When Captain Amadou Sanogo led a military coup to seize power in Mali last month he sought to justify it on the basis that President Amadou Toumani Toure’s government was not doing enough to support the army in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the North of the country, and claimed that a spell of military rule was required to restore security.
This dubious raison d'être of his junta has however rapidly faded, with the rebels successfully exploiting circumstances and advancing at an even faster rate, this week completing what they regard as the liberation of the Azawad by taking the towns of Gao and Timbuktu.
And there is more conflict to come. The complex patchwork of Tuareg militias divides broadly into two groups: the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which seeks to consolidate and defend all territorial gains; and the Islamist-leaning Ansar Dine, which is aligned to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and openly seeks to impose Sharia law throughout Mali. Whether it is an offensive struggle to retain control of Northern regions or a defensive battle against Islamist incursions, the Malian government has a fight on its hands, completely undermining Sanogo’s stated aim of peace and security.
Worse still, the undemocratic and unacceptable nature of the coup has led to the impositions of sanctions by both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). These have led to panic buying and cash withdrawals, destabilising the country further still.
Yet amidst the civil war, growing unrest and ever present fears around food security, Sanogo and his cronies are only seeking to entrench their own position in power. Envoys have been making overtures to the Nigerian government in a desperate bid for allies, whilst a concerted smear campaign has begun against the ousted and widely respected President Amadou Toumani Toure, including threats of his imminent arrest.
Sango’s military takeover, outrageous to begin with, is looking even more like a self-interested power grab every day. And at a time when Mali should have been celebrating peaceful elections, it is facing its most severe challenges since independence. With continuing armed conflict, growing isolation and a floundering megalomaniac at the helm, things look set to get worse before they get better.