Impunity rules as juntas take over in Mali, Chad, Guinea

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  • Citizens of African nations expressed anger following coups.
  • Regional body ECOWAS did not follow up on democratic demands.
  • The international community has lost its leverage.

Power grabs in West Africa over the past year - in Chad, Mali and most recently Guinea - are enjoying newfound impunity, leaving citizens angry and distressed.

"What's the use of constitutions, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and international diplomacy if after all anything goes?" asked Ahmed Sankare, a mobile telephone vendor in the Malian capital Bamako.

READ | Elite Guinea army unit says it's overthrown president

ECOWAS and many voices in the international community condemned the Guinea coup, as they did a year ago and again in May for Mali.

The words have been the same: restore constitutional order, free detainees, set a timeline for elections.

But a year later, Mali's military remain in command, with doubts growing over their promise to return the Sahel country to civilian rule through elections in February 2022.

In Chad, after Idriss Deby Itno died fighting rebels on 20 April, his son seized power.

'Big outside power'

Former colonial power France, Chad's main trading and strategic partner, quickly gave its blessing to the new leadership, refraining from describing what took place as a coup.

In Mali as in Chad, the new presidents are the product of special forces - Colonel Assimi Goita in Bamako, General Idriss Deby in N'Djamena. And in both countries, the constitution has been replaced by a "transition charter".

"The international community has lost its leverage... taking on board the coup in Mali, then in Chad by literally kissing, in the person of (French President Emmanuel) Macron, the son of the deceased president who has taken power," said Peter J Pham, former US envoy to the Sahel.

"The United States is the only big outside power to halt military assistance to Bamako until constitutional order is re-established," he said.

Jean-Herve Jezequel of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank warned against the idea that the coups in Mali and Chad helped trigger Guinea's putsch.

But "the way these recent coups in Chad and Mali were accepted, even validated, by regional and international actors has probably created a favourable climate for what happened in Guinea," he said.

Burkinabe news outlet Wakat Sera drew parallels between the coups in Guinea and Mali.

The new strongman in Conakry, Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, simply "recited the formula for power grabs through arms... like a recording that all putchists everywhere use", it argued.

In Bamako, a top official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the coups in Mali and Chad could create a "domino effect", with militaries elsewhere saying to themselves "why not us?"

In Guinea's case, "experience tells us to be extremely cautious and not too naïve," said Fabien Offner of Amnesty International.

"Some see the end of the (Alpha Conde) regime as a good thing, (but) it's not the first time that there are hopes in West Africa and they are often dashed," he said.

The message in the Wakat Sera editorial to the international community was clear: "Stop with the ostrich policy" and the "broken record" of toothless condemnations, it said.

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