The Coup, Day Four

7:00 a.m.: Hèrè sira, as they say in Bamanan — we spent a peaceful night. I have not heard further shooting or booms of any kind since 11:15 last night. Power was only out for a couple of hours after midnight. A brief scan of the online news sources this morning nets a recent condemnation of the coup from presidential candidate Soumaila Cissé (the same one whose home was sacked early Thursday morning), who is apparently still at large, as well as probably the best video I’ve yet seen from Bamako post-coup, recorded by French journalists with AITV (see below); in addition to some of the usual footage of interviews with Capt. Sanogo, it shows soldiers looting the ORTM studios and has a few man-on-the-street interviews with ordinary Malians, all of them wary of the soldiers. Up till this, since Wednesday night I hadn’t seen evidence of journalists actually getting out into the city and gathering any information; they were all clearly “sheltering in place” like the rest of us, and most of the photos posted online were clearly taken from the Hotel de l’Amitié, directly across the street from the ORTM.

The New York Times meanwhile has a story filed from Dakar which includes a few new tidbits: coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo has apparently “received extensive training in the United States between 2004 and 2010,” at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland AFB in Texas (he has been described as an English instructor at the Kati garrison), at Fort Huachuca, Arizona (intelligence training) and at Fort Benning, Georgia (infantry officer basic training). No mention of any link with the Marines, so it’s unclear why he wears the USMC eagle, globe and anchor pin on his uniform. The article also contains a condemnation by presidential candidate Tiébilé Dramé of the coup (his PARENA party being one of several parties coming out in opposition to the CNRDR). And the response from abroad remains strong and united in condemnation.

The Times item also highlights one source of growing concern: it’s becoming harder to get diesel and gasoline in Bamako, in part because service station owners have shut their businesses to keep from being cleaned out by soldiers. The only way for ordinary people to get fuel now is on the “black market,” i.e. from some guy with a plastic jug and a glass bottle to measure it into. A friend of mine ran out of gas on his motorcycle driving home yesterday and had to pay 900 francs for a liter from one such vendor. He was lucky: some people are paying 1400 francs these days.

Otherwise I don’t see any new developments, there’s nothing much on RFI or BBC radio, and nothing at all about any counter-coup that was rumored to be in the offing yesterday evening. ORTM is off air, probably until 8 a.m. which is the time they began broadcasting Friday.

8:00 a.m.: ORTM begins its broadcast day with a repeat of last night’s Journal Télévisé, followed by educational and cultural programs.

9:00 a.m.: An air of normalcy continues to settle over many parts of the city. A taxi driver friend tells me over the phone that downtown Bamako is calm. Another taximan I call up tells me he’s had no trouble getting diesel, though it costs more than usual. I venture out into my neighborhood. The volume of traffic over the King Fahd Bridge is typical for a Saturday morning, with plenty of taxis and SOTRAMA minibuses circulating alongside private cars and motorcycles. Our local supermarket has reopened for the first time since Wednesday; it would have been the first stop of any roving looters in our area, but the owner feels safe enough to open his doors today. The shelves are well stocked and business is booming, in part because nervous expats like me are stocking up on supplies. Despite what I’ve read online, there is no shortage of bread in any of the shops I’ve visited or passed by, and shops are receiving new deliveries.

Around this time another SMS arrives: “US Embassy Bamako advises all American citizens to continue sheltering in place. No significant changes overnight.” No signs of any major developments via the electronic media either, but RFI has an interesting roundup of local and world opinion on the CNRDR coup.

11:00 a.m.: I’m posting my own translation of a message posted on Malilink this morning by mathematician Dialla Konaté, a professor at Virginia Tech and a fixture of the Malian intelligentsia. His statement suggests why so many Malians were so frustrated with the government of President Touré and why, despite their ambivalence, they may ultimately support the coup:

“My message is addressed just to those who think that Mali was a democracy in name only and that the reality was a blend of corruption and criminalizing the economy, the hollowing out of justice, the dilapidation of the school system, the takeover of occupied property [by powerful individuals] to use as life insurance, etc….

“I’m simply horrified at the bankruptcy shown by the positions of Malian politicians. Their positions are so lacking in objective analysis and forethought. Who would have accepted the results of the elections if they would have been held on April 29? Two people: the one who organized them, and the one who won. The April 29 elections would have certainly meant violence in the streets of Bamako.

“I would have enjoyed listening to these pompous journalists and false Mali-doctors if it were not a question of life and death for Malians. Democracy isn’t just about putting your thumb in indelible ink and showing it to the cameras of complacent television networks.

“Patriots, republican democrats, undertake a healthy reading of the situation…. Let’s take advantage of the crisis to re-establish the conditions of a true democracy, end corruption and the criminalization of our country’s economy, create conditions so children can go to school to learn, so Malians can live together in our country….”

