For the second time in less than a year, Mali’s military is back in power.
Nine months after overthrowing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in the wake of mass anti-government protests, the army on Monday detained President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane just hours after the announcement of a new cabinet that excluded two key military leaders.
Colonel Assimi Goita, who led the August 2020 coup and was Ndaw’s deputy in the transitional administration formed in late September with the task of steering the country towards full civilian rule, said he was not consulted on the reshuffle, which was announced amid rising social tensions including a general strike called by Mali’s main trade union.
Taken to a military base, Ndaw, a retired military officer, and Ouane stepped down on Wednesday. Later in the day, the United Nations Security Council condemned as “unacceptable” a “change of transitional leadership by force, including through forced resignations”.
It came as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) invited the military leaders for talks with the regional bloc’s current chair, Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo, according to Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama. The talks are scheduled for Sunday.
France, which has thousands of troops in Mali to fight armed groups, also slammed the army takeover as “unacceptable”, with President Emmanuel Macron warning of “targeted sanctions” against those behind what he described as a “coup within a coup”.
Following last year’s coup, ECOWAS suspended Mali from its institutions and announced a series of sanctions, including closing borders and halting financial flows.
But some analysts have doubts about the effectiveness of such measures and whether they are the best way to bring about a return to civilian rule.
“The sanction regime was not very successful,” Emmanuel Kwesi Anning, director of research at Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre told Al Jazeera.
“People were able to trade; the borders are porous. But the fact that ECOWAS had sought to impose sanctions without taking into consideration the political, economic and social realities of Mali meant that the sanction regime itself became anathema and allowed people to be very critical of ECOWAS,” he said.
“Right now, any narrative or decision to reimpose those sanctions, I think, will backfire. We need much more nuanced conversation as to what really the Malian people are looking for,” Anning added.
On Wednesday, Washington said it was “suspending security assistance” for Mali’s security and defence forces which are struggling to contain armed groups in the country’s northern and central regions.
“The United States will also consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who impede Mali’s civilian-led transition to democratic governance,” Ned Price, State Department’s spokesman, said in a statement.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president.
The power vacuum helped ethnic Tuareg separatists, allied with fighters from an al-Qaeda offshoot, to launch a rebellion that took control of Mali’s north. The armed group fighters swiftly pushed over the Tuareg rebels and seized key northern cities until they were driven out in early 2013 by a French-led counteroffensive.
But fighters remain active and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, attacking targets and stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
There is worry the latest development in Bamako could make the fragile security situation even more precarious.
“It [the coup] will lead not only to resurgence of violence and more armed groups in Mali but also it is the symbolism of the military’s ability to come back and to take power,” Anning said.
Before the latest coup, Mali was scheduled to hold presidential and legislative elections in February next year. On Friday, Goita promised that the polls will go ahead as planned.
He also said he will pick a prime minister within days, a figure that will come from the opposition 5 June Movement-Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) – a powerful group behind last year’s street demonstrations against Keita.
The M5-RFP movement was sidelined by last year’s coup-makers when they established the transitional institutions.
Jean-Herve Jezequel of the Crisis Group said in a publication this week the coming days will be “decisive”, with political deadlock also a possibility.
“But regardless of the outcome, the new crisis highlights the absence of a strong coalition supporting the actions of the transition, notably its declared ambition to reform the Malian political system,” he added. “This aspect is perhaps the most worrying: after having undergone all these crises, Mali still does not know which political forces are capable of bringing about the change that the country needs.”
For Moussa Kondo, a civil society activist and director for Accountability Lab in Mali, the election is “what will take Mali out of this cycle”.
“We Malians have been living with a challenging situation between the president and the military junta,” he told Al Jazeera. “We need to find a peaceful, transparent solution that is acceptable to all Malians.”