A“coup within a coup”: what next for Mali?

By Mert Can Yazici
Sub-Saharan Africa Analyst

While transatlantic actors are focused on the numerous summits and US President Joe Biden’s 8-day visit to Europe, the key west African nation of Mali is undergoing a coup for the second time in 9 months. The latest coup began with the arrest of Mali’s transitional President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane by the armed forces on 24 May. Colonel Assimi Goita, the officer orchestrating the arrests, was sworn in as interim president on 7 June.[1] The recent “coup within a coup”[2] in Mali not only brings the country’s democratic transition process into question but also poses significant risks to the stability of the wider region.

Mali is no stranger to coups. Since its independence in 1960, the country has witnessed military takeovers four times before, in 1968, 1991, 2012, and 2020.[3] The coup in August 2020, following mass protests against the Keita rule in Mali, was widely tolerated, if not welcomed, by civil society and opposition groups in the country.[4] Although the forced removal of the democratically elected leader had raised international concerns, the coup was seen as a step towards solving the widespread corruption, insecurity, and economic hardship in the country.[5] Following mediation efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an 18-month transition period was agreed and a transition government was established to serve until democratic elections were held. Yet, hopes quickly turned into frustration. Goita, the interim vice-president and leader of the military junta, staged a second coup claiming that he had not been consulted about a cabinet reshuffle attempted by the transitional prime minister. Unlike the atmosphere in August 2020, the recent coup in Mali was met with disappointment and raised concerns about the country’s democratic transition. [6]

The latest political upheaval in Mali has sparked international reactions. At an extraordinary summit on 30 May, the leaders of ECOWAS decided to suspend Mali until the end of February 2022, when democratic elections were scheduled.[7] This was followed by the African Union’s suspension of Mali “until normal constitutional order has been restored in the country”.[8] France, another key actor, reacted to the latest coup by temporarily suspending its joint military operations with Malian forces.[9]  

So what is next for Mali? The country seems increasingly unlikely to meet its transition pledges concerning the restoration of democracy. Goita has a difficult task ahead of him to build alliances with domestic and international actors. International pressure will prove decisive in preventing delays to the restoration of democracy. The careful monitoring of the transition process in Mali by regional and international actors is crucial to prevent new coups in a region where there is already political fragility, as demonstrated by the coup attempt in Niger in recent months. Finally, this latest coup once again shows that there should be a stronger focus on good governance, democratic institutions, and the rule of law in any international effort to stabilise the country, rather than a mere security engagement.


[1] “Mali: Assimi Goita sworn in as transitional president”. (2021, June 7). Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/mali-assimi-goita-sworn-in-as-transitional-president/a-57798691

[2] “France’s Macron says arrest of Mali leaders is ‘coup within a coup’”. (2021, May 25). Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/eu-summit-france-mali-idAFP6N2MJ01W

[3] Tchioffo, Kodjo. (2020, August 27). “4 out of 4: Why has Mali had so many successful coups?.” African Arguments. https://africanarguments.org/2020/08/4-out-of-4-why-has-mali-coups-had-so-many-successful-coups/

[4] Melly, Paul. (2021, May 27). “Mali coup: How to solve the conundrum”. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57255601

[5] “Mali coup: Thousands take to Bamako streets to celebrate”. (2020, August 21). BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53868236

[6] Wing, Susanna D. (2021, May 28). “Another coup in Mali? Here’s what you need to know”. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/05/28/another-coup-mali-heres-what-you-need-know/

[7] “West African bloc ECOWAS suspends Mali over coup”. (2021, May 30). France24. https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20210530-west-african-bloc-ecowas-suspends-mali-from-its-institutions-after-coup

[8] “Mali suspended from African Union, threatened with sanctions”. (2021, June 2). Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/2/mali-suspended-from-african-union-after-second-coup-in-9-months

[9] “France suspends joint military operations with Malian forces”. (2021, June 3). France24. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210603-france-suspends-joint-military-operations-with-malian-forces-in-mali

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