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West African leaders plan meeting as condemnation of Mali coup grows

Colonel-Major Ismael Wague, centre, spokesman for the soldiers identifying themselves as National Committee for the Salvation of the People, speaks during a press conference at Camp Soudiata in Kati, Mali. Picture: Arouna Sissoko/AP

Colonel-Major Ismael Wague, centre, spokesman for the soldiers identifying themselves as National Committee for the Salvation of the People, speaks during a press conference at Camp Soudiata in Kati, Mali. Picture: Arouna Sissoko/AP

Published Aug 19, 2020

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By Katarina Hoije and Dulue Mbachu

West African leaders will meet Thursday to discuss the military coup that toppled Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, as international condemnation of the military takeover grows.

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The Economic Community of West African States is trying to help resolve the crisis following earlier attempts to mediate between Keita’s government and a popular protest movement demanding his resignation. Further instability in Mali could be exploited by Islamist insurgents in the north that have staged increasingly violent attacks in the region despite the presence of a 15 000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force.

While the regional bloc has activated its standby force, it’s unlikely to intervene militarily as it did in 2017 to end a political crisis in Gambia, said Paul Ejime, an Abuja-based consultant to Ecowas on peace and security.

“The options open to it are dialog, consultation,” he said. “Deploying troops would require huge financial resources. With the pandemic, it will be difficult to assemble troops and Ecowas is already stretched with missions in Guinea Bissau and Gambia.”

Keita, 75, dissolved his government and resigned late Tuesday under pressure from soldiers who detained him hours after staging a mutiny at an army barracks on the outskirts of the capital. The junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, has pledged to help form a transitional administration that will prepare new elections.

Keita assumed office in 2013 after winning an election on pledges to restore state authority nationwide, 16 months after a coup that ousted his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed a chorus of international criticism of the army takeover, which was condemned by France, the European Union and the UK, among others.

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chairman of the African Union, urged an “immediate return to civilian rule” and demanded the military release Keita and other government officials, including Prime Minister Boubou Cisse, who are still held at the barracks.

Shares in Mali-exposed gold miners extended their losses on Wednesday, with B2Gold Corp. dropping 9.2% and Iamgold Corp. falling 3.3%. Mali is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest producer of the metal, with companies including Barrick Gold Corp. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. also operating there.

Barrick said in a statement that its operations in Mali have been unaffected by the political crisis and are continuing as normal.

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Protest Movement

It’s not clear who would lead the transitional administration and to what extent the junta has ties to the M5-RFP protest movement, an alliance of activists and opposition politicians supported by the conservative, Saudi-trained preacher Mahmoud Dicko. Calls to his phone didn’t connect when Bloomberg tried to reach him for comment.

The movement will work with the soldiers to have a transitional cabinet in place within 15 days, Clement Dembele, a member of the group, said by phone Wednesday.

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The situation is reminiscent of the 2012 coup, which was staged from the same barracks where Tuesday’s mutiny started and organized by junior officers angry about the lack of resources needed to fight Tuareg separatists. The subsequent power vacuum was exploited by al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who seized control of the north.

A French military intervention pushed back the militants, but some groups later returned and expanded to carry out attacks on civilians and peacekeepers. The insurgency has since spread across the region to countries including Niger and Burkina Faso.

“In the short term there is no reason to expect an improvement in the security situation -- to the contrary, the jihadist networks in the north of the country will see a gap to extend their influence while the situation in Bamako is uncertain,” NKC African Economics analyst Francois Conradie said in an emailed note.

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