In short, Professor Konaté believes that Mali’s constitution and democratic institutions had already been so thoroughly undermined by the Touré regime that only extra-constitutional measures could succeed in addressing the country’s political and security crisis. He and the CNRDR leaders are completely on the same page in this regard. By the time the coup began this week, Bamako’s dark and pessimistic political mood (which I described in a post back in January) had reached an all-time low.

The question is, given Mali’s rebellious north, the growing threat of famine, and the new element of international isolation, how much darker can things still get?

1:00 p.m.: The ORTM TV news shows footage of alleged looters arrested by the security forces. The claim is that they were actually civilians who somehow acquired military uniforms and profited from the disorder of the last few days to ransack government offices and private homes. The camera pans over a truckload of looted goods (televisions, refrigerators, furniture) that are now supposed to be returned to their rightful place. In a separate ORTM interview, Capt. Sanogo had claimed that the troops out looting in Bamako were in fact civilians who had gotten into uniform expressly to discredit the CNRDR.

My wife returns from a trip across town. She reports light traffic, the usual numbers of police on the streets, and occasional glimpses of military vehicles. The cab driver charged extra because of the rising cost of fuel.

In other news, an anti-CNRDR Facebook group has formed; the French newspaper Le Point has published an article explaining why many Bamakois sympathize with the coup plotters; and the US has threatened to cut off 70 million dollars worth of non-humanitarian aid to Mali.

3:00 p.m.: A friend stops by and mentions that a colleague of his at the Hotel de l’Amitié yesterday reported seeing truckloads of paratroopers in red berets arriving at the ORTM compound, firing in the air. Originally this was thought to be the “counter-coup” but, my friend says, the paratroopers were only arriving to reinforce the troops loyal to the CNRDR. He also tells me that a neighbor of his in the Sabalibougou neighborhood (a couple of miles southeast of me) was killed by a stray bullet outside his home on Thursday.

The campaign website of National Assembly speaker (and presidential candidate) Dioncounda Traoré says he is in Burkina Faso, where he has met about the situation in Bamako with President Blaise Compaoré. This would explain why the CNRDR doesn’t have him in custody.

6:00 p.m.: ORTM is broadcasting a telephone help line for Bamako residents to call the CNRDR, presumably about security problems: 20 70 46 00.

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11 Responses to The Coup, Day Four

  1. mali muso says:

    I ni ce kosebe for your continued updates. Bamako was my site assignment in PC from 2003 to 2005, and I’ve been following your blog for some time. My husband’s family all lives in quartiers on the other side of the river from you, pretty much in the older part of centre ville. It’s good to hear that things seem to be returning to normal, but our thoughts and prayers continue. A complicated situation all around. Ala k’an kisi.
    Koumba

  2. Jo says:

    My son was in Mali with Cherif’s group and returned just 2 wks ago. We’re all concerned about his Bamako family and friends, and the country as a whole. It’s very helpful to read your perspective. Thanks for taking the time and effort.

  3. AB says:

    My husband is from Bamako and he is there now. He is due to come back to the U.S. in a few weeks. I stumbled upon your blog last Thursday while searching all over the Internet for as much information as I could find after learning of the coup. I have depended on your insightful messages ever since. Many thanks for sharing yours and others perspectives. It gives me a great deal of balance regarding the situation since I also read media reports. From you I gain a sense of the “human reality” and viewpoint from the streets. It has saved my husband and I a tremendous amount of costly phone time because I feel more connected with what he and our family are experiencing. Otherwise, I’d be an emotional wreck. My prayers to you, your wife, and everyone affected by these events. May there soon be a resolution and peace.

    • Hi there,
      We should talk, as my Malian husband is over in Mali for a few more weeks as well. Not an easy situation, I just hope all gets settled soon. It is going to take a long time to recover from this mess.

  4. mamaedge says:

    Bruce, thanks for keeping us in the loop. Ian and I find ourselves glued to your blog, it seems to be up on one of the house computers at all times. We aren’t able to get through to a good friend and are finding comfort in your awesome perspective. Hope the work is going well over there and look forward to running into you again somewhere in life!
    Big love,

    Stephanie, Ian and the kids

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      The work has been going well, I just hope I get to finish it–we only have about 11 weeks left to go! Regards to Ian and the kids.

  5. Emily says:

    Bruce, have you heard anything about the national archives on Kuluba and the people who work there (right next to the presidential palace)? Haven’t spoken with anyone there. I’m wondering about their safety and the safety of the archives, given their proximity to the ministries and the palace.

    Excellent posts, thanks for your insightful updates.

    Emily

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      No idea, there was some ORTM footage of the damage/looting at Koulouba but I don’t know if the archives were also affected.

  6. Pingback: Amadou Sanogo: Power is his middle name | Bridges from Bamako

  7. jaimie bleck says:

    Fantastic Reports Bruce-Thank You!!! Drissa and I are following closely. Allah k’a nyogo a ke.

    Jaimie

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