After weeks of massive demonstrations demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s resignation, thousands of jubilant Malians celebrated the military coup that removed him from office on 18 August (Al Jazeera, 2020). But some observers were left to wonder whether democracy in Mali is dead.
The coup has been widely condemned by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Western leaders, who insist that Keïta be reinstated (Ahmed & Petesch, 2020; France 24, 2020; BBC, 2020). The coup leaders have refused, while vowing to steer the country back toward elections and democracy.
The fact that many Malians seemed to welcome the coup should not come as a surprise. Findings from an Afrobarometer survey in March-April 2020 show deep dissatisfaction with the status quo, including widespread perceptions that the country was off track, that the economy was in a shambles, that corruption was growing rapidly, and that their elected officials were untrustworthy.
At the same time, the armed forces, along with traditional leaders, enjoy far higher levels of popular trust. Amid deepening dissatisfaction with the government and inept management by elected leaders, many Malians may have seen the coup as the country’s best chance to escape a downward spiral.
But Afrobarometer also documents Malians’ insistence on democracy as the country’s path forward. Even if many citizens appear willing to accept military intervention in the short term, they reject military rule as a system of government. Findings suggest they will hold coup leaders to their promise to call elections and transition back to civilian government (Maclean, Diouara, & Peltier, 2020).