The president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, has been arrested by soldiers after a mutiny, it has been reported.
“We are able to tell you that the president and the prime minister are under our control. We have arrested them at his [the president’s] home,” a soldier was quoted as telling Agence France-Presseearly on Tuesday evening.
After a day of confusion and amid conflicting claims, the statement was confirmed by at least two security sources in Bamako, the capital of the unstable west African country.
The reports came only two hours after a statement calling for calm was issued by the prime minister, Boubou Cissé.
“The government appeals to reason and patriotic sense and asks that weapons should fall silent … and is ready immediately to engage in a brotherly dialogue in order to address any misunderstandings,” the statement said.
Gunfire was heard on Tuesday at an army base about nine miles outside Bamako.
The reports of violence at the base immediately prompted fears of a replay of a 2012 mutiny that led to a coup d’etat that opened the way to Islamic extremists and ethnic separatists exploiting the chaos to seize swaths of territory in the north of Mali.
These concerns appear to have been justified. But the scale of the mutiny was not immediately clear, nor the exact intent of those responsible. A European diplomat said a relatively small number of members of the national guard, apparently angered by a pay dispute, had seized a munitions depot while a French military source said discussions were taking place between Mali’s army command and the mutineers.
Keïta came to power in 2013 and won a second term as president in 2018. But there has been rising anger at government incompetence, endemic corruption and a deteriorating economy. Protesters took to the streets last month when the constitutional court overturned the provisional results of parliamentary elections held in March and April after Keïta’s party had performed poorly.
Keïta had hoped concessions to opponents and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissatisfaction, but the protest leaders have rejected proposals to join a power-sharing government.
There are widespread concerns that any instability will benefit extremists in Mali affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State. The insurgents have proved tenacious, growing in strength across the Sahel region despite the intervention of thousands of French forces, teams of US special forces, regional armies and one of the biggest UN peacekeeping deployments in the world.
A coup would be a major setback to French diplomacy in the region. Mali is seen as a lynchpin of efforts to secure the Sahel, and Paris has invested heavily there despite the increasing domestic unpopularity of the French military commitment.
An opposition politician in Bamako said Tuesday’s events had come as a complete surprise to him and his colleagues. “This is not some kind of thing organised with us,” he said.
Alexandre Raymakers, a senior Africa analyst at the risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said it was unlikely the mutiny was planned by political leaders close to the opposition but that their supporters might welcome any effort decision to remove Keïta.
“This remains a fast-moving situation, but initial indications point to the mutiny being within the national guard, with significant elements of the army still loyal to Keita … The mutiny is likely driven by a range of factors closely tied to the deteriorating military situation in central and northern Mali, rather than the ongoing political crisis,” he said.
The French and Norwegian embassies in Bamako urged their citizens to stay at home.
“Because of serious unrest this morning, August 18, in the city of Bamako, it is immediately recommended to remain at home,” the French embassy said.