resigns after the mutiny

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

The above oft-cited quote captures the sentiment among Mali’s soldiers as they rose in mutiny on Tuesday against the regime of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Reports have emerged of soldiers firing in the air at Kati, a garrison city 15 km from the capital- Bamako. Convoys of armed forces were also seen moving towards Bamako, while senior government and army officials were taken into custody by the mutineers. The country’s finance minister Abdoulaye Daffeh and the President of the National Assembly, Mali’s unicameral legislature, were reportedly detained by uniformed personnel. Thousands of anti-Keita demonstrators have also thronged the Independence Monument, a public square at the heart of Bamako.

Mali is no stranger to coups, having witnessed three since independence: in 1968, 1991, and 2012. Incidentally, the 2012 coup also started in Kati.

In a significant development, an anonymous source who alleged to be the mutiny leader told Agence France-Presse that President Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse have been arrested and are being held at the President’s residence.

The arrests come hours after the PM urged mutineers to stand down and promised dialogue. Later, President Keita announced his resignation through a brief address on state television.

The developments come in the backdrop of ongoing protests, demanding Keita’s resignation on account of the country’s worsening economic situation, alleged mishandling of the Jihadist insurgency in northern Mali, and perceived corruption in the government.

Resentment against Keita spilled into violent clashes this year after the Constitutional Court annulled the election results of 31 parliamentary seats, a judgement that protestors claim was given in a mala fide manner to boost Keita’s party. According to the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as many as 14 protestors have been killed and more than 150 injured. The protests, taking place since June 5 this year, are led by a loose coalition called M5-RFP, comprising of opposition political parties, religious leaders, and civil society groups.

ECOWAS has proposed a four-point compromise between Keita and the M5-RFP. The proposal calls for the formation of a unity government, the resignation of the 31 MPs whose election is disputed, by-elections for those 31 seats, and an inquiry into the death of anti-Keita protesters. However, the M5-RFP has rejected this proposal, reiterating its demand for the President’s resignation.

The international community has largely opposed the mutiny. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, urged the mutinying soldiers to return to their bases, clarifying that it does not want any instability to vitiate the already fragile political and security situation in Mali.

Former colonial power France supported the ECOWAS statement and condemned the actions of the mutinying soldiers “in the strongest terms”. The United States said that they remain “opposed to all unconstitutional changes of government whether in the streets or by security forces”. The African Union “forcefully condemned” the arrests of the President and the PM. Thus, it is evident that unlike the ousting of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir last year, the mutiny to depose President Keita does not enjoy international, and especially not Western support.

French, as well as African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) troops, maintain a heavy presence to fight Jihadist groups active in the country’s northern region.

Additionally, there are concerns that any turmoil in the country may not only derail the ongoing efforts to fight the Jihadist groups but also provide them political vacuum to exploit, as was the case after the last coup in 2012.

Whether Keita’s resignation leads to a peaceful transfer of power remains to be seen. Regardless, Tuesday’s coup should not become yet another Malian coup that replaced one despot with another. The country lies at the centre of one of the world’s most high-staked powder kegs. Anarchy is the last thing Mali needs.

Reporter- Shreyas Datar

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