Amadou Toumani Touré, the long-time president of Mali, was deposed in a military coup on Thursday. The West African nation has long been noted for its democratic government and the coup has been widely condemned, with the African Union calling an emergency meeting in Addis Ababa and suspending Mali from membership. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Much of the country is desert and Mali had been considered “one of the least likely candidates for a coup attempt in all of West Africa,” says the New York Times. The coup occurred before an election that was scheduled for April 29 and that Touré said he would not be participating in.
According to the Guardian, the capital of Bamako has been “tense but calm” amid reports of soldiers seen shooting in the air while driving and of widespread looting, including of the presidential palace. One leading presidential candidate, Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister, said that his house had been sacked and is no longer inhabitable.The leader of the coup is Captain Amadou Sanogo, a former English teacher at the military base in Kati, who has cited Touré’s “poor handling” of the Tuareg rebellion in the north as the reason for the coup: “Scores” of Mali’s solders have been killed since January in fighting against Tuareg fighters and 200,000 civilians displaced. In addition, there have been widespread food shortages.
International Condemnation of Coup
The west African regional body ECOWAS has described the coup as “military adventurism.” All land borders and the airport in Bamako, Mali’s capital and largest city, have been closed, leaving the foreign minister of Kenya, Moses Wetangula, and a delegation of Kenyan politicians stranded.
The European Union, the African Development Bank and the World Bank have all suspended aid programs to Mali and the US State Department has denounced the coup which, it says, has put aid to Mali at risk. Currently US aid to Mali totals about $140 million with about half of that humanitarian aid.
While the US has moved quickly in the past to halt aid to African countries hit by a coup, Reuters says that the US has been reacting “cautiously,” saying that it is too early yet to ascertain the outcomes. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that officials at the US Embassy in Bamako have been trying to get in contact with the coup leaders, who have sought to capitalize on Malians’ dissatisfaction with how Touré has handled the Tuareg rebellion. The US has trained and provided equipment for Mali’s military and Nuland says that cooperation between the countries is continuing for now. Mali is seen as an important ally in efforts to fight Al Qaeda-associated Islamist militants who have been spreading south from the Sahara.
Tuareg Rebellion: Fighters Armed With Gaddafi’s Weapons?
The Atlantic Wire cites reports from March of 2011 about large numbers of men from the Tuareg ethnic group going to fight for Mohammed el-Gaddafi as mercenaries, with promises of being paid $10,000 to join and $1,000 for every day of fighting. After the fall of Gaddafi’s regime to the National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya’s interim government, AFP reported that ”hundreds of armed Tuaregs from Mali” who had fought for Gaddafi were now returning to their own country.
Mali’s president Touré is reportedly safe and near the capital and under the protection of a group of loyalists. Touré is himself a former soldier who came to power after overthrowing the president-for-life, Moussa Traoré, in 1991, after which he handed back power to civilians. Touré was elected to the presidency in 2002 and returned to office in 2007.
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Photo by US Army Africa