Corruption, election fraud, insecurity, and economic problems have defined the African state of Mali since the reelection of President Ibrahim Keita. On August 18, 2020, a group of military leaders in Mali decided to bring an end to the corrupt government of Keita by staging a coup d'état. On the afternoon of the 18th, soldiers invaded the presidential palace and arrested president Keita and his prime minister Boubou Cissé. They were taken to a military base, and moments later, the president resigned in a national television address. President Keïta was quoted saying, "If today certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?”
Causes of the Coup.
Like many African countries, Mali is economically unstable, and the corrupt government of Keïta did not care to improve the economy. Reliant on gold mining and agriculture, Mali has been damaged by volatile prices caused by the global pandemic. Exportation of raw materials is momentarily an unstable source of income because many countries have closed their borders. A sharp decline in the economy caused Malians to turn to the streets and demand for a change in government. The people of Mali were not only dissatisfied by the instability of the economy but also the recent parliamentary election rigging by Keita and his political party in a move to consolidate power. Keita and his government also failed to solve the insecurity problem started by the Tuareg separatists in the North in 2012. The Tuaregs have aligned themselves with Jihadist groups, posing a significant threat to the country's security system. A combination of all the mentioned problems led to civilian protests which escalated into a coup carried out by the military.
Brief History of Coups in Mali.
The coup phenomenon is not new to Mali. In 1991, Malians came together to demand for democracy and bring an end to a 23-year dictatorship under Moussa Traoré. The country was struggling with insecurity caused by a Tuareg rebellion. Mali's economy was also contracting due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions attached to the loans Mali received from the institution. Mali put in place IMF reform programs which led to a reduction in government public spending and worsened the country's economic situation. In response, a small group of female merchants started a protest, which escalated into a nationwide strike led by the opposition party. The strikes ended with the president's arrest, suspension of the constitution, and democratic elections within two months. The elections put in place a government that started negotiations with the Tuareg separatists in the North with the hopes of peace restoration in that region. The talks were a success; the conflict cooled down but only until 2012. In 2012, a small mutiny that started at the Kati barracks led to the overthrow of the then-president Amadou Toumani Touré. The coup began with an uprising of dissatisfied soldiers demanding better ammunition to fight the Tuareg insurgents in the North. After the coup, half of Mali's territory was lost to the insurgents.
Reaction from the International Community to the 2020 Coup
The 2020 coup d’état drew a lot of criticism from the Economic Community of West African States. The regional bloc of fifteen countries closed its borders to Mali and ordered sanctions against the conspirators of the coup d'état. The African Union, European Union, and the United Nations also issued statements condemning the people behind the coup. Mali’s coup also led to a sharp decline in foreign aid. The World Bank estimates that foreign aid amounts to about 70% of Mali’s central government expenditure, and most of this aid is at stake due to the country's current political unrest.
What Next for Mali?
Clearly, the coups in Mali in the past decades have all been due to corruption, economic instability, and insecurity caused by the Tuareg separatists. And each time Malians protest and get a new leader, the leader ends up repeating the exact same mistakes of his predecessor. Overthrowing a corrupt regime seems like a good solution for the moment, but it is clear from history that coups lead to political and economic instability and eventually another coup. According to data collected from a Coup Research Network, there have been 466 coup attempts in 95 countries since January 01, 1950. This data also indicates that "coup events," which includes both failed and successful coups increase the risk of another coup in the near future. A country with a coup event will have, on average, five such events in the span of 70 years. Between the years 1950 and 2020, there are only 19 countries that experienced only one coup. Some of these nations include Zimbabwe, South Korea. Thirteen states have had a minimum of 10 coup attempts since 1950, with Bolivia holding the highest record of 22. Mali has had three coups within the last twenty-nine years; could this be the last one in a long while?