West African heads of state meeting in Côte d’Ivoire have given Mali’s military junta three days to restore constitutional order and step down – or face a range of diplomatic and economic sanctions.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the Mar. 22 coup which sent a weak and unpopular President Amadou Toumani Touré into hiding, responded by saying that he remains open to dialogue while appealing for assistance in dealing with the Arab nomads who have attacked the north of the country.
An extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of West African States earlier in the week had decided to send a high-level delegation to the Malian capital on Thursday, but the mission was abandoned at the last moment, when thousands of supporters of Sanogo’s administration occupied the tarmac at the Bamako airport.
Tensions were running high in Bamako, on a day when thousands of Malians held demonstrations in the capital in support of the military junta.
Supporters of the junta stormed the airport on Thursday morning to protest against the ECOWAS delegation. Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara’s plane, which had already entered Malian airspace, returned to the Ivorian capital, Abidjan.
The regional leaders proceeded to meet in Côte d’Ivoire. Ivorian Foreign Affairs Minister Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni told Radio France International that ECOWAS had told the coup leaders that if they did not return power to the elected government they had deposed by Monday, they would face sanctions.
The threatened sanctions include the freezing of Mali’s account at BCEAO, (the Central Bank of West African States – a regional bank serving the francophone countries that share a single currency, the CFA franc controlled by France), the suspension of access by private Malian banks to BCEAO, the recall of ECOWAS member states’ ambassadors from Bamako, and the closure of borders with neighbouring countries.
According to a source close to the military, the junta would have met with ECOWAS representatives already on the ground in Bamako, such as the Burkinabè foreign affairs minister, Djibril Bassolé. According to analysts, this is a means for Captain Sanogo to show that he has not broken off all dialogue, as he is well aware of the looming threat of sanctions.
The aborted visit by ECOWAS leaders was preceded by the arrival in Bamako on Wednesday of a delegation of army chiefs from the region. The head of this mission, General Soumaïla Bakayoko, appeared on Malian television to say that they had come to ask the junta to step aside.
The coup leaders told the army chiefs that they were prepared to do whatever was necessary for the good of the country.
Prior to the army chiefs’ arrival in Bamako, several thousand supporters marched in the streets of the capital to demonstrate their support for the coup, shouting slogans including, “Down with ECOWAS! Down with France! Viva the army!”
Among the organisers of this march was the African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence party (SADI), the only political party represented in parliament that has expressed support for the coup. Addressing an excited crowd, Dr Oumar Mariko, the secretary general of SADI, said the international community had not helped Mali when the country needed support to fight against Arab Islamists insurgents.
Against this, a coalition of 36 political parties and civil society organisations has come out strongly in support of mediation by ECOWAS.
The coalition does not intend to give the junta a moment’s rest. It has put forward a plan for a campaign to “defeat the coup, restore constitutional order and return soldiers to their barracks”. But the coalition is conscious of the challenges facing the Malian army, and has sought to reassure rank and file troops.
“We will listen carefully to the demands of the army and the security forces with regards to the improvement of their living and working conditions, particularly as relates to the situation for the families of soldiers killed on the frontline (in the north),” said Tiébilé Dramé, a former minister for foreign affairs and member of the coalition against the coup.
Deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré broke his silence on Wednesday Mar. 28, granting an interview to Radio France International that was broadcast across Africa. He said that he and his family remain in Mali, and are not being detained by the new regime. Elected in 2007 for a second five-year term as president, Toumani Touré was expected to leave power in June, following presidential elections that had been scheduled for Apr. 29.
But the invasion of northern Mali in mid-January and deepening social malaise have profoundly tarnished his image in the country since the start of the year.
Paradoxically, many people who oppose the coup as a matter of principle support Toumani Touré’s overthrow.
“We, who retired voluntarily, we are encouraged by this coup d’état. It is only now that there will be a true democracy where equality in the eyes of law can become a reality for all,” Abdoul Sidibé, a former policeman, told reporters. “For more than 20 years, there has been an international perception that Mali was a democratic country, while corruption and impunity reigned.”
Life is slowly returning to normal in the Malian capital after widespread looting last week. Several prominent figures associated with the former regime had been arrested, but they were released on Tuesday Mar. 27.
Meanwhile on the northern battlefront, the northern city of Kidal and the garrison town of Gao have fallen to the Arab attackers. Tuareg Islamist are now marching on the ancient city of Timbuktu, so far African leaders have refused to come to the aid of the Malian people instead they instead they prefer to hide their indecisiveness and cowardice behind a veil of democracy.