Then the new army rulers closed Mali to the outside world, sealing air and land borders only weeks after the former government had lifted international travel restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic.
It was a dramatic cap to a streak of chaos in the country of roughly 20 million, after mutinous soldiers swarmed the capital Tuesday morning and, by the evening, arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
Speaking through a surgical mask, Keïta announced his exit in an overnight broadcast, agreeing to dissolve the government, he said, to avoid bloodshed.
His departure followed weeks of protests in the capital, Bamako, where demonstrators accused Keïta of corruption and taking weak action against fighters loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The embattled leader inherited trouble that started in 2011, when the Libyan government collapsed and rebels killed long-ruling strongman Moammar Gaddafi. A wave of mercenaries once employed by Gaddafi then returned to their native Mali.
The mercenaries forged a shaky alliance with extremists in the country’s north, which spawned an insurgency that has grown deadlier every year since.
Fighters have scattered over the border to Burkina Faso and Niger, killing more than 4,000 people in 2019 alone.
Mali’s army — about 12,000 soldiers strong — has struggled to contain the menace despite backup from France, which has more than 5,000 troops in the region, and the United States, which provides training and intelligence.
Global leaders say West Africa’s stability is at stake. The extremists have struck closer to the coastal nations this year, including the Ivory Coast, and continue to exploit large swaths of Mali as a training ground from which to launch attacks worldwide.
“There’s a risk of the armed groups taking advantage of this chaos to expand their operations,” said Nadia Adam, a research officer at the Institute for Security Studies in Bamako.
General elections in the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso are just months away. The heightened terrorism threat, on top of the coronavirus risk, she added, could jeopardize the democratic process.
Wagué, one of the coup masterminds, promised to work with citizens as well as international partners, who fiercely condemned the takeover.
The Economic Community of West African States, a bloc of nations known as ECOWAS, released a statement urging sanctions for the mutinous soldiers, shuttering the borders with Mali and suspending the country from its internal decision-making bodies until constitutional order is restored.
France, the United Nations and the United States also lambasted the rebellion.
“The United States opposes any extra-constitutional change of government, whether by those on the streets or by the defense and security forces,” tweeted Peter Pham, the U.S. special envoy to Africa’s Sahel region.