President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali has resigned and dissolved parliament hours after mutinous soldiers detained him, the prime minister and other high ranking government officials, further deepening the political crisis in the West African country. The dramatic exit follows months of deadly protests in which crowds called for him to step down.
Keita’s resignation would be effective immediately, the 75-year-old said on state media ORTM late Tuesday. “If elements of the army felt compelled to intervene to bring an end to this, then do I really have a choice?” Keita said. “I do not want a single drop of blood to be shed to keep me in power.”
The coup started when the soldiers, reportedly led by Malik Diaw, deputy head of Kati camp, took control of the area, which is nine miles outside of the capital, Bamako. Anti-government protesters celebrated and gunshots could be heard across the city.
“We are not holding on to power, but to the stability of the country,” said Wague, the deputy chief of the Air Force. “This will allow us to organise, within an agreed reasonable timeframe, general elections to equip Mali with strong institutions, which are able to better manage our everyday lives and restore confidence between the government and the governed.”
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc comprised of 15 member states, has suspended Mali from its decision-making bodies and will reportedly impose sanctions, while Mali’s West African neighbours closed their borders.
The African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called the attempted coup “unconstitutional” and appealed for “the respect of the country’s institutions” in a statement issued before Keita’s resignation.
The United States, France and the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the arrests. The United Nations Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Mali Wednesday.
It is not yet clear if ECOWAS or other international actors will attempt to restore Keita’s presidency, with his term set to expire in 2023. It is also not clear how divided the Malian security forces are.
The coup follows months of protests, sparked after the constitutional court overturned results of parliamentary elections in April in favour of Keita’s Rally For Mali, despite the fact elections were largely won by the opposition party.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in June and July calling for Keita’s resignation, which led to the deaths of 14 people and the injury of at least 150 others after clashes with security forces. Keita’s attempts to appease the protesters over the past several months were deemed inefficient, and numerous efforts at mediation by ECOWAS were not successful.
A similar coup in 2012 ousted Amadou Toumani Touré, opening up the country to Islamic extremists who seized control of northern towns. An intervention by ECOWAS in 2012 helped the country return to civilian rule, with Keita winning the subsequent 2013 democratic election. Since then, the country has been rocked by conflict largely triggered by the vacuum left in Libya after the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In a country where half of the 20 million population lives in extreme poverty, in a troubled economy and under the constant threat of extremists, it’s easy to understand why tensions have boiled over. The thousands of United Nations and French military personnel in Mali have not succeeded in stemming the violence in the country, with attacks growing five-fold in the past five years to over 4,000 casualties.
Keita’s government received criticism for its inability to contain the violence across the country, which has displaced millions. There is also fear that the violence that has gradually spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger could spread further to Senegal. Security in Mali is key not just to the region, but also to Europe. If the situation is not properly managed, militant groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and ISIS, operating in the north of the country, could further strengthen their human and drug trafficking networks into Europe.