On Tuesday we started hearing about the arrests. Former prime minister and presidential candidate Modibo Sidibé was taken from his home Monday night by soldiers and brought to the military base in Kati, where the CNRDRE junta is headquartered. This was not a huge surprise, since Sidibé had already been detained by the junta twice in the last few weeks. Closely associated with deposed president Amadou Toumani Touré, he is seen by many as the incarnation of everything that was wrong with the Malian state under ATT’s rule.
Around the same time, the junta arrested several more of ATT’s top officials, including at least three generals. General Hamidou Sissoko, ATT’s ex-chief of staff, and General Sadio Gassama, his former security minister and defense minister, were both nabbed at their homes Monday evening, as was General Mahamadou Djagouraga, former director of Mali’s national police. An unnamed general of the Gendarmerie Nationale was reportedly also picked up.
ATT’s former adviser Bani Kanté, who also oversaw Libyan investments in Mali, was another high-profile figure whose arrest became known on Tuesday. Two more, according to local sources, are Babaly Ba, director of the Banque Malienne de Solidarité, and Adama Sangaré, mayor of Bamako.
Most significant, however, was the arrest of Soumaila Cissé, who frequently served in governments during both terms of President Alpha Oumar Konaré (1992-2002) and who lost the second round of Mali’s presidential election to ATT. Unlike the others arrested (with the possible exception of Babaly Ba), Cissé has no direct links to the ATT regime. He spent most of the last decade in Burkina Faso, where he chaired the body that oversees the region’s common currency.
Cissé was initially reported to have escaped arrest, having fled his home in Badalabougou, but was later picked up nearby by police and transported to Kati in an ambulance. There are indications he was injured either during his initial escape or during the subsequent arrest. Les Echos reports that he had head wounds; L’Essor reports that even the intervention of the ambassador of Burkina Faso could not dissuade the police from arresting Cissé.
Why is the junta going after Cissé? I can’t say, but they’ve been targeting him for some time; let’s recall that armed men ransacked his home on the very first night of the coup.
So far, it’s not clear why any of these individuals have been arrested. No announcements have yet been made by the CNRDRE. Interim President Dioncounda Traoré, for his part, seems not to have been informed of the arrests in advance.
Never mind that the Malian military has no legal authority to arrest civilians. Amid all the confusion, one thing has become perfectly clear: reports of the junta’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Captain Amadou Sanogo, having had a taste of power, is not about to let it go, and has stated as much to the Malian media (though, tellingly, not to the international media).
Sanogo is seeing how far he can push things, and unless political actors with legitimate constitutional mandates start to push back, he will succeed in sidelining the civilian authorities who have been ostensibly put in charge. The question now is whether such political actors can command enough loyalty within the security forces to confront the junta head-on. President Traoré and his newly named prime minister, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, are being put to the test.
Update for 8:00 a.m. GMT, Thursday, April 19: More arrests were revealed Wednesday, for a total of 22 persons in custody so far, half of them civilians, half military. Kassoum Tapo, a very senior figure in the ADEMA party, and Tieman Coulibaly, head of the UDD party were both arrested by the junta, in front of the very hotel where Dioncounda Traoré has his headquarters. Both are active in the anti-junta coalition known as the FDR. On Wednesday night, the ORTM news showed images of assault rifles it claimed were discovered in the residences of some of those arrested (without specifying which ones). The CNRDRE is claiming that a “counter-coup” was in the making — further proof, if any was needed, that the junta believes it is still very much in control.
Meanwhile, Senegal’s new president Macky Sall announced in Paris that Mali’s deposed president, Amadou Toumani Touré, has taken refuge at the Senegalese embassy in Bamako.