Mali’s West African neighbour’s fears that the country”s political crisis could spiral into chaos materialised last week. Military officers took charge after detaining President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at gunpoint and forcing him to resign, in a coup d’etat that drew immediate international condemnation. The present coup is the second after that of 2012.
The 75-year-old Keita had been the target of weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation over what opponents said were his failure to restore security, address corruption and lift living standards. The organisers of the coup have pledged to restore stability and oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” period.
After the opposition rejected an ECOWAS peace plan last month, it was clear Mali was heading downhill. The plan called for a national unity government, including members of the opposition but did not address their request that the president quit office. To the leaders of the 15-member regional bloc, to ask a president to resign after he won two consecutive elections that were adjudged as clean was a “red line”. They said they could not do as the opposition, M5-RFP, had demanded because to do so would set a dangerous precedent for other leaders in the region.
However, what they have on their hands now is not what they had dreaded but something worse – a military takeover. This is an anachronism in a 21th century world where democracy is the order of the day. Our other argument is that if the military could not crush the Islamist rebellion in the north of the country, which was one of the reasons the opposition gave for demanding Keita’s departure, there is no guarantee that they would do now.
Thirdly, the putschists, no doubt, were goaded by politicians into taking power, thereby making themselves pawns in the hands of the opposition to Keita. This way, they are no longer an observer on the messy political theatre but actors. Fourthly, we know, from experience, that military dictatorship, wherever it had occurred, never solved problems but rather complicated them. Often they tried to transform into civilian leaders themselves.
In the light of the forgoing reasons, we condemn the forceful power change in Mali and ask the democratic world to demand a return to constitutional democracy. World leaders’ initial rejection of what happened in Mali was a step in the right direction. Cyril Ramaphosa, the chairman of the African Union (AU) and president of South Africa, condemned the “unconstitutional change of government” and demanded the release of Keita and other top government officials.
The AU also said that it was suspending Mali’s membership until constitutional order is restored. In a statement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed “great concern” over the “seizure of power by Malian military putschists”. The 15-nation bloc, which had tried to mediate in the political crisis between Keita and the opposition, said its members would close land and air borders to Mali and demand sanctions against “all the putschists and their partners and collaborators”.
The United Nations Security Council, on its part, urged mutineers in Mali to immediately release detained officials, including the country’s president, and “return to their barracks without delay.” The 15 members also “underlined the urgent need to restore rule of law and to move towards the return to constitutional order,” according to a Council statement.
Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama condemned the military coup and called for the “immediate and unconditional restoration of constitutional order”. In a statement, he also welcomed the activation of the ECOWAS standby force.
It is good that defenders of democracy worldwide did not give the coupists the time they needed to settle in. To have done so would have given them confidence to consolidate their hold on power, illegitimately acquired. Now they are squirming in their hot seats and forced to look for a safe exit. This they must do. Malian voters have a chance in the next elections to choose a new president if they don’t want Keita.