BAMAKO, Mali—Soldiers who ousted Mali’s president in a coup promised on Aug. 19 to oversee elections within a “reasonable” time and moved swiftly to hold talks with one of the West African nation’s most influential power brokers.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned and dissolved parliament on Aug. 18 after the mutineers detained him at gunpoint, further destabilizing a country in the grip of a jihadist insurgency and plagued by civil unrest.
Fearing Keita’s fall after nearly seven years in power could destabilize the Sahel region, the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) both suspended Mali.
As investors ditched shares in Mali-based gold mining companies, the mutineers had yet to identify their leader, though the mood in the capital Bamako appeared calm.
Junta leaders were meeting on Aug. 19 with Mahmoud Dicko, a Salafist preacher who electrified protesters during anti-Keita demonstrations in recent weeks that drew tens of thousands of people, Dicko’s spokesman said.
Dicko is a formidable political figure whose support was seen as crucial to Keita’s victory in the 2013 election, before Dicko soured on him.
A spokesman for the mutineers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, said earlier that they had acted to prevent further “chaos, anarchy, and insecurity.”
“We are not keen on power, but we are keen on the stability of the country, which will allow us to organize general elections … within the reasonable time limit,” Col. Ismael Wague said on state television.
A Malian security source identified three of the other junta leaders who appeared alongside Wague as Cols. Sadio Camara, Malick Diaw, and Modibo Kone.
Wague described neighboring armies, France’s anti-jihadist Barkhane force, and the country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission as “partners for stability and restoring security”.
In Paris, a French military source told Reuters the French army had submitted several options to President Emmanuel Macron.
Michael Shurkin, a former CIA officer now with the Rand Corp., said the upheaval risked distracting Malian forces from their fight against jihadists linked to al Qaeda and ISIS and that international partner faced a stark choice.
“The U.N., EUTM (European Union Training Mission), and French have spent billions. What now? Is the answer just to walk away?” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo strongly condemned the military’s actions. European Union Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said elections should be held reasonably quickly.
Mali has struggled to regain stability since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 that was hijacked by Islamist militants.
Keita, 75, was elected in 2013 following a coup the previous year, promising to bring peace and stability and fight corruption. He won a second five-year term in 2018.
Following months of protests against alleged corruption at least 14 people were killed in July in demonstrations called by the M5-RFP opposition coalition.
ECOWAS, which had sought to mediate between Keita and his opponents, said it plans to deploy a fresh mission to Mali to ensure a return to democracy.
‘His Own Fault’
Late on Aug. 18, anti-government protesters poured into Bamako to cheer the mutineers.
“I am against coups, but they become necessary if leaders are inflexible. What happened to IBK (Keita) was his own fault,” said 43-year-old motorcycle mechanic Namory Konate.
The capital was calmer on Aug. 19, with people and traffic circulating as normal, although many shops, banks, and public buildings remained closed following looting.
Videos on social media showed Malians running unchecked through luxury compounds in the city, including properties identified by a Reuters correspondent as belonging to Justice Minister Kassoum Tapo and Keita’s son Karim.
Gold miners B2Gold, Resolute Mining, AngloGold Ashanti, and Hummingbird Resources said they were operating in Mali as usual and their employees are safe, though their share prices all fell.
The U.N. Security Council was due to be briefed on Mali on Aug. 19, diplomats said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Aug. 18 called for the immediate release of Keita and other detainees.
By Tiemoko Diallo