Africa: Why World Leaders' Inconsistency On Coups in Chad and Mali May Spark More Coups in Africa

A caricature of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known as IBK, being thrown off a chair by a soldier.

While world leaders have condemned the coups in Mali, they have been less critical of the one last month in Chad

The arrest of the Malian transitional president, Bah Ndaw, and his prime minister, Moctar Ouane, last Monday triggered a transatlantic diplomatic uproar that raised questions about democratic progress in Africa.

The acting vice president of Mali, Assimi Goïta, stripped the duo of their powers after leading the nation's second coup d'etat in nine months.

Messrs Ndaw and Ouane have since been freed, but the junta leader, Mr Goita, has assumed the presidency after a constitutional court declared him as transitional president on Friday.

The coup provoked swift international condemnations from global authorities. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations swiftly denounced what officials cast as unjust arrests, calling for the release of Messrs N'Daw and Ouane.

So did U.S. officials and French President Emmanuel Macron, who threatened sanctions against the "putschists" and described the event as a "coup d'etat within a coup d'etat."

Nigeria's federal government said the military's action was "totally unacceptable and might derail the peace building efforts and timetable for the return of democratic governance in Mali."

Many observers believe that the tepid reaction and obvious justification given to last month's coup in Chad emboldened the Malian military to strike again.

The African Union has shown itself to be incapable in principles, Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor and policy analyst, said.

"It has lost its zero tolerance policy towards coup d'etat and this will definitely encourage the phenomenon of coup d'etat in the continent.

"The Union didn't condemn the Chadian coup and it's clear because Moussa Faki, head of the African Union was put in that position by Déby and therefore has vested interest in protecting his family as well," Mr Ibrahim said.

An ECOWAS mission was in Bamako to meet with the various protagonists on Sunday and push for coup reversal. But Mali's international partners know that sanctions couldfurther destabilise the nation of 19 million people, which has been battling armed groups since 2012.

"The same way General Abacha, effectively the vice-chair of Shonekan's interim government, shoved off his chair in 1993, is the same way the vice-president of Mali's transitional government, a colonel, is supplanting his own interim president," Femi Mimiko, a professor of political science, said. "These interim craps don't seem to endure," he added.

As in August 2020, ECOWAS could suspend Mali from its institutions and impose economic sanctions that weigh heavily on Malian decision-makers' minds. But these measures also hurt the Malian population and risk aggravating internal tensions, potentially leading the population to resent the external intervention.

"The issue in Mali is very problematic because the Jihadists 'effect has been very strong for over a decade now," Mr Ibahim explained. "There is a lot of fear that a power squabble will weaken the capacity of the Malian state and create opportunity for the jihadists to be even stronger in action."

The swift reaction by the international community was expected last April when a junta seized power in Chad after the death of President Idriss Déby who ruled for 30 years. Mr Deby died from injuries sustained while fighting with rebel groups, a day after he won sixth term reelection.

Rather than follow the constitutional provision that mandates the speaker of the parliament to hold office for 40 days in the case of the death of the president, the army dissolved the Chadian parliament, suspended the constitution and named Mr Idris' son, Mahamat Kaka, interim president of the country.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how President Buhari and other world leaders refused to condemn the coup. Mr Buhari, instead, maintained that Nigeria will assist Chad to stabilise and return to constitutional orderr.

"Chad is a very strategic country for France," Mr Ibrahim noted. "When Déby died, they wanted to maintain that relationship and therefore supported his son to take over."

But in doing so, Mr Ibrahim said, "they were being hypocritical since there is a policy of zero tolerance for change of power through unconstitutional means.

"It is clear that what happened in Chad was a coup but they decided not to act on that."

How did Mali get to this stage?

Since 1960, when Mali gained independence from France, there have been five coups -- and only one peaceful transition from one democratically elected president to another.

The 2012 coup was a surprise, however, because for 20 years Mali had been viewed as a model for emerging democracies and presidential elections were just weeks away. Since then, coups seem to have again become commonplace.

The country has been roiled by an ongoing political crisis. Military officers and political leaders are elbowing one another for political control.

On Monday, military officers, angry with a government reshuffle, arrested Messrs Ndaw and Ouane. The two were taken to the military base in Kati, a community close to Bamako, the country's capital city.

The duo resigned their positions on Wednesday according to a spokesperson for the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP).

Mr Goïta, who also led last year's coup, said the men had unveiled a new government without his input -- without two members of the junta that toppled Mali's previous government -- and had therefore violated the country's transition agreement.

The transition government was installed last September under international pressure with the task of steering the country back to full civilian rule within 18 months, but its appointments were heavily influenced by the military.

Mr Goïta, on Friday, explained that the army had little choice but to intervene.

"We had to choose between disorder and cohesion within the defence and security forces, and we chose cohesion," he said.

Slow reforms, a crumbling economy and decrepit public services and schools, along with a widely shared perception of government corruption, have also fed Mali, sparking large protests in the capital, Bamako, last year.

"Real threat to the stability of countries within and around the Sahel (and that includes Nigeria) is almost palpable," Mr Mimiko said, adding that, "the bad guys operating across the region are fired up with their takedown of Idris Derby of Chad.

"It is expected they would want to ramp up their acts. A more interventionist France is the only realistic bulwark against the region's takeover by these rampaging extremists," he told PREMIUM TIMES.

Nigeria and France united in condemning the Mali coup but had both kept mum on Chad's power seizure last April.

A certain opinion, however, has been formed by supporters of the junta who believe that the current situation comes down to a confrontation of two divergent points of view.

The first, according to Boubacar Haidara, represented by the arrested executive, is seen as beholden to the interests of France - the publication of the new cabinet came barely 48 hours after Mr Ndaw's return from Paris.

The second, representing the junta, opposes the influence of Mali's former coloniser, promoting instead a rapprochement with Russia.

"Chad is a very strategic country for France and her weapons ally in the fight against violent extremism," Mr Ibrahim said.

"It has the most effective army in West and Central Africa.

"In 2012, the Islamic jihadists wanted to take over Bamako, it was essentially France and Chad that were able to resist them. Chad sent 2,000 soldiers while Nigeria that used to could only send 500.

"Both in Nigeria and Niger, the Chadian army, when they decided to help, have been very effective against Boko Haram," Mr Ibrahim added.

If other world leaders speak from the two sides of their mouths in reaction to the coups in Chad and Mali, Nigeria should normally not be among them. This is because complacency could be costly.

The two countries are Nigeria's close neighbours up north and their political stability is key to the interest of Nigeria.

Likewise, because all three countries are united in their fight against insurgency, turning a blind eye to a military takeover in any of them may send the wrong signals. Nigeria certainly would not want to risk that.

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