Hours after mutinying soldiers seized Mali’s top leadership in an apparent coup, the West African nation’s president announced on state television that he would step down.
The resignation capped a day of dramatic developments and exposed the deepening instability of a country that has become one of Canada’s biggest recipients of military and development aid.
Earlier Tuesday, thousands of people cheered and celebrated in the streets of Mali’s capital, Bamako, as the rebel soldiers drove through the city in armoured vehicles. The city has been consumed by mass protests since June as a result of widespread anger over corruption, a weakening economy and worsening armed conflicts in much of the country.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cissé were detained by soldiers and escorted to the Kati military base, about 15 kilometres from the capital, according to photos on social media.
The same military base had been the origin of an earlier coup in 2012, which in turn had ignited years of deadly insurgency by Islamist radicals and other militia forces in northern and central regions of the country, killing thousands of people.
Since the beginning of the insurgencies, Mali has received an outpouring of aid from Western and African countries, including thousands of French troops and a United Nations peacekeeping force. Canada contributed by deploying helicopters and hundreds of peacekeeping soldiers to northern Mali from 2018 to 2019. But the massive aid has failed to quell the insurgencies or stabilize the fragile government.
Mali has received nearly $1.6-billion in development aid from Canada over the past two decades, including more than $136-million from 2017 to 2018, making it one of the world’s top recipients of Canadian aid. Over the past 18 months, Canada has also deployed units of police officers in Mali to support peace efforts and the reform of Mali’s security forces.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, in a tweet on Tuesday, said Canada is “very concerned” by the Mali situation and “strongly condemns” the military mutiny against the government.
Canadian embassy staff in Mali are safe, he said. “We will continue to follow the situation closely.”
The United States, France, the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States also condemned the military rebellion.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, called for the “immediate release” of the President and Prime Minister from their “forced detention.” In a statement, he rejected any attempt at “unconstitutional change of government” and urged the mutineers to cease all violence.
The UN Security Council is reported to have called an emergency session for Wednesday to discuss the Mali crisis. There are about 13,000 soldiers and almost 2,000 police officers in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. France and West African countries also have thousands of soldiers in the country.
Bruno Charbonneau, a peacekeeping expert and associate professor at Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Quebec, said the mutiny and apparent coup on Tuesday had been unforeseen by experts but should not have shocked anyone.
“It is unsurprising given the stalemate of the last few years: A peace process that was going nowhere, the mounting violence notably in the central regions, a government that seemed unable and incapable of responding positively to the situation and a President who often seemed disconnected or reluctant to change his ways,” Mr. Charbonneau told The Globe and Mail.
A recent report by a UN panel of experts showed that Malian government officials “were working against the peace process and benefiting from it,” he said.
Moreover, there has been an “undeniable failure” of the international approach to Mali and the broader Sahel region, and a new strategy might now be adopted, Mr. Charbonneau said.
The international community has allowed the conflicting groups in Mali “to prolong and at times avoid the peace process, to make sure that it went nowhere,” he said. The peace process has been shaped by a counterterrorism agenda that created incentives for armed groups and government officials to undermine peace, he said.
Mr. Keita, President since 2013, has been the target of growing protests for months. Last month, at least 11 people were killed during clashes between protesters and security forces. Many people have been angered as Mali’s military has increasingly lost control of much of the country while the insurgencies grow.
The insurgencies that began in 2012 culminated in an Islamist offensive that drove south toward Bamako from northern Mali until it was halted by French military intervention in early 2013. But the continuing heavy presence of French troops and other forces failed to prevent the latest coup.
On Tuesday, as the mutiny began, Mr. Cissé issued a statement appealing for dialogue with the rebel soldiers. But he soon disappeared from view, until the mutineers took him and the 75-year-old President to their base.
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