behind the mask

Mali Coup d’État: The soldiers who brought down IBK

By Marième Soumaré, Aïssatou Diallo

Posted on August 20, 2020 09:37

Mali Crisis
Colonel-Major Ismael Wague, center, spokesman for the soldiers identifying themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, holds a press conference at Camp Soudiata in Kati, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s home and took him into their custody. (AP Photo)

Within Mali’s National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), several figures stand out among the military putschists.

On 19 August, Bamako woke up to a country no longer led by a president, but rather by a group of men. Late in the night, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta resigned after a day of tension.

Arrested in the afternoon with his Prime Minister, Boubou Cissé, at his residence in Sébénikoro, the now ex-president was taken to the Kati military camp.

READ MORE Mali: President Keïta resigns in TV broadcast after his arrest

It was from there, about ten kilometres from the capital, that the coup d’état began, when soldiers burst into the camp from which the 2012 putsch had already started. It is indeed in this same camp Soundiata-Keïta that the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State Restoration (CNRDRE) was born on 22 March 2012, which brought to the head of the country Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo.

High-ranking officers in action

However, there are many differences between the men who led the 2012 coup and those behind the one that just took place. Back then, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) led the  manoeuvre. But this time higher-ranking military personnel took charge of events.

Clearly very organised, they appeared on national television (ORTM) with a meticulously prepared text and clear content. The Malians then discovered the faces of the new “strong men” of the junta that had just pushed IBK to resign.

READ MORE Mali coup: President and PM arrested by soldiers after mutiny

Alongside Colonel-Major Ismaël Wagué, spokesman of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), Lieutenant-Colonel Assimi Goïta – who now presents himself as “the president of the CNSP” – and Colonels Sadio Camara, Modibo Koné and Malick Diaw.

It is no coincidence that Ismaël Wagué has been designated as the junta’s spokesman. As deputy chief of staff of the air force, he enjoys a solid reputation, both within the army and among a section of public opinion. “He is a discreet and patriotic man,” a security analyst said of him. A fighter pilot, Wagué miraculously survived an accident in northern Mali in 2012 while at the controls of his MIG-21.

While the members of the CNSP come from different army corps, Malick Diaw, Sadio Camara and Modibo Koné all come from the same class at the École militaire interarmes (EMIA) in Koulikoro.

Sadio Camara, for his part, was director general of Kati’s Prytanée militaire, before his departure at the beginning of June for Russia, where he was to undergo training. He was back in Mali for a leave of absence of a few weeks.

Malick Diaw is deputy head of Kati’s camp. He was also Deputy Chief of Staff of the National Guard in Kati’s 3rd Military Region.

Colonel Modibo Koné was commander in Koro, in the Mopti region (Centre).

General Dembélé, the key man in the operation?

Officially, General Cheikh Fanta Mady Dembélé does not belong to the CNSP. Nor did he speak before ORTM cameras on Tuesday evening.

But several of our security and diplomatic sources present him as a key man in the operation – if this were true, he would be the most senior. Contacted by Jeune Afrique/The Africa Report, the general however denies being part of the putschists. “Just like you, I saw a statement being read on television, with five people. For the moment, no figure has emerged,” he told us.

A graduate of the military school of Saint-Cyr in France with a master’s degree in civil engineering, he is a graduate of the German Federal Army University in Munich and the General Staff School in Koulikoro. He also directed the Alioune-Blondin-Beye Peacekeeping School in Bamako from 2018 to 2019.

General Dembélé is well acquainted with the African Union, where he was in charge of conflict management and strategic planning within the Peace and Security Commission. He was also a member of Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga’s cabinet when he was Minister of Defence (2013-214). In particular, he was in charge of military equipment contracts.

He is also very familiar with Sy Kadiatou Sow, one of the figures of the  5 June Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), whose daughter he recently married.

READ MORE Mali: ‘Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is still my brother’, says Mahmoud Dicko

A French security source, who had the opportunity to work with him, described him as a “very calm and consensual man”. He seemed to be faithful, outside of politics,” he said. A patriot.”

“There are, among the putschists, officers who are used to working with the international community. They understood that they had to be careful not to end up like Sanogo, and immediately spoke of a transition. This putsch was not necessarily planned, but it was matured,” says Marc-André Boisvert, an independent researcher on defence issues who has worked on the Malian army.

Latent frustrations

The putschists seem to have been able to capitalize on latent frustrations, which already existed at the time of the 2012 coup de force. But unlike the mutineers of 2012, who had to face the National Guard soldiers, these putschists met no resistance.

READ MORE Mali: A second coup in the backdrop of a secession war

“Some soldiers were able to receive the Sanogo bonus [war bonus paid monthly to each soldier sent to the front]. Bonuses were also allocated to the military’s beneficiaries. But the increasingly deadly attacks undermined the morale of the troops and rekindled frustration. The soldiers had the impression that they had not been listened to after the attack on Boulkessi and Mondoro in October 2019,” explains Boisvert.

“There are latent frustrations within the army between officers who were in favour of the government and others,” explains Baba Dakono, executive secretary of the Citizen Observatory on Governance and Security.

For the researcher, the changes in presidential security are also at the root of tensions between the different branches of the army. IBK had withdrawn the mission from the red berets, to entrust it to the National Guard and then to the gendarmerie.

On Tuesday morning, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta had also dismissed Lieutenant-Colonel Ibrahim Traoré from his position as head of presidential security. “This dismissal was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Dakono.

Another element that may have accelerated things is the UN expert group report, leaked on 14 August. Its contents, which pointed to the direct responsibility of several Malian military officers for the delays in implementing the Algiers Peace Agreement, has led to tensions within the military apparatus. “The report gave the impression that some were taking it easy, while others were dying on the front lines,” says Dakono.

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