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International Affairs Editor

Q&A: Spotlight on Mali as coup ousts President Touré

Le 22-03-2012

Malian soldiers launched a coup d’état on Wednesday overnight, ousting President Amadou Toumani Touré.

Despite universal condemnation, there is no sign that the rebel soldiers will back down. They have suspended the constitution, set up a Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the State and arrested most of the ministers in the former government.

1. What does this mean for democracy in Africa?

There is enormous disappointment in Africa about this coup. Mali has established a reputation for good governance and democracy over the last twenty years. It’s a terribly poor country but growth has been quite steep since the 1990s. Mali was often cited when people wanted to show the way forward for Africa. No wonder that the African Union, Ecowas and a series of African leaders, as well as France and the United States have condemned the coup in the strongest terms.

2. What is the significance of the Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the State?

Not much, sadly, except perhaps that someone in the rebel leadership has a black sense of humour. Mali had a democratically elected government, a constitution and functioning institutions. It was due to hold presidential elections next month. So you carry out a coup and then announce the formation of a Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy!

Not only that, you also announce that the committee will not relinquish power until the Tuareg revolt in the north is suppressed and the threat to national unity is removed. Bearing in mind that the Tuaregs have been in a state of simmering revolt for decades that could be a very long time.

3. What about their claims the government failed to deal with the Tuareg revolt?

It is true that the Tuaregs have had some military success over the last few months and that one of the reasons for that is the return of large numbers of Tuaregs from the conflict in Libya, where they fought on the side of Colonel Qaddafi. They are heavily armed and battle-hardened. They have captured several towns and the army has suffered heavy losses. It accuses the government of incompetence and failing to supply the army with sufficiently effective weaponry.

4. Will the Tuaregs will be happy?

Naturally – and particularly if this turns into a fight between the rebels and army units still loyal to President Touré. The Tuaregs have already said they plan to use the confusion to launch fresh assaults.

5. What do we know about the rebels?

Not a lot. Most of them are, like their leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, junior officers with absolutely no experience of government. We know nothing of their plans, other than that they want to divert a greater share of national resources to the fight against the Tuareg.