Colonel Malick Diaw (C), vice-president of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) gestures to a crowd.
Colonel Malick Diaw, center, vice-president of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People), gestures to supporters as Malian soldiers escort him through the Independence Square in Bamako, Aug. 21, 2020.

WASHINGTON - After a coup that led to the resignation of Mali’s president, the international community is watching closely and debating how best to help the West African country avoid collapse. 

Vicki Huddleston, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, said the key is to support the Malian people in forming a government that is trusted and representative of the country’s diversity. 

Retired Ambassador Vicki J. Huddleston, pictured at Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2016. (Joyce N. Boghosian photo)

“We need a government of national unity led by an honest, not corrupt president that is acceptable to all of the Malians,” she told VOA. “Malians, I think, have a tendency toward unity. We have to get back to that. We have to listen to them and we have to respect them.” 

The Malian soldiers who orchestrated the coup on Tuesday have pledged to relinquish power and to organize general elections. Huddleston said the international community must hold them to that promise. 

“What the United States, France, the European Union and the A.U. and ECOWAS need to tell the military is, ‘You stand down or you will be fighting us,’” said Huddleston, who also served as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for African Affairs during the Obama administration. “The most important thing is to get the military back into the barracks. Whatever it takes.” 

International pressure has been swift. 

The African Union voted to suspend Mali’s membership and called for the release of ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other officials being detained. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned the “mutiny” and called for all parties to engage in dialogue “towards restoration of constitutional government,” while rejecting violence. 

FILE - Malian soldiers drive through the streets of Bamako, Mali, Aug. 19, 2020, the day after rebel troops seized Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse in a dramatic escalation of a months-long crisis.

During an emergency meeting, ECOWAS, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, condemned the coup and announced it would send a delegation of heads of state to try to broker a peaceful way forward. ECOWAS also prepared its standby force to intervene in the event of a spread of violence. 

Crisis or opportunity

The moment is particularly perilous for West Africa, with hotly contested elections this year in Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana and Burkina Faso. 

W. Gyude Moore, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and former deputy chief of staff to former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said West Africa wants to avoid the spread of the “contagion of instability.” 

“The stability of the region is really, really important,” Moore said. “To see Mali fail when you have all of these events coming that might bring instability is worrisome for the regional group. And so that's why I think the response was so muscular.” 

Mass protests erupted earlier this year following a decision by Mali’s Constitutional Court to overturn the results of parliamentary elections. A group calling itself M5, or the June 5 Movement, has denounced governmental corruption, nepotism and the lack of stability in the country. 

FILE - A man wears a national flag as he celebrates with others in the streets in the capital, Bamako, Mali, Aug. 18, 2020.

Following Keita’s ouster, some are holding out hope there is an opening for progress. 

“Such a military coup is not the preferred way of dealing with crises in a country,” said Jo Scheuer, resident representative for the UNDP Mali. “And, of course, potentially it has a very big impact that could go in two directions. 

It could get worse in terms of the trajectory of the country,” Scheuer added. But at the same time, it could be a crisis or an opportunity, depending on how this develops. Perhaps it might turn out in the long term as something that might address some of the underlying reasons why the coup actually seemed necessary by those that led to the events.” 

VOA's Mariama Diallo contributed to this report.