The coup in Mali and Turkey’s stance

The coup in Mali and Turkey’s stance

The situation created by a military coup in Mali last month seems to a be a candidate to emerge as a new controversy in international politics. The visit of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Mali after the coup and his meeting with the leadership of the military council that carried out the coup makes Turkey part of the equation in Mali and the debate on this.

Let’s first recall briefly what happened in Mali. Mali is the eighth-largest country on the continent in northwest Africa, with a population of around 19 million and with no access to the sea. Mali, a majority-Muslim country is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference just like Turkey. 

The country suffered four coups after 1968. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was overthrown August, is an elected leader, receiving 67 percent of the votes in the second round of the 2018 election. However, the turmoil in Mali has not calmed down in recent years.

Lastly, allegations of a manipulation during the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections last April, the following protests and the arrest of the opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, drove the country into a serious depression.

Imam Dicko at the head of the opposition

The “M5-RFP Platform” (June 5 Movement), which carries out actions of civil disobedience in the streets against Keita, is an umbrella organization gathering several opposition groups. The head of the movement is Imam Mahmud Dicko, former chairman of Mali’s Supreme Islamic Council.

President Keita’s abolition of the Constitutional Court, which was accused of playing with the election results, in the face of calls for his resignation and appointing new members to the court was not enough to stop the violence of street protests.

Then, on Aug.18, the putschists led by Colonel Assimi Goita took over the administration and arrested President Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse. And as is usually the case with every coup, a council took the law in its hands in Mali: The National Council for the Safety of the People ... Citing corruption, economic crisis, and national security problems as grounds for intervention, the Council announced that a transition period has been started with the goal of returning to democracy.

The 37-year-old Colonel Goita took over the presidency during the transition period. Colonel Goita was serving as the commander of the Special Forces troops in the central area of Mali when he headed the coup. Goita is an officer trained in the special forces in the U.S.

The toppled President Keita, known as a name close to France, was allowed to go abroad for treatment after his health deteriorated. Keita went to the United Arab Emirates, which took responsibility of him on Sept.6. Let’s note that both France and the UAE are the two countries that recently Turkey has frequently confronted.

Harsh condemnations from UN, West 

The coup in Mali caused great reactions and serious “condemnation” statements in the international community. One of the first condemnations, interestingly, came from the United Nations Security Council. In the statement made on behalf of the Council, it was stated that the members strongly condemned the revolt and called on the rebels to “return to their barracks” by releasing the officials they arrested.

Another condemnation came from European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We condemn the military coup,” demanding a political solution.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in a social media post that he “strongly condemned” the coup in Mali. The Organization of African Unity, on the other hand, not only condemned the coup but also announced that Mali’s membership in the organization was suspended. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), where 15 countries come together, announced that it has closed the border gates with Mali. It is possible to extend the list.

‘Deep concern, sorrow’ from Ankara on coup

When we look at the attitude of Turkey, the official response does not come to the line of “condemnation.” The Foreign Ministry on Aug. 19, the day after the coup, said, “We accept with sorrow and deep concern that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was forced to resign by dissolving the parliament and the government as a result of the coup by a group within the armed forces in Mali.” The statement also emphasized the “strong expectation that President Keita and other high-ranking officials in detention will be released immediately and that the country will return to the constitutional order as soon as possible.” 

‘Immediate elections’ message to coup putschists

However, a more important step on the Ankara front was Çavuşoğlu’s trip to Mali, Guinea Bissau and Senegal on Sept. 9-11 last week. Çavuşoğlu met with Colonel Goita, the leader of the putschists, and other council members in Bamako, Mali’s capital, on Sept. 9.

Speaking after the meeting, Çavuşoğlu stated that he had “discussed the transition process” with the Council. “We discussed what steps can be taken in the next process. Our desire is for Mali to complete the transition process smoothly. And it is important for the future of Mali to take the necessary steps for democratic elections by establishing a constitutional order as soon as possible. We sincerely shared our views on this matter like a brother. Under the current conditions of Mali, we find it positive that comprehensive negotiations with civil society and political parties have begun,” he said. 

How to take a stance against coups?

It should be noted that Ankara’s attitude towards a coup in a country in Africa, which it regards as close to itself, differs significantly from the “condemnation” line of Western countries. Ankara adopts a strategy of encouraging a return to democracy with an inclusive understanding as soon as possible by contacting the coup administration instead of making condemnation.

This attitude towards Mali will inevitably trigger comparisons to be made with Ankara’s strong reaction to the coup in Egypt. When it comes to national interests, if one can show flexibility on a realistic ground and assume an altitude of persuading to return to democracy as soon as possible, is it necessary to demonstrate this attitude towards other countries? 
It seems that the coup in Mali will bring such discussions to our agenda.

Sedat Ergin,