GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 524, 30 May 2021

Mali: The "coup within a coup"
Apoorva Sudhakar

What happened? 
On 28 May, Mali's constitutional court appointed Colonel Assimi Goita as the transitional President. It ruled that he would "lead the transition process to its conclusion" due to the "vacancy in the presidency."

On 27 May, Colonel Assimi Goita declared himself the transitional President; he led the military coup in August 2020. According to the BBC, Col Goita said: "President Bah Ndaw and PM Moctar Ouane had failed in their duties and were seeking to sabotage the country's transition." On the same day, soldiers released Ndaw and Ouane from detention.

On 26 May, Goita's aide announced that Ndaw and Ouane had resigned and added that "negotiations are ongoing for their liberation and the formation of a new government." On the same day, the UNSC called on the security forces for a "safe, immediate and unconditional release" of all detained officials. 

On 24 May, the military detained Ndaw and Ouane following a cabinet reshuffle wherein two military leaders who led the August coup, including Goita, were left out. Aljazeera reported that the UN and African Union released a joint statement signed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), US, UK, France, and Germany, calling for the civilian leaders' "immediate and unconditional release." The statement said: "We emphasize that the ill-considered action taken today carries the risk of weakening the mobilization of the international community in support of Mali." BBC quoted the French President terming the development "a coup within a coup."  
What is the background? 
First, the two coups within a year. In early 2020, anti-government protests on the grounds of corruption, crippling economy, pandemic mismanagement, and a deteriorating security situation gathered momentum. The protests were consolidated and led by the 5 June Movement, also known as the M5-RFP. On 19 August 2020, the then President was overthrown by the military. Since September 2020, Mali has been under a transitional government; it is expected to last until the proposed elections in February 2022.  However, the coup garnered criticism from several quarters. The military mitigated the threat of sanctions by appointing a civilian leadership with Ndaw and Ouane as the interim President and Prime Minister in September; they were former Defence and Foreign Minister, respectively. Meanwhile, Goita was appointed as Vice President. Over the months, the M5-RFP expressed its contentions with the military, claiming that it was excluded from talks and called for a cabinet reshuffle and a subsequent "broad-based" cabinet. This led to the latest cabinet reshuffle that triggered the second coup in May 2021. 

Second, the political complexities in Mali. There is growing resentment within Malians regarding the security situation of the country. The August coup was celebrated with hope for improved security conditions, given that there is a growing Islamist militancy in the country and in the neighbouring countries. Over the past few months, militants have targeted several military bases. Though France launched a military intervention in 2013, civilians perceive it to be ineffective, and there is growing anger within the civilians against the French military. 

Third, regional and external reactions. The two coups have resulted in criticism against Mali. Following the August coup, ECOWAS had suspended financial assistance to Mali; the sanctions were lifted only after the transitional leadership was handed over to Ndaw and Ouane. Similarly, following the latest coup, France has threatened Mali with EU sanctions. 

What does it mean?
First, the latest coup demonstrates the fragile leadership within Mali and the lack of political strength among the civilian leadership. It proves that the M5-RFP's criticism regarding the involvement of the military in the civilian-led transition was indeed correct. Further, the constitutional court falling in line with the military also highlights the weakness of democratic institutions. 

Second, no amount of external pressure or troop deployment will solve the political complexities in Mali. Goita taking overpower has led to a renewal of the threat of sanctions, but it is unlikely that the military will yield to pressure this time.

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