Inside Story

A coup under way in Mali?

As rebel soldiers claim control of the West African nation we ask if the government can sustain its grip on power?

On Thursday rebel troops in Mali went on state television to announce that they had seized control of the country and ended the administration of Amadou Toumani Toure, the president.

They also declared a nationwide curfew and suspended the constitution.

It is far, far away from being a mutiny. It’s just an expression of frustration and refusal to fight in a foreign land, nothing to do with a coup, just ongoing frustrations in the country.”

– Akli Sh’kka, spokesman, Tuareg Youth Movement

A day earlier tensions heightened when Mali’s defence minister failed to address soldiers’ concerns during a visit to a military camp near the capital, Bamako.

Shortly afterwards, rebel soldiers staged a mutiny and attacked the presidential palace.

Mali was the scene of a bloody coup in 1991. After killing hundreds of peaceful protesters, the army eventually turned on Moussa Traore, the then president, joining the ranks of those calling for change.

That coup was led by Toure who this latest mutiny is trying to oust from the presidency, blaming his handling of an ongoing conflict with the Tuareg tribes in the north that has been going on for years.

[Being ill-led and poorly-equipped] was one of the key arguments of the army in February when thousands of soldiers…demonstrated and went to see the president to say they had ‘no equipment, no good ammunition and there is not enough food…

– Adam Thiam, columnist, Le Republicain

Toure managed to strike a peace deal with the Tuareg in 2009. But fighting has intensified in recent months, many say because of the number of weapons flooding in from Libya, left over from the war there.

The current Tuareg-led rebellion in the north started earlier this year after thousands of well-armed and trained Tuareg fighters returned from Libya.

Their anger at events in Libya was compounded by the failure of Mali’s president and his government to address their problems.

In this show we ask: How powerful are these rebel soldiers? Can the government sustain its grip on power? And, how far the events in Mali will add to the instability that already exists in West Africa?

Joining presenter Adrian Finighan on Inside Story to discuss these issues and more are guests: Akli Sh’kka, a spokesman for the Tuareg Youth Movement for Justice and Equality; Baz Lecocq, a professor of African history at Ghent University in Belgium; and Adam Thiam, a columnist for Le Republicain newspaper.

You can look at it in two ways…the coup, if it was intended, had to be staged now because in a few months’ time there would be a new government…The other is that the soldiers do not really care about the timing…

– Baz Lecocq, African history professor, Ghent University

Who are the Tuaregs?

  • A nomadic community living in the Azawad area in northern Mali that comprises three regions – Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, and make up roughly seven per cent of Mali’s population.
  • The Tuareg’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) has been calling for independence for the north.
  • They have long complained of being marginalised by the southern government.
  • The post-colonial history of the Tuareg in Mali has been characterised by a series of rebellions that started in 1962.