Renegade Soldiers Stage Coup in Mali
Renegade soldiers who stormed the presidential palace and state broadcaster have declared the country's constitution suspended and announced they are assuming power under the banner of a newly-formed transitional military junta.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The apparent coup has shattered the perception of Mali as a beacon of political stability in an otherwise volatile region, one month before presidential elections are due to be held.
The mutiny has exposed the underlying tensions between the military and the civilian government over the handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the north, and could mark a resurrection of the military’s central role in political affairs in Mali.
The staying power of the self-described transitional military government is uncertain. The proximity of the event to the presidential election scheduled for late April 2012 could result in a compromise whereby the faction of the military behind the apparent coup assumes stewardship of the government until that time. An effort by units still loyal to President Amadou Toumani Toure to re-take the presidential palace and arrest the renegade soldiers is another possibility.
Due to the high likelihood of political uncertainty and instability in the immediate term in Mali, IHS Global Insight is raising its Political Risk rating from 3.00 to 3.5.
Renegade army units in Mali launched an apparent coup d'état overnight after a mutiny at a base near the capital escalated into rioting, leading to clashes between mutinous soldiers and the presidential guard, also known as the Republican Guard. The presidential palace and state television and radio stations were stormed on the night of 21 March, according to media reports. A group of soldiers appeared in a broadcast on state television today (22 March) and announced the formation of a transitional military authority known as the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR). A spokesman for the CNRDR, Lieutenant Amadou Konare, read a statement announcing that it was suspending the country's constitution and ordered a nationwide curfew. The CNRDR, which according to its statement is composed of "all the elements of the armed forces, defensive forces and security forces" announced an "end to the incompetent and disavowed regime of (President) Amadou Toumani Toure".
Although his whereabouts were unreported until Thursday morning, the president is "in good health and in a safe location" in a military base held by the elite paratroopers and members of the presidential guard, according to an unnamed loyalist, quoted by Agence-France Presse (AFP). Several of his cabinet ministers were reported to have been captured by the CNRDR soldiers during the assault on the presidential palace; located on a hill overlooking the capital Bamako.
The situation in the city appears calm, according to media reports, although witness cited by AFP described hearing scattered gunshots throughout the day. Bamako-Senou International Airport has been closed by the military.
A parallel uprising by army units stationed in the northern hub of Gao was also reported by AFP on 21 March and reports from the city indicate a number of military brass still considered loyal to the government have been put under house arrest there.
The statement read by Konare pointed to widespread frustration at the government's handling of the ongoing Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country as the catalyst for the military takeover, citing "the inability of the government to give adequate means to the armed forces for defending our territorial integrity" adding that as a result "the CNRDR has decided to take into its own hands the security of all of Mali".
Although Mali's presidential elections are scheduled to take place in just over a month, the CNRDR said it would "return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are restored" in the north. The Malian military continues to face pressure from a rebellion by a hardline Tuareg group since its opening gambit on 17 January 2012, in which it attacked a number of northern garrison towns on the country's border with Niger.
The fuse for the uprising was lit during a speech by Defence Minister Sadio Gassama at a military barracks in Bamako, in which he apparently failed to adequately address popular anger within the rank and file of the military over the government's alleged failure to provide sufficient equipment to the troops fighting the Tuareg in the north. According to AFP reports angry soldiers pelted the minister's convoy with stones as it left the base, and soon raided the armoury and began firing weapons in the air. The soldiers then took to the streets and were joined by other rioters. In the evening of 21 March, the mutineers succeeded in breaking through a security cordon around the state television and radio broadcasting building and took both off the air, before moving on to the presidential palace, which had already been reinforced by members of the Republican Guard or "Red Berets" with armoured vehicles. AFP cited sources on both sides of the fighting describing overnight gun battles between the mutineers and loyalists around the presidential palace, before the CNRDR finally claimed victory and issued its statement.
Regional body ECOWAS, as well as the Algerian and French governments have condemned the coup in public statements, and the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé issued a statement calling for new elections at the earliest possible stage. A loyalist source quoted by AFP condemned Juppé's remarks, saying that the former colonial power's remarks appeared to be a nod to the mutineers, adding "the first thing you should ask for is the restoration of constitutional order".
Anger at Mishandling of Tuareg Rebellion
Anger over the perceived failure of the government to adequately equip its troops in the fight against Tuareg rebels in the north had previously manifested itself in a series of protests in the past two months. These were frequently led by war widows who blamed the Toure administration for the deaths of soldiers in the north, claiming that they had been sent to fight with insufficient food, arms and ammunition. Outrage at the government's perceived lax attitude towards the fighting in the north has grown in the past weeks as the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has enjoyed a series of tactical successes on the battlefield—succeeding capturing a number of strategic border towns including Tessalit and Aguelhok, with relatively little difficulty. Despite counter-insurgency training from the United States and France, amongst others, as well as other military aid aimed at fighting the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Malian military has been unable to stem the advance of the MNLA across much of northern Mali, and was significantly over-stretched when the rebels established a second front near the Mauritanian border.
Outlook and Implications
Mali has been relatively politically stable since a military coup in 1991 brought the advent of parliamentary democracy to the country, and has since had success in managing transitions of power in presidential elections that have largely been praised for their fairness by international monitors. The current situation remains highly fluid and a counter-coup attempt by Toure loyalists cannot be ruled out. Should the CNRDR succeed in holding on to power beyond the next few days, two main questions will need to be addressed. The most immediate concerns the northern campaign against the MNLA and how the CNRDR intends to improve on the Toure administration's strategic plans. Any lull in the operations of the Malian military in theatre related to the consolidation of the CNRDR's grip in Bamako could come at the cost of losing more territory to the MNLA in the north and allowing the rebels precious time to dig in to the towns they have captured in the past two weeks.
The timetable for the presidential elections, the first round of which is scheduled for 29 April, is in danger of being scrapped entirely following the junta's declaration that elections would only go ahead "as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are established". Those terms are often used by the Malian government in reference to defeating Tuareg rebels, who are pushing for greater autonomy for the three administrative regions that make up the country's north.
The remnants of the government, as well as the international community, are likely to press for the April elections to go ahead on schedule in return for allowing the CNRDR to hold onto power for the next month in an effort to avoid further bloodshed, as President Toure was due to step down following the end of his second term in office regardless. In the coming days, the remnants of the government, including the ministers of Defence and the Interior who escaped the coup, are likely to reconvene and take stock of their remaining support amongst the military, and may claim to retain executive legitimacy from a base outside the capital in an attempt to garner international support against the CNRDR. Finally, the CNRDR is likely to move to purge Toure loyalists from military bases around the country, possibly leading to skirmishes between units with rival regional and political loyalties, setting the stage for further violence and uncertainty in the days and weeks ahead.
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