In Mali, a military junta that “knows international standards and knows how to use them”

Since August 18, the military has taken power in Mali and pressured President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign. Events reminiscent of the coup were released in March 2012 by an angry military insurgency. But according to political scientist Niagalé Bagayoko, the current junta has a different profile than the one that took power eight years ago. She said she was better organized and prepared for the coup.

On Tuesday, August 18, the military seized power in Mali. They arrested Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his prime minister Boubou Cissé, as well as other civilian and military officials. Disputed by the street for several months, the dismissed president announced his resignation the next night, under pressure from the army, to prevent, according to him, “blood spilled”. Since then, the junta has promised a political transition and general elections in a country plagued by political crisis and jihadist violence.

This takeover has been condemned internationally, in particular by ECOWAS, the regional organization for West Africa, the United Nations, the European Union and France, which has exposed more than 5,000 soldiers. in the Sahel as part of the anti-jihadist operation Barkhane. For their part, neighboring Mali, which is demanding the “recovery” of President Keitta, has sent a delegation from ECOWAS to Bamako. If no agreement on the political transition was reached during this meeting with the military junta, ECOWAS calls for a transition that is limited to about a year or less and is led by a civilian figure.

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On Thursday, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), the body created by the putschists, finally released ex-president Keïta, at the request of the international community. This decision comes at a time when ECOWAS’s heads of state will meet on Friday to examine maintenance, repeal or strengthen sanctions, depending on negotiations with the junta members.

For Niagalé Bagayoko, political scientist and president of the African SecuritySectorNetwork, the arrival of these putschists in power differs, with their methods, from that of the military junta that overthrew former president Amadou Toumani Touré on March 21, 2012, after ten years in power. According to her, security conditions in Mali have also developed, especially with the strengthening of jihadist groups.

What differences do you see between the profile of the members of the junta who took power in Mali in 2012 and the current coup leaders?

The 2012 coup was carried out by junior officers or by non-commissioned officers close to young officers. On the other hand, the junta that took power on August 18 consists of officers who have held positions of responsibility.

In addition, the current junta knows international standards and knows how to use them. Speech delivered by the junta as well as by certain parts of the June 5 movement – Rally of the Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) [un mouvement d’opposition]goes, for example, in the direction of the ambitions of ECOWAS, which wants to get closer to the people. That is why the Putists claim that Mali did not experience a coup but a popular revolution which, to succeed, benefited from the support of the army. It is a way of saying that ECOWAS is confiscated by the influence of certain heads of state such as Alassane Ouattara or Alpha Condé, who are taking positions intended to consolidate their power internally. The current junta is thus based on a strong popular movement.

Was the seizure of power benefited by the current junta from close links between the army and the political class?

In 2012, the coup opposed the Red Basts, in other words the paratroopers who formed the elite unit of the Malian army, and the Green Basques, formed by the junta. At that time, it was considered marginalized and poorly regarded because of the privileges granted to the Red Basques. If today there is no opposition between the Red Basques and the Green Basques, there are other oppositions.

The Malian army is by no means a monolithic apparatus. It is crossed by corporatist associations that are not the same as in 2012. As part of the strengthening of military capabilities, new units have been created and strengthened to the detriment of others. They were much more equipped and armed. At the same time as this capacity building, connections were created with different currents within the political class. For example, the Defense and Security Commission of the National Assembly was chaired by Karim Keïta, son of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. In addition, Oumar Mariko, one of the leaders of the M5-RFP, was very close to the junta at the time of the 2012 coup. This political figure apparently maintained relations within the army. This phenomenon has created solidarity and cooperation that today is potentially warlike.

How does the security context differ from 2012?

The security situation has become much more complex when it comes to security. Although it was already complicated in 2012, over time the situation deteriorated. Violent actors have multiplied: self-defense groups, milieus, armed bandits or even criminal actors. There are also jihadist groups that themselves no longer form a united front and collide with each other. The most powerful armed groups are therefore no longer the same as in 2012.

Are you worried about Mali since this junta came to power?

In my opinion, this coup seems like a further step in the multidimensional crisis in which the region is sinking. It reflects a collective failure of national authorities but also of African and international communities. Mali is facing a type of crisis that was not expected by ECOWAS and the African Union. They were more prepared for civil war than for this type of takeover.