Sanogo in the clink

I’ve been waiting for just the right reason to bring this blog back from hiatus, and that reason seems finally to have arrived.

According to the AFP, “Amadou Sanogo, leader of a 2012 coup that plunged Mali into chaos, was jailed on suspicion of murder and complicity to murder on Wednesday.” Mali’s chief prosecutor Daniel Tessogué has told the Associated Press that Sanogo has so far been charged with kidnapping only. Sanogo, according to his own spokesman, was forcibly removed from his home this morning and brought before a juge d’instruction (judge of inquiry, responsible for leading an investigation preceding a criminal case). This hearing reportedly took place at the gendarmerie in Faladié. A source within the Malian Ministry of Justice says that this action emanated “from the highest levels of the state.”

Today’s arrest puts an end to the month-long standoff between the former captain (and, since August, current four-star general) and Malian judicial authorities. This stalemate began in late October amid reports of Sanogo’s arrest. Here’s a recap of how it evolved over the past several weeks:

How the mighty have fallen

  • 25 Oct.: Rumors of Sanogo’s arrest circulate in Bamako; they are later denied by Malian security officials.
  • 26 Oct.: A new round of accusations against Sanogo surfaces in the Bamako press, alleging his involvement in the killings of rivals within the Malian military.
  • 31 Oct.: Jeune Afrique reports that Bamako-based judge Yaya Karambé has issued summons to 17 people, including Sanogo, as part of an investigation into the detention, torture, and killing of paratroopers who had taken part in the failed “counter-coup” of 30 April 2012, an episode generally known in Bamako as l’affaire des berets rouges (since paratroopers in Mali, as in many other countries, wear red berets). Sanogo’s hearing, scheduled for 6 November, never takes place.
  • 7 Nov.: Sanogo is again sought for questioning, this time over the deaths of soldiers following another mutiny in Kati during late September 2013; authorities later state that he can be forced to appear to give testimony. Boukary Daou, director of the Bamako newspaper Le Républicain (and onetime prisoner of the junta) suggests these judicial proceedings are merely a smokescreen intended to head off a pending investigation into Sanogo’s misdeeds by the International Criminal Court. One of the dead in Kati was reported to be Sanogo’s own head of security; speculation is rife that Sanogo ordered him and several of his colleagues killed to prevent them from testifying against him.
  • 19 Nov.: Sanogo is slated to be questioned by Judge Karambé in connection with the “berets rouges” affair. This hearing falls through, however. By some accounts, Sanogo claims his status as former head of state grants him immunity from such proceedings. Other reports suggest concerns over security and a disagreement over the venue.

Many other recent developments in Bamako suggest that the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (“IBK”) has been gradually stripping the Kati junta of whatever power it still exercised. In early October Sanogo had to move out of his Kati fief and take up residence in Bamako, an attempt by civilian authorities to undermine Sanogo’s influence. This came on the heels of President Keita’s scrapping of Sanogo’s military reform committee. On 9 November, the Malian army chief of staff, Gen. Dahirou Dembélé was sacked; Dembélé had been appointed to his post by the junta in April 2012. On 11 November, former red beret commander and ATT ally Col. Abidine Guindo was released from prison; Guindo was widely believed to have led the 2012 “counter-coup” and had been seen as the junta’s chief adversary within the military.

Wonder if they let him keep his magic baton…

With Sanogo’s arrest this morning, these events have reached their logical conclusion. When he was elected last summer, IBK was commonly perceived as Sanogo’s ally; he had even been described as “the junta’s candidate.” Rather than attack his supposed ally head-on, Mali’s president has been biding his time, incrementally ratcheting up the pressure on the junta.

Why did things come to a head now? Perhaps because Sanogo was refusing to go gently. Many Malians suspect he was even trying to intimidate those who sought to question him. Judge Karambé reportedly feared for his safety, and his home has been under tight security. Just yesterday, the judge’s son was attacked in Bamako by assailants who stole his motorcycle; some interpret this incident as a veiled threat against the judge himself. (The number one rule of political analysis in Mali: there are no coincidences.)

How will this development be greeted in Bamako? From my vantage point in Pennsylvania, it’s hard to say. The first two people I called in Mali’s capital, around 7:30 p.m. Bamako time, weren’t even aware of the news. One friend, an ardent Sanogo admirer, flatly contradicted my report that he had been arrested. If such a thing had happened, my friend told me, he would certainly have heard about it, and there would be angry crowds in the streets. (Could the Malian government somehow be keeping the lid on this story, at least for a few hours? Even if it were, wouldn’t Bamako residents have heard the news via RFI?) But the BBC’s Bamako correspondent thinks most residents are relieved to see this long saga finally approaching its end. And the families of those “disappeared” by the junta are definitely celebrating.

In any case, massive protests against Sanogo’s arrest strike me as unlikely, as the general’s following has significantly diminished over the past year. I do feel confident in predicting that if the Sanogo case ever goes to trial, it will be a momentous and closely watched spectacle. There may even be public pressure on the government to broadcast it live, as was the case with former President Moussa Traoré in the 1990s, when he was tried for political and economic crimes committed while in office. But then, let’s remember, although Moussa was convicted and sentenced to death, he was eventually pardoned and is now enjoying a peaceful retirement in a very nice mansion on the bank of the Niger River in Bamako. Perhaps Mali’s putschist captain-turned-general can expect a similar fate?

