Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned from his post and dissolved his government and parliament after he was detained by soldiers in a crisis that escalated following weeks of protests.
“If elements of the army felt compelled to intervene to bring an end to this, I have no choice but to comply,” Keita, 75, said minutes after midnight Wednesday in an address broadcast on state television. “I don’t want a single drop of blood to be shed.”
Tensions have run high in the West African nation since tens of thousands of people started gathering weeks ago to demand that Keita, who’s known as IBK, resign. While the protests started over discontent with his refusal to raise wages for teachers and doctors, they later widened to include criticism over alleged corruption and nepotism within the administration.
On Tuesday, rebellious soldiers took Keita to military barracks in Mali’s biggest garrison town of Kati, on the outskirts of the capital, Bamako, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Prime Minister Boubou Cisse was also arrested, one of the people said.
Efforts by the Economic Community of West African States to mediate between the government and protesters had so far failed. The opposition demonstrations have been led by Mahmoud Dicko, a conservative, Saudi-trained preacher who’s been a vocal critic of the government for several years.
Ecowas condemned the overthrow of the Keita’s “democratically elected government” in a statement emailed hours before the leader’s televised speech, and called for the organization’s forces to be on standby. The bloc also announced sanctions that included closing borders and the suspension of trade.
The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged Ecowas, the United Nations and other international organizations to join efforts and “oppose the use of force to resolve the political crisis in Mali,” according to a post on his Twitter account.
The United Nations also condemned the soldiers’ actions Tuesday and called for “the immediate restoration of constitutional order and rule of law in Mali,” a spokesman for the Secretary-General said in a statement on the organization’s website.
The situation in Mali is reminiscent of the 2012 ouster of Keita’s predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, by junior officers angry about the lack of resources needed to fight Tuareg rebels in the north. The subsequent power vacuum was exploited by al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who seized control of the north. A French military intervention pushed back the insurgents, but some groups later returned and expanded to carry out attacks on civilians and about 15,000 UN peacekeepers in the country.
“The international community will be perturbed by the mutiny,” Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note. “France will fear it will worsen the ongoing political crisis, creating a major political vacuum and derail efforts to contain the growing insurgency,” he said before Keita was seized by the soldiers.
The government’s inability to quash the Islamist insurgencies, which have claimed thousands of lives, fueled many of the protests against Keita. The leader assumed office on a wave of optimism after 2013 elections, but critics said he didn’t fulfill any of his campaign pledges after his 2018 re-election.