Africa’s steady move toward the consolidation of democracy suffered major setbacks in March and April when military elements struck in crisis-prone Guinea-Bissau and one-time democratic beacon Mali.
Guinea-Bissau was only weeks away from a presidential runoff election when soldiers attacked the front-runner’s home on April 12 and arrested him along with the country’s interim president, in yet another interruption of the political process in a country where, since independence nearly 40 years ago, no leader has finished his term in office because of coups.
In the first round of voting, former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. had been leading by a wide margin, but by the night of April 12, the military had blocked off the roads to his house and started throwing grenades at his villa. This forced him and the President to flee the country after a brief detention by the military.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) quickly condemned the coup but, following intense negotiations, subsequently gave its support to a one-year transitional government proposed by the coup leaders. In an effort to put the country back on track, ECOWAS in May began sending a contingent of 600 peacekeepers to replace Angolan troops formerly stationed in Guinea -Bissau, since their presence had become a source of conflict with the local military.
Observers believe that the ECOWAS deal which sent the Prime Minister and President into forced exile, had rewarded the coup makers by endorsing its hand picked transitional government. The deal calls into question its zero tolerance policy. Thus prompting the EU decision not to recognize the transitional government in Guinea-bissau.
Just weeks earlier, chaos erupted in Mali, as middle-ranking officers from the national army, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, staged a coup in Bamako on March 22. They accused the President of failure to end a Tuareg-led rebellion in the north.
ECOWAS immediately condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on the country, including foreign asset freezes and travel bans. The sanctions were, however, lifted in April after Captain Sanogo formally stood down following an agreement on an interim government which paved the way for the appointment of Dioncounda Traore as interim leader President to whom the coup leaders nominally handed over power.
Contrary to the expectations of the coup leaders, the coup triggered an advance by the northern rebels who, on 25 May declared the nation’s north an independent country known as Azawad, to be ruled according to Sharia law.
Two rebel groups, Ansar Dine and the Tuareg MNLA, announced in a “protocol agreement” that that they had “created the transitional council of the Islamic state of Azawad.”