Coup Attempt in Mali Endangers Proposed Presidential Polls

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An attempted coup in Mali, Africa’s third-largest gold producer, threatens to derail presidential elections planned for February that are meant to return the nation to civilian rule.

Mali’s President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were taken to military barracks outside the capital Bamako on Monday hours after the announcement of a new cabinet, according to the United Nations and officials from several governments. The move comes after an Aug. 18 coup saw the ouster of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and adds to the chaos in the West African country.

There were no other immediate indications that soldiers are trying to take control of the government, with the streets of the capital, Bamako, calm on Tuesday morning. Those responsible for detaining N’Daw and Ouane have yet to make any statement.

Coup Attempt in Mali Endangers Proposed Presidential Polls

The president and prime minister along with other leaders were detained after the cabinet changes left out two members of the junta -- including Defense Minister Colonel Sadio Camara -- who were behind the August coup. Instability in Mali could be exploited by Islamist insurgents in the north and center who’ve staged increasingly violent attacks in the region, despite the presence of a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force.

International condemnation of the arrests was swift, with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles warning the bloc is prepared to consider sanctions against political and military leaders obstructing the transition to civilian rule.

“We strongly condemn the coup attempt that took place following the announcement of the new cabinet,” the UN, U.S., France and others said in a joint statement. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs called for the “immediate, unconditional release” of the officials in a Tweet.

Coup Attempt in Mali Endangers Proposed Presidential Polls

Mali’s interim leadership was arrested by “rebellious soldiers,” the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States said in a separate statement.

An Ecowas delegation was expected in Bamako on Tuesday to resume the transition process ahead of presidential elections in about nine months that are intended to return Mali to civilian rule.

Brigadier-General Souleymane Doucoure, who replaced Camara as defense minister, was among those detained at the barracks, according to an adviser to the interim government.

“The crisis is a setback,” J. Peter Pham, the former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel, now with The Atlantic Council, said on Twitter. “The transitional set-up was a balance agreed by local stakeholders, endorsed by the African Union and Ecowas. One party can’t change terms and not expect a negative reaction.”

Mali produced 66.5 tons of gold in 2020, making it the third-largest producer of the metal in Africa, according to the Mali Mining and Petroleum Conference and Exhibition. Companies including Barrick Gold Corp. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. operate in the West African nation.

“We are monitoring the situation,” B2Gold Corp. Chief Executive Officer Clive Johnson said in an emailed response to questions. “We hope there is a peaceful resolution and a commitment to return to a democratically elected government for the benefit of the Malian people.”

Fekola, which is B2Gold’s biggest operation in Mali and produces as much as 560,000 ounces of gold a year, is unaffected by the political upheaval, Johnson said.

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