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The military seizes power in Mali and announces a transition to democracy

The group of soldiers that staged a coup in Mali on Tuesday and forced the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in power since 2013, announced the creation of the self-proclaimed national salvation committee to lead the country through a “political transition civil ”towards free and democratic elections“ within a reasonable time ”. The spokesman for the military, Colonel Major Ismael Wagué, also declared a night curfew and the closure of the country’s borders indefinitely during a televised statement on Wednesday morning.

Bamako, the Malian capital, woke up calm, although with a visible military presence in strategic points, after a heart attack day the day before that began with a confused military rebellion that with the passing of hours ended up becoming a coup d’état full-fledged that had the enthusiastic support of thousands of people on the streets. The condemnation of all international organizations and the request for the release of the president and his prime minister, from the United Nations to the African Union, has been unanimous, but this putsch Without bloodshed, it has a certain aroma of popular rebellion, fruit of the exhaustion of a country that was slipping without restraint through a profound crisis of multiple faces.

“Our country sinks every day into chaos, anarchy and insecurity because of the men in charge of its destiny,” Wagué said in his televised statement accompanied by other coup leaders. Likewise, he denounced “political patronage”, “family management of State affairs”, “waste and theft” of public resources and “massacres of peasants, terrorism and extremism.”

Three symbolic images

The slow-motion military coup, which materialized as the hours passed, left three images loaded with symbolism. The first, the irruption of armored vehicles from the Kati military base in the center of Bamako amid applause, cheers and the sound of vuvuzelas. The uproar that accompanied the rebel soldiers throughout the day shows the sentiment of a large part of the citizens.

The second image is that of a group of rowdy young people bathing with laughter in the pool of the ransacked house of Karim Keita, the president’s son, whom a few months ago, while the country was opening up on the channel in violently repressed anti-government demonstrations, he could be seen at private parties on luxury yachts. The last scene was starred by his father, a saddened and lonely Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, mask at the ready and in the wee hours of the morning, apologizing for this repression and announcing his resignation through a televised message.

Between the first and last moments there was the kidnapping of the president and his prime minister, Boubou Cissé, the culminating moment of the military coup. As the convoys took up positions in the capital, it became clear that they were not going to meet any resistance. At the head of the self-proclaimed national committee for salvation are two colonels and a general, but this violation of the constitutional order has had the support or at least the benevolence of all the Armed Forces, especially in the middle and lower ranks. Both Keita and Cissé were in the former’s private residence, aware that their end as leaders was near, awaiting the final blow. Your transfer manu militari to Kati’s barracks was nothing but the penultimate humiliation.

“Mali is the rotten apple of the Sahel,” says researcher Bakary Sambé, director of the Timbuktu Institute. But it’s much more than that. Since a heterogeneous coalition of Tuareg jihadist and independence groups took up arms in 2012 in the north of the country, eight years have passed in which the situation has only gotten worse. The radicals, evicted from the big cities in 2013, resisted the advance of the French troops supported by the historical abandonment of large sectors of the rural and semi-nomadic population of the interior. There they grew strong and prospered to the point that today two-thirds of the country is outside the control of the state. Every so often an attack or an inter-ethnic massacre shakes public opinion.

Insecurity as a challenge

Not only for France but also for Europe, Mali has become a real security challenge. In addition to being the origin of the destabilization of the entire central Sahel, the migratory routes that flow from West Africa into Europe pass through this country. The European Union has been operating since 2013 the Training Mission in Mali (EUTM), designed to train a poorly endowed and demoralized Malian Army. Some 200 Spanish soldiers out of a total of 550 troops participate in it and its main base is in Koulikoro, about 60 kilometers from Bamako. The Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, assured this Wednesday that everyone is fine although “the alarm level has been raised.”

The inability of the immense French military deployment, some 5,100 soldiers throughout the Sahel, and of the UN mission to bring peace to Mali is also at the origin of this coup. As jihadism spread and gangrene first the north and then the center of the country, even crossing the borders into Burkina Faso and Niger, the unrest grew in Bamako. The political class, entangled in domestic tug of war, not only failed to get Malians to settle down so that, through dialogue, they would solve their problems, but it also proved incapable of putting in order such basic services as Healthcare or Education. in constant crisis and shaken by strikes by doctors and teachers who demanded treatment worthy of an increasingly shrinking budget.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali. In video, Boubacar Keita presents his retirement from the Mali presidency.PHOTO: AFP / VIDEO: REUTERS

Thus, between corruption scandals and the collapse of the regime, came the coronavirus and the legislative elections last April. The elections, in which the ruling party obtained a narrow victory with a very low turnout, became a new mess when the Constitutional Court altered the results to grant more seats to the men and women of Keita. Not even 24 hours passed and the outrage took to the streets. First in a timid way and then as an unstoppable tide that demanded, in an increasingly forceful way, the resignation of the president.

The songs of Mahmud Dicko

Amid the thunderous noise of citizen unrest, the siren songs of Imam Mahmud Dicko emerge, a well-known religious leader with a conservative morality who manages to gather around him all the discontent of some citizens who seek but cannot find a way out in the worn out political class who has been ruling the country for more than two decades. With the natural leader of the opposition, Soumaïla Cissé, kidnapped by the jihadists since March, Dicko assumes the preponderant role of conveying all this exhaustion. His demonstrations in Bamako are massive and the imam is pointing directly at Keita. The power becomes restless and begins to give way.

But on July 10 and 11, the government crosses the Rubicon when police and military, unable to control the crowd, fire on young people who burn tires and set up barricades. 14 people die from gunshot wounds. There would be no going back. Neighboring countries are trying to promote a negotiating process to keep a president who had exhausted his little credit. Everything was useless. For this Tuesday, the start of a civil disobedience campaign had been called that was going to plunge Mali a little further into chaos and misrule. The military, who are also citizens, decided to avoid the show and perhaps a few more deaths. It took just one blow for IBK, no longer internal support and eroded to an unbearable limit, to fall without much noise.