Postscript (4 December 2013): Prosecutor Daniel Tessogué confirms the discovery of a mass grave near Kati, containing 21 bodies thought to be those of red berets killed by the junta in May 2012. The existence of this grave has been spoken about in Mali for some time (see my response to a comment below), but never before verified. Meanwhile, pro-Sanogo protestors in Kati have set fire to one of that town’s markets, in their fourth demonstration since Sanogo’s arrest. An interview with Sanogo has also been broadcast by a Bamako radio station; in it Sanogo claims he is the object of a vendetta by red berets and others linked to the deposed regime of Amadou Toumani Touré.

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8 Responses to Sanogo in the clink

  1. Klaas Tjoelker says:

    Hi Bruce, glad to see you back on the bridges of Bamako!

    In my view, succeeding Malian governments have done a crafty job: they discarted Sanogo from power by promoting him to a rank in Neverland, thus creating envy and resentment amongst his pack. As he wasn’t – apparently – a coup leader but rather someone who joined and later headed a spontaneous soldier movement, I think Mali is nearing the end of the Sanogo chapter. Mind you, if I am wrong, there might be noise and violence tonight here in Bamako, but I doubt it. I think the most important themes for Malians for the close future incude the integrity of Malian territory and the role of France in this, the socio-economic situation and security.

    Cheerio, Klaas

  2. Abdul says:

    Welcome back, Bruce. We missed your blog.

    This arrest is without any doubt the last move of IBK to take full control over the military and secure his power in the southern part of the country. Few people, in my opinion, would protest against the fate of Sanogo. The killings that occured in the last mutiny of September 30 in Kati have definitely alienated Sanogo and his men from the support of the majority of the malians.
    But Kidal still remains out of control and we should not forget that down there reside the root of the current crisis.

  3. Bertus says:

    Bruce, good to read you again. It seems Mali manages to clean up the mess. I expect little or no popular resistance since priorities are indeed safety and socio-economic progress. It looks if IBK confirms his reputation as former PM. Best.

  4. Jennifer2838 says:

    Welcome back, Bruce!

    I travel round trip from one of town to the other four days a week for my job (Hippodrome to Niamakoro), right in the middle of the day. Since I travel by taxi, I go by many different routes at the whim of the drivers, and they often tell me they are choosing this or that road b/c of some “emboutillage” or another. So I feel I can confidently say there have been absolutely no protests regarding Sanogo’s arrest.
    I’m not sure what it takes to keep you blogging about Mali, but perhaps next you’ll want to comment on the MNLA’s recent declaration of war on Mali, in Kidal!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Maybe no marches in BKO but apparently one Thursday in Kati, drawing 300 people. As for events in Kidal, they evolve so rapidly I’m hesitant to pronounce on them, but it’s clear the MNLA is internally divided on whether and how to engage with the Malian government.

  5. Hi Bruce,
    There have indeed been some protests in Kati, and an attempt to march against the arrest of ‘the general’ in Bamako last Thursday:

  6. Line says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for a very enlightening blog!
    As a (new) follower of Malian politics, the recent events are not necessarily logical to me, but maybe you can help me understand:
    1. Why is IBK even interested in getting rid of Sanogo, would it not be better to just “phase him out” and let him retain some symbolic power (not in a bourdieusque manner) via certain positions and the new stars on his shoulders?
    2. Why is Sanogo as a person, so important? what about the role of the COPAM? Will the “elimination” of Sanogo really “eliminate” the pressure from the putschists?
    3. Is this focus on Sanogo a sign of pressure from the outside (France, UN, Neighbouring countries, etc. ), or is it about internal power struggles?

    Thanks again!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      These are some difficult questions for me to answer, and I can only speculate about some of them. I suspect that Sanogo had turned into too much of a nuisance (maybe liability is the better word) for IBK to tolerate anymore. Maybe he was always planning to “get rid of Sanogo,” as you put it, but had to wait for the opportune moment. The existence of this mass grave has apparently been known by politicians in Bamako since May 2012. It’s also possible that foreign governments put pressure on IBK to take this action, though I doubt such pressure would have been necessary.

      To address your 2nd question less speculatively, however, Sanogo clearly retained considerable support within the military and in Kati specifically, as the demonstrations of the past week have shown. I wouldn’t want to be the head of state with any country and share the political stage with a similarly cagey and ambitious individual with a record of taking power through force of arms. Nor would I want to be the commander-in-chief of a nation’s army with such a divisive figure still wielding influence behind the scenes. Although Sanogo never controlled the junta or wielded his influence singlehandedly (he needed his fellow putschistes in Kati to sign off on his decisions), he was an important symbol of the junta and of the extra-legal power it could exert. So getting Sanogo out of the picture won’t necessarily eliminate the junta, but it definitely strikes it a severe blow. And we should also note that Sanogo wasn’t the only one arrested: at least 31 other members of the security forces have reportedly been detained in connection with these deaths.

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