Taken down a peg

The Economist

A former coup leader is dragged to court

IT SEEMS unlikely that Amadou Sanogo will be remembered for much other than his incompetence. The Malian army captain bungled his way to power last year as leader of a coup, clearing the way for ethnic rebels and religious extremists to take over half the country. His clumsy posturing isolated Mali diplomatically and brought it close to ruin. Only popular discontent and bloodthirsty supporters lent the captain—a man of much ego and little talent—a measure of power. Until now.

On November 27th, troops loyal to a new civilian government frogmarched the strongman to court where he was indicted for kidnapping and—according to some—murder and conspiracy. Until recently, detaining Mr Sanogo might have sparked violence. But Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, has prepared the ground since his election in August, quietly purging supporters of the junta and isolating their chief. Almost inevitably in the febrile world of Malian politics, some accuse the president of playing a double game, publicly persecuting Mr Sanogo while privately shielding him—perhaps to head off an international prosecution. But the fact remains that Mr Keita is now fully in charge.

Human-rights groups hailed the indictment on behalf of the coup’s victims, including dozens of soldiers tortured and killed. Some speak optimistically of judicial “independence” and “the fight against impunity”. But whether the arrest of the strongman and 28 other soldiers represents a real commitment to the rule of law is doubtful. There is “no possibility of the judiciary having the power to do this alone,” says a Bamako-based diplomat. “Orders came from the top.”

Mali’s rotten institutions are still in desperate need of repair. For all the talk of a fresh start after the French intervention to defeat ethnic rebels and religious extremists earlier this year, electoral politics has changed little since Mr Sanogo led his initially popular coup. Parliamentary elections—a second round is scheduled for December 15th—could herald the return of many corrupt insiders.

As if any reminders of the bad old days were needed, Malian soldiers opened fire on ethnic Tuareg protesters on November 28th, wounding at least three. Hours later, the main Tuareg rebel group, which started the uprising last year, withdrew from national peace talks. Such grandstanding—a useful means of signalling displeasure and keeping supporters happy—is nothing new, and the presence of French troops and UN peacekeepers should prevent a resumption of hostilities. But it will do little to ease a fraught reconciliation process overshadowed by broken promises and mutual suspicion.

Given the political climate, it is by no means certain that Mr Sanogo will face justice for his crimes, let alone go to prison. Moussa Traoré, a former dictator twice sentenced to death, leads a lavish existence on the capital’s outskirts, where the grounds of his mansion roll down to the dazzling waters of the Niger river. With luck, Mr Sanogo’s detention will at least mark his exit from political life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s