The captain’s back

After several months of lying low, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo returned to the limelight this week — in a big way. On Monday evening, December 11, some 20 soldiers acting under Sanogo’s orders went to the home of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra in Bamako. They forced open the door, arrested Diarra, and transported him to their barracks in Kati, where he had an entretien with Sanogo. Shortly thereafter, Diarra recorded a brief statement announcing his resignation; this statement was broadcast on ORTM state TV early Tuesday morning.

Tuesday evening, Sanogo himself appeared on the ORTM evening news; a caption identified him by his official title, chairman of the Military Committee for Reform of the Armed Forces.

[You can also view a version in Bambara]

In his remarks (see the write-up from Thursday’s issue of Le Républicain), he accuses Mali’s former head of government of many things: failing to respect the Malian people; failing to heed the head of state’s authority; traveling too much; blocking government progress; micromanaging hiring decisions; pursuing his own selfish agenda; paying peaceful citizens to take part in protests; failing to support the armed forces; and endangering Mali’s security.

Responding to a journalist’s question, Sanogo says he did not force Diarra to resign, but merely “facilitated” his decision to do so. He denies that there was anything untoward in the PM’s departure; after all, he says, prime ministers resign all the time, and in any case Diarra was never elected to office, but selected by the junta. Sanogo adds that, contrary to some reports, he and his “team” are by no means opposed to international military intervention to help the Malian government regain rebel-held territory.

For more than eight months now, civilian leaders have officially been back in charge. But if anyone doubted that ultimate political authority still lies with the soldiers in Kati, those doubts have now been effectively put to rest. Nothing happens in Mali — at least, outside of rebel-held zones — without Sanogo’s approval.

The captain is still talking tough against potential enemies, especially unnamed politicians who only look out for themselves. “Even beyond the prime minister’s case,” he remarks, “if someone should venture, for excessive personal ambition, to burden the system or stop it, I will not hesitate one single second to help the president of the republic to see to it that this person will not become a bottleneck for Mali.”

Back in May, Sanogo seemed to be a candidate for president. Now he claims to be working closely with Mali’s current interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, whom he has blamed for bringing the country to its knees. Don’t be fooled: as I argued in an article published last month, Sanogo sees himself in heroic terms and has an over-sized sense of his own destiny — this is, after all, the same guy who has repeatedly compared himself to Charles de Gaulle. He wants to be the sole arbiter of political change in Mali. (Talk about excessive ambition….)

So it’s no surprise that Sanogo continues to leave the door open to perhaps playing a different role, and to point out that he’ll be available should “the people” call upon him. In the Tuesday evening broadcast he says, “If tomorrow the Malian people, I say the Malian people, for whom we made all these concessions, the Malian people for whom we let go of so many things, decide that I should play a role other than as chairman of the Military Committee, I will assume my responsibilities.”

Yes, the captain is back. But then, he never really went away.

Postscript, Dec. 30: The AFP reports that ex-PM Modibo Diarra is unable to leave Mali to seek medical treatment for a possible tumor, citing a relative who says that Captain Sanogo has barred Diarra from leaving the country. Sanogo’s spokesman denied the report.

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15 Responses to The captain’s back

  1. Stephen Harmon says:

    Bruce, I liked the post. A saw the article too, and read the abstract. I’ll read the full thing when I get back home. It looks good so far, though. I’m leaving Bamako on Monday, the 17 th . I’ll spend Christmas with my girlfriend in Denver, and then we’ll head home to Kansas before the New Year. Things have gone well here in Bamako, despite a few alarming moments, like Tuesday’s events. Otherwise, things have been very calm on the streets. I finally managed to piss someone off with my photography. I was very cautious this whole trip, heeding your advice, until about a week ago. I was kind of asking for it. I guess I wanted to test the limits, like an adolescent probing the limits of his freedom. I walked through the Grand Marche with my iPad open and filming video. I made it for about seven or eight minutes, when a big guy, I guess the self-appointed porte-parole of all the merchants, stopped me. He was really angry. I’ve never been spoken to like that in all my time in Mali. He didn’t even bother to start with, “Please stop, that, sir.” He just jumped in. A few other merchants, or perhaps hangers on, gathered, appearing to back him, but they didn’t say anything. Of course I stopped filming. There was no pushing or physical violence or anything like that. But judging from the level of anger he was putting out that might not have been too far behind if I had not stopped filming. I went back the next day (I did have some shopping to do), but I left my iPad and my camera at home. No one said anything or seemed to recognize me from the day before. So there you have it. There is definitely some kind of sensitivity on the part of adult Bamokois about being filmed or photographed, at least without their permission. And it seems to be of recent date. I never noticed anything like that before. I just thought you might like to know. I’ll bet in touch when I get back. Until then.


  2. Holly L. says:

    Enjoyed reading your post! We traveled into Bamako yesterday and for the most part everything seemed “normal” with the exception that the parking lot at Azars (Badalabougou) was like a ghost town. No trouble finding a parking place, which was a surprise. It seems a lot of expats still weren’t moving around. There also seemed to be a greater police presence than normal. In talking to various malians of our acquaintance the response to this recent move by Sanogo has been mixed. Some people are very surprised that he did it, but since another PM has already been appointed, they say there is no trouble then. Everything is fine. I don’t know what will happen in the future though…

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Azar Libre Service aside, what’s the expat scene like in BKO these days? The city’s American and European population had dwindled dramatically by the time I left in late June. Have many come back?

    • BB says:

      I just came back from Bamako last week and was amazed at the amount of Toubab’s I encountered! Mostly working in Mining or NGO’s as expected, but also ran into a few tourists, travel writers, and longterm expats who had recently returned from “evacuating” after the Coup. I was very surprised!

  3. jeanerz says:

    Merci, Bruce. I had been following Yeah Samaké’s posts on Facebook, but hadn’t had time to read up. I’m also enjoying the Africa Spectrum piece.

  4. Thank you very much for this post, does this mean you are back too?

  5. Evan says:

    When are they going to send this clown to the front lines? Let him flex his muscle there?

  6. Peter Baldwin says:

    The predictions I hear from Bamakois is that Sanogo will “sortir par la petite porte” within two months. We shall see.

  7. Pingback: To Read « peter tinti

  8. Judy Lorimer says:

    Hi, Bruce, I’m leaving January 17th for Mali, heading down to the southern part of the country; my little non-profit organization, Build a School in Africa, will be starting construction on our 10th school. Keeping my fingers crossed that things stay calm down there – haven’t heard anything to the contrary. Thanks for keeping us up to date on what’s happening down there — news in the American press, except for the NY Times, is pretty scanty. Judy

  9. Pingback: Loyalty and Disloyalty – Adventures in Mali « The Long Road Home…

  10. Pingback: A glance at Mali’s 2013 presidential candidates | Bridges from Bamako

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