Mali’s president and prime minister were detained by military forces on Tuesday night (18 August) in what the EU described as an attempted coup d’etat.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and several government officials were arrested by mutinying soldiers. The attempted coup is not thought to be related to months of political protests led by the opposition. Instead, local diplomatic sources have suggested that has been led by national guard soldiers as a result of a pay dispute.
However, it has prompted fears that the west African country could be set to see a rerun of the 2012 mutiny that led to a coup d’etat which opened the way to Islamic extremists and ethnic separatists to seize swaths of territory in the north of Mali.
Pressure has been building on President Keïta since the results of March elections in 31 constituencies were changed by the Constitutional Court to give the President a parliamentary majority. That has prompted months of violent protests by opposition parties and activists demanding his resignation.
In July, the police opened fire on protesters who sought to occupy the national assembly building in the capital, Bamako, while Mali’s state television was forced off the air after hundreds of protesters occupied the building in the capital.
Last week’s online summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) saw regional leaders give Keïta their unequivocal backing though they did demand the re-run of the March-April legislative elections in the constituencies affected. That prompted Keïta to task Prime Minister Cisse, and a reduced six-man cabinet, with obtaining broad majority support for a new government.
Mahmoud Dicko, the charismatic Imam who is de facto leader of the Mouvement du 5 Juin-Rassemblement des forces patriotiques (M5-RFP), has positioned himself as an unlikely voice of moderation during the protests. Unlike most of the M5-RFP movement, he has insisted that he does not seek Keïta‘s resignation, and could emerge as a key powerbroker in the coming days.
A coup against President Keïta would be a major diplomatic setback for France’s President Emmanuel Macron has led the G5 Sahel mission against jihadist forces in Mali and its neighbouring countries in the hope of establishing a locally-led force that could replace its own Opération Barkhane force. Although the G5 Sahel force has received significant military and financial support from the European Commission and a group of EU member states, it remains poorly equipped, trained and led, while France’s role has prompted some accusations that it is seeking to reprise its colonial past in the region.
EU foreign affairs High Representative Josep Borrell said on that the bloc supports the mediation attempts of ECOWAS and tweeted that the EU “strongly condemns the coup attempt under way in Mali and rejects any unconstitutional changes”.
European Council President Charles Michel stated that “a military coup is never a solution to a crisis, no matter how deep it may be”.
That message has been echoed by ECOWAS, the African Union and the United States.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “the immediate restoration of constitutional order and rule of law in Mali”.
The UN Security Council will on Wednesday afternoon hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Mali at the request of France and Niger.