How Social Unrest Just Led to a Coup in Mali

posted in: Africa, Economics, Mali, Politics | 0
Coup Members Being Celebrated in the Streets | Courtesy of AFP

On August 18th, 2020, gunfire erupted outside a military base in the Malian town of Kati. For the second time in the past decade (the former being in 2012), Malian opposition forces had staged a coup d’état and were attempting to overthrow the government. 

After storming the city, the mutineers proceeded to arrest various officials, including the Minister of Finance, the Chief of Staff of the National Guard, and the Speaker of the National Assembly. This forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to issue the following statement: “I want no blood to be spilled to keep me in power”. He then effectively resigned and dissolved Parliament, before being detained as well. In total, four people were killed, 15 were wounded, and the rebels had seized control. The coup was a success.

Though the coup itself was relatively brief––it lasted for less than 48 hours––unrest in Mali was long-established and had begun months prior. On June 19th, tens of thousands of Malians took to the streets of Bamako, demanding Président Keïta’s resignation. Protestors were upset about a variety of issues, including perceived government corruption, a struggling economy amid locust swarms and the coronavirus, and the government’s oversight of an ongoing insurgency. The protests continued for months, and on July 11th and 12th, tensions reached their peak as protestors clashed with Bamako security forces. Eleven people were killed, and 124 were injured. This was met with outrage by the Malian public, fueling the fire of rebellion and instigating the coup a little over a month later.

Currently, rebel military forces have assumed power over the country, closing all borders and imposing a night-time curfew. They have promised to begin democratic elections shortly and have insisted to be more interested in political stability rather than power. However, the veracity of these claims has yet to be verified. Still, in Mali itself, the coup has had widespread support. Political unrest has halted, and celebrations have begun. On August 20th, the same people who took the streets to protest just months before began to rejoice. Yet, despite its popularity domestically, the coup has largely been condemned by the international community.

On August 21st, the United States cut off military aid to Mali in response to the coup. Likewise, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has called for all arrested officials to be freed and for power to be returned to the citizens. The United Nations Security Council and Amnesty International have issued similar resolutions, calling for all prisoners to be released and for troops to return to their barracks. Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the closing of all borders surrounding Mali and has imposed heavy sanctions upon the country. 

Though the rebel forces claim to desire stability above all else, it will likely be quite some time before this is truly attained. If 2012 was any indication, the country could be on the verge of a humanitarian crisis with widespread looting and chaos. It’s highly probable the country will need some sort of intermediary force to successfully negotiate the creation of a new government, and the appointment of an interim leader should be the first on their agenda. Regardless, the current state of Mali is worrisome, and with new sanctions exacerbating challenges in an already struggling economy, it’s difficult to see how Mali will benefit from this coup any time soon.