On August 18th, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was overthrown in a coup d’état by Malian soldiers after months of protests and turmoil. The soldiers, who call themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, detained Keita at gunpoint. Later that same night, he resigned under duress and the Malian parliament was dissolved. The coup leaders now promise elections and stability in the country, arguing power is not in their interest. However, internationally the coup has been widely criticized for its execution and absence of democratic measures, as it may cause more turbulence in the West African region.
The soldiers argue that Keita and the leadership are to blame for the corruption, anarchy, and economic instability that have characterized Mali in recent years. They claimed they carried out the coup to restore stability, preventing the country from descending even further into chaos. Colonel-Major Ismael Wague, a spokesman for the soldiers, promised that elections would be held within a “reasonable” period. According to Al Jazeera, Wague said “We are not keen on power, but we are keen on the stability of the country, which will allow us to organize general elections to allow Mali to equip itself with strong institutions within the reasonable time limit.”
The event has received international condemnation from several states and institutions, as they fear it may contribute to more instability within the region. The African Union expressed its disapproval towards the coup when the Chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, argued that the transformation of the government was unconstitutional and called for the release of imprisoned politicians. In addition, the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States decided to close its borders and halt financial flows with Mali, as well as to suspend the country from its institutions. Both China and the United States condemned the coup, opposing the unconstitutional overthrow of the Malian government, while United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced the military’s actions and demanded political detainees be freed. Simultaneously, EU President Charles Michel stated, “We call for the immediate freeing of prisoners, and for a return to the state of law”, and added that “a coup is never the solution to a crisis.”
The coup in Mali poses a security threat to the country and its people, as it increases instability in the region, which could strengthen the insurgency and rebel activities. Human rights violations in Mali have gotten significantly worse due to instability in governance and influence from terrorist groups. More insurgency could aggravate the situation even further, such as increasing the amount of child soldiers. Furthermore, people living in the northern and central parts of Mali have been exposed to conflict and extreme poverty for a long time, which has driven them away from their homes. In an interview given to the Guardian, International Committee of the Red Cross delegate Klaus Spreyermann, explained that there will be a continued need for humanitarian assistance to the Malian people. “Their needs must not be forgotten, no matter the changes of leadership in Bamako.”
Mali, as a former French colony, has a long history of political instability. After the country gained independence in 1960, it struggled to establish a government that could rule effectively and democratically. Mali has battled corruption, ethnic conflict, and poverty along with threatening influences from terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. In 2012, a conflict known as the Tuareg rebellion broke out as an insurgency against the government, resulting in a military coup and change of power. Keita later won the 2013 presidential election and the Malian people were hopeful he would lead the country towards democracy. However, during his time in office, he received criticism for corruption and mismanagement of the economy, including accusations of fraud in his 2018 re-election. The dissatisfaction with Keita has fueled tensions within the country and for the last months, protesters under the June 5th movement have demonstrated on the streets of Bamako, demanding him to resign.
The coup leaders now ask the protesters to join them during the political transition they initiated with the overthrow of Keita. Wague said international agreements, including those with the UN mission and G5 Sahel will be honored, stating that the main goal of the military takeover is to restore stability in Mali. Country experts, however, argue it is too early to tell if that is their actual goal and if they will give up power easily. Using military force to achieve a change of government is unconstitutional and disregards democratic values. The people of Mali are entitled to their democratic rights and deserve a government that can provide them with stability and safety. Now, the coup leaders face pressure from international partners to restore democracy as soon as possible.