Africa Notes: The Mali Coup

The recent coup in Mali is an important setback for Sahelian democracy. And the situation there is still fluid, as reports of a counter-coup (which may just be a rumor)surfaced today.

Here are some of the themes that are emerging:

Coup Causes

1. The North Africa Spring. As I hinted last week, we can trace back the recent coup–at least partly–to the events of the North Africa spring. The military officers who took over stated very explicitly that one of their reasons for their actions. Meanwhile, Afro-pessimist Walter Russell Mead has already used this as an opportunity to critique NATO intervention in Libya.

2. The military’s specific discontent with the government. Over at Baobab at The Economist, they mention the events most proximate to the coup:

The spark for the mutiny came during a visit to Bamako’s main barracks by Mali’s defence minister. For weeks, discontent has been building as ethnic Tuareg rebels—flush with heavy weaponry stolen from Libya, and better organised than at any time in the past—have launched a series of attacks, sacking beleaguered garrisons and inflicting heavy casualties on the demoralised Malian army.
When the minister failed to assuage soldiers’ concerns that the government had a grip on the insurgency, troops fired angrily into the air. Hours later they swept into Bamako, stormed the state broadcaster’s offices and laid siege to the presidential palace. A thousand miles to the northeast, junior soldiers placed their superiors under lock and key.

3. Was this an accident? Think Africa Press has questioned whether any of this might even be “accidental”. (h/t SahelBlog).

4. General dissatisfaction with the President. Some in Mali doubted the President’s commitment to overseeing free and fair elections this April and he is alleged to be involved in cocaine trafficking and a number of corrupt business deals. (Sources: Tesfay)

Coup Consequences

1. Mali is losing aid money. TheWorld Bank and African Development Fund suspended funds. The EU was next. The US has only issued threats about withdrawing aid thus far. Mali, of course, has been a key strategic partner in American efforts to counter Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Also, while (now former) President Toure was an important part of that alliance, there are reports that one or more of the leaders of the coup received American training.

2. Delay in national elections. The elections were due next month but now no one knows when they may take place. ECOWAS has suggested they go on with the elections as planned, but that is way too optimistic. While the coup leaders say they will restore democracy, Mali historian Gregory Mann, at least, thinks that the coup was “not intended to secure democracy, but to prevent it”. (Sources: Tesfay, Gregory Mann, Reuters).
        [The Africa Report has a nice rundown on who the possible candidates for the election were prior to the coup.]

3. Greater “terrorism” risks. That is the phrase some have used. But as Townsend argues at African Arguments, it is likely that this coup will make it harder, not easier, to solve Mali’s “Tuareg Problem” (Sources: Tesfay, Townsend)

4. Greater risks for (especially) foreign enterprises. Tesfay at Executive Analysis argues that mining taxes and even expropriation might be a risk for a number of businesses operating in Mali.

5. Worse military-society relations. Not only was the public stunned by the military’s actions, but the military also apparently were involved in looting in the aftermath of the coup.

However, there are some optimists out there. Over at The Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten notes research showing that “since the end of the Cold War most coups are quickly followed by competitive elections and a restoration of democracy.”

We’ll see.

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