Amidst the dust storms that settled over Bamako, there came news mid evening that gunfire was being reported in the vicinity of the news station ORTM and Kati (the military barracks). ORTM has been at the heart of Mali history in the making for the last month and a half. The first coup happened at ORTM. So what exactly was going on? The loyalists to the deposed president Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) were reported to have joined forces with foreign fighters to try to defeat the junta and reclaim ORTM. It was interesting to note the changing news stories in the first few hours as journalists reported how first the junta was in control and then the loyalist forces and then the junta again. Interesting because it showed an uncertainty of the rapidly developing situation. The loyalists are known as the Red Berets and are the personal bodyguard of the President, very similar to the Secret Service. It is also interesting to note that when the coup first happened on March 21st, there were reports of the Red Berets launching a counterstrike, but then junta leader Sanogo had come on TV with the Red Berets and said that they were all one and fighting for the same cause.
So why the sudden change of heart? It would be pointless to re-institute ATT as President given his term was essentially done as of April 29th and that most Malians are fed up with his lack luster leadership over the last year. To put ATT in office would essentially cause a lot more trouble than is worth and even ATT, given his recent fleeing to Senegal does not seem willing to put his life on the line. So why now? The past week has seen a number of decisions made by ECOWAS and the interim President Diacounda regarding the length before elections, which has been set at 12 months, Diacounda’s term possibly being extended to 12 months and the deployment of ECOWAS troops in Mali. This has caused some consternation among the junta as the extension of Diacounda’s term is a violation of the Mali constitution and the junta in no way was part of this new agreement which goes against the framework agreement of April 6th. In addition, the junta and most Malians do not want foreigners fighting on Malian soil. What they want is weaponry, logistics and supplies that can help guide their efforts in the North of the country. Today, there was to be a meeting between the junta and ECOWAS to discuss these things. However, yesterday evening, tensions flared first as the student association AEEM attacked the radio station run by Oumar Mariko, a junta loyalist. Red Berets stormed ORTM with the hopes of defeating the junta and soon reports were swirling around about the Berets having taken over ORTM and the airport. As we reached midnight, nothing seemed clear. Reports claimed 14 junta and Red Berets were dead and 40 injured.
This morning, I woke up to rumbling thunder. In the first moments I thought it was gunfire, but then realized that the rain was coming to wash away the bad dust storm that has captured the city. No new news has been reported and in my opinion, no news is sometimes good news. Sanogo came in a recorded broadcast and spoke to the Malian people this evening. He advised that certain foreign militia had teamed up with the Red Berets to try to stage a mutiny against the junta. Sanogo told the Malian people not to worry and that all was well. He was firm and said that none of the governments that have been installed are in danger. They remain and Mali continues to be ruled in effect by an interim President Diacounda, a Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra and the transitional government of 24 members. Sanogo has advised his job is to ensure Mali and Malians remain safe and that the seat of government should not fall. Yeah also called Prime Minister Diarra early this morning to ensure his safety and the safety of the government as the situation developed. There were also rumors swirling about ECOWAS troops being in Ouelessebougou, which Yeah quickly dispelled. The Prime Minister, encouraged Yeah to spread a message to all American leaders he was meeting with. His position is that what happened on March 21st was a mutiny (and not a coup) against a corrupt government and that stability has been restored with an interim President and civilian transitional government. It is the hope of PM Diarra that countries like America will understand that the aid they have continued to suspend is a hard blow to the innocent civilians that need it most. It is the hope that this aid will be restored so Mali can recover quickly.
As it stands now, the airport, ORTM and other key areas are under the junta’s protection. They have also taken over the Red Berets Djicoroni camp. The airport has been shut down not only due to the bad visibility but now the fighting. There are reports of flights operating on the 4th of May. Also, a large amount of guns, grenades and missiles have been confiscated from these armed groups.
The junta has successfully quashed two counter-strikes now and in a way has shown their ability to protect Mali from further falling. Their inabilities in the North are attributed to ATT who never prepared his army to fight an insurgency. All the weaponry provided by the Western governments is rumored to have never reached the soldiers. Sending troops without arms into battle would be sending them to an early grave and risking the lives of 100K people in the region. To many Malians, the junta is their hero, having saved them from being marginalized further by a corrupt, ineffective government.
My two cents. It makes no sense why the Red Berets would launch a counter offensive. It might just be militia trying to make the most of the uncertain times in Mali. That is why it is important now more than ever for Malians to stand up for their country and unite in the face of rebellion. No use turning the clock back. I guess call me the optimist, but Mali is heading in the right direction with the objective being the installation of a leader that will resolve the countries bigger issues like education, the economy and the healthcare system. For now, it will be essential to protect the semblance of the government in place so that calm may be re-established and that the needful may be done like restoring Mali’s territorial integrity. We need to live in the moment. We have to make the most of what has happened and help build a strong foundation upon which Mali’s democracy may grow.