Coup and counter-coup: Mali's military junta retains control of capital

Mali's military junta have kept control of the capital, Bamako, after loyalists of the former president launch a counter-coup. But the junta has lost much of the country to Tuareg rebels.

Adama Diarra/Reuters
Motorcyclists ride down a deserted street past an abandoned roadblock after renewed fighting in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, May 1. Heavy gunfire erupted near Mali's state television in Bamako on Tuesday on the second day of fighting between forces from the ruling junta and soldiers believed to be loyal to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, witnesses said.

Fighting in Mali’s capital of Bamako broke out last night and deep into the early hours of Tuesday. Military commanders who led a March 22 coup to oust President Amadou Toumani Toure say that they have managed to keep control of all strategic points in the capital, including the airport, a major military base, and the state-owned television station, but heavy gunfire could be heard until dawn.

Coup leaders were forced under heavy diplomatic pressure to step down in favor of a civilian government, led by former Parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré. But coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo remains influential, and his troops have been carrying out arrests.

The most recent fighting seems to have sparked off when Captain Sanogo’s men attempted to arrest the leader of the “Red Berets,” the presidential guards who are thought to remain loyal to the former president.

"Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested," a junta officer said in a television message, quoted by Reuters.

Even before the coup, Mali had been a country of major concern for Western diplomats and for defense analysts. With much of its territory straddling the Saharan desert and the more temperate Sahel region, Mali has long had difficulty maintaining effective control over its own lands and the nomadic people who live in its arid north. Such a vast uncontrolled territory has been seen by Europe, in particular, as a threat, since drug dealers, arms traffickers, and Islamists have increasingly used northern Mali as a safe haven, both for business and for revolution.

French and American military trainers have worked over the past five years to provide equipment and training for the poorly equipped Malian army. But with the March 22 coup, all joint-training missions have been cut off, and Mali has taken a turn from “fragile state” toward “failed state” status. 

The coup was launched by Army mid-ranking soldiers complaining that the government of President Toure had failed to provide adequate food and ammunition in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the desert north. The coup was swift and successful, but as Sanogo and his men took control of the country’s capital down south, Tuareg rebels – apparently resupplied with arms and fresh troops fleeing the civil war in Libya – took advantage of the confusion and ousted the Malian military from bases across the north, an area roughly the size of France.

The result is a kind of cultural partition. Up north, in cities such as Timbuktu, Tuaregs and their apparent Islamist allies have now imposed their own version of Sharia law. Down south, Sanogo’s men appear to have control, but it is not clear whether the Malian army has either the manpower or the will to retake areas lost to the Tuareg rebels and Islamists.

Mali’s neighbors have watched the country’s disintegration with growing alarm. On Saturday, Sanogo – still apparently speaking for the government – rejected a proposal by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send in peacekeepers to Mali, as well as ECOWAS’s demands for elections within the next 12 months.

For the moment, calm has returned to Bamako, as heavy rains delay the likelihood of heavy fighting on Tuesday between the pro-coup army members and the Red Berets loyal to former President Toure.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Coup and counter-coup: Mali's military junta retains control of capital
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today