Some more thoughts on the coup in Mali


A street scene during the early hours of the coup in Mali. AP photo.

The situation is still very much in flux in Bamako, where a coup dislodged the government of President Touré from power at least temporarily. Here are some thoughts, reflections and questions that I'm stuck with after monitoring this coup for the last few days:

This is a really amateurish coup

ThinkAfricaPress has analysed this quite well. The coup leaders seem to be more surprised than anybody that they are "in power" now (whatever that means, see below). They are all junior officers and there is little indication that they got the support of the top brass of the army or of parts of the political elites.

The first days of the coup were marked by surprisingly little violence but a general breakdown of order, with looting soldiers becoming a familiar picture in Bamako. This will not endear them to the general population and there are already reports that the general sentiment on the street is turning against the junta.

What exactly does "in power" mean?

Capt. Sanogo, the apparent leader of the coup, claims that he currently is "in control of all the country". That can be regarded as wishful thinking, but it of course begs the question, what the mutineers control exactly and if it is justified to talk of them being "in power" like all the media does currently.

What we know for a fact is that the national broadcasting offices are under the control of the junta, as they air regular statements. The presidential palace seems to be taken as well and its fall marks the moment that most people began attributing control to the mutineers.

But it is telling that Capt. Sanogo is conducting his business not from the Palace, the natural seat of power, but from the barracks of Kati, a town 30 km from Bamako were the coup started. There are reports that presidential guard units stationed in the city are still loyal to President Touré and Capt. Sanogo's retreat to known terrain seems to give these reports credit.

President Touré is reported to have gone into hiding close to the capital and to be guarded by loyalist soldiers. There were reports of at least one other mutiny (in the town of Gao) in support of the coup, but there is little indication that the whole army is supporting the junta. I think that currently nobody is really "in power" in Mali and much will depend on who is willing to take it.

Where is President Touré?

There has been no public comment by Touré since the early hours of the coup and he remains in hiding. The African Union has said he is "safe" and close to Bamako, but there are no further details. The junta seems to want to imply in their statements that they know his whereabouts, but that can be doubted. So were is the president and what is his status? More importantly, what are his plans?

The immediate effects of the coup have contradicted its goals

The junta claims that it's main motivation for the coup was the government's handling of the Tuareg rebellion, namely the losses taken by the Malian army. So far though, the coup has only led to even more gains by the Rebels, who are about to take Kidal, an important town in the North of the country.

If Kidal falls into the hands of the MNLA (other reports say that Ansar Dine, a rival movement is threatening the town), this would be a huge setback for the army and would give any future government a much harder time negotiating for the national integrity of Mali.

What do you think? How will the coup develop and is there the risk of a counter-coup?

The coup in Mali: possible ramifications

Capitaine Sanogo, new head of the junta claiming to have deposed of the government. Photo via @BateEtah.

I originally planned to give you a roundup of what has happened in Mali since yesterday. But then I realized that several other people did this already and probably better than I ever could. Check especially here and here and here if you are looking for something like that.

I will instead focus on something different: what are the possible effects of the coup? This is of course a highly speculatory question, as the coup is not even over yet (President Touré is still holed up in Bamako with an elite army unit guarding him). But I think that the coup has several ramifications that are largely unrelated how it will end up exactly.

The junta, which bears the delightful name "National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State" (CNRDR) is primarily motivated by the total disaster of how the government handled the recent fighting with the Tuareg rebels of the NMLA.

In short, the mutineers allege that the government failed to provide the necessary material support (especially ammunitions) for the campaign, which has resulted in the string of embarrassing defeats at the hands of the rebels. In this they can rely on support from the population, which is highly critical of how President Touré has handled the crisis.

As "fighting the Tuareg" is the only political platform of the CNRDR, they will have to follow up their rhetoric with action if they manage to consolidate power. This will lead to an escalation of the conflict in the north, something that is guaranteed also by the fact that the MNLA has said it will try to capitalize on the current confusion within the Malian army.

An escalation of hostilities is the last thing Mali needs now. The country is on the brink of a serious food crisis and already up to 200.000 people were displaced by the Tuareg rebellion.

The CNRDR will soon notice that fighting the Tuareg is pretty hard, even if they manage to secure additional weaponry and implement a better strategy - which is doubtful, given their very junior military ranks and the measure of international isolation that the coup has brought.

As the need for the CNRDR to make visible progress becomes greater they will turn to increasingly unconventional methods of warfare. We have seen this in many countries, from Darfur over Congo to Libya and Mali is itself no stranger to using irregular militias and "inventive" counter-insurgency measures.

Such an escalation of the conflict can easily lead to a regionalization of the fighting, as the Tuareg and the junta will search for partners outside their borders for support.

But what will happen if the coup is struck down by loyalists or a countercoup happens? Well, I would venture out and say much the same. The current coup has made the level of frustration within the rank and file of the army pretty clear. Any successor - even if it is the old government - will have to take care not being seen as "soft" on the Tuareg and will be under enormous pressure to deliver results in the fight against the MNLA.

Based on these assumptions, I think the main priority of everybody involved (including the international community) is to find a way to prevent an escalation like the one described above. If this can't be managed, Mali is very likely to descend into an humanitarian disaster.

If you want to keep up to date on how the coup develops, follow me on Twitter: @PeterDoerrie