What is Sanogo’s game?

par maboisvert

In a year, we got used to putschist Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo. But “something” happens in the north (without his help). And now the political stalemate in Bamako is over with an agenda for a (clearer) transition.  So, what role for the putschist?

Africa Confidential has published shocking news: Captain Sanogo might have plotted with Islamist group Ansar Eddine a partition of Mali after attempting a second coup in less than a year.

Those serious allegations provide a dark shadow on the persona of the Putschist.

But even without that, there were enough facts to worry about the Captain and his junta that still sits in Kati, a military base in Bamako outskirts. After all, Sanogo is the author of  the « crappiest putsch » of Africa, according Slate Afrique.

After saying that the junta number one goal was to recover the north, he did absolutely nothing about that. Rather, he attempted to retain political control, presumably sponsored the “arrest” of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra and forced him out.

So, allegations that he conspired against President Traoré and negotiated with the terrorist are not surprising on those grounds. It is nevertheless a useful narrative to force him out and disqualify him from any future in Mali’s business. That’s exactly what the international community wanted. In many ways, Sanogo dig is own political grave. His hectic behavior has been the only constant element over the last year.

He obviously has a certain ambition and a sense of grandeur. In the pages of French daily Le Monde, Captain Sanogo published a long letter (which has been cut by editors) where he compared himself to French Général Charles de Gaulle. This letter, a strange mix of grandiloquence and obscure rhetoric remains his sole political testimony since his declaration the day after the coup. Him parading around with a wooden stick – which is said to hold magical powers – also provides a sense that the Captain wants to adopt the code of the chief, a leader… well… the guy who symbolically holds power.

But skills for keeping the momentum of the March 22nd coup were lacking.

Communication is not his strength. His way of speaking competes in terms of misunderstanding with former Guinean Putschist Moussa Dadis Camara. The few journalists who interviewed him had difficulty to make sense of what he was saying in French. He was supposed to be an English instructor, but an English colleague was befuddled by the answer he got after asking a question in English.

His CV is not more convincing than his words. He said that he had several trainings in the US. It turns out to be six visits mostly to undertake language classes. And still, one of his US instructor said that he was not particularly brilliant.  Bruce Whitehouse has discussed both is academic credentials and his fashion behavior.

But what disqualifies him as a political actor is mostly is his poor ability to be a chess player. There are no doubts that Sanogo wanted to get involved in the political chessboard, but does not seem to know how. There has been a movement to support him, the MP22. But the arrest of Oumar Mariko, a leader of the movement and one of the rare politicians that was in favor of Sanogo, and one that was believed to have plot with the Islamists, proves both that the Captain has no significant political support among Bamako’s political class. Sanogo also locked himself in an ivory tower in Kati.  Once again, to make a comparison with a notorious coup leader, Dadis used to keep the government around him. In this way, Sanogo has shown little interest in the government daily business. His relation with credible political actors is weak, and his understanding of governance has yet to be presented.

The power-balance is not on his side. It is difficult to see how he could become a credible political actor.

Sanogo might still believe he holds popular support, but pins and stickers with his face have disappeared in Bamako’s streets. His anti-foreign intervention stance is now more unpopular than ever as Malians wave French flags over the country. In fact, Malians seem to have develop an amnesia about him, especially during the Prime Ministerial shuffling in December where many Malians saw this as the proof that he is power-hungry, but forgot about the promise of his coup. His popularity his lower than ever.

He lost a lot of credibility even within the army. Even Green Berets overtly criticize the Captain. A fast visit in Sevare and some visits to Bamako’s military hospital (with cameras following his moves) might have provide images of a military leader, but images do not make a military leader. Sanogo has not embodied the « liberation » of Mali the way he pretended he would with his analogy with Général de Gaulle.

And, in spite of being the leader of the coup, he is still a Captain. Not a general or anything closer to the top of the hierarchy. Self-allocating new stripes on his shoulder would not have increase his military aptitudes nor his respectability. But this highlights that even within his own hierarchy he has not been able to impose himself.

Still, he has a power of nuisance and he proved it when he forced the resignation of Cheick Modibo Diarra. This eviction has been welcomed by Malians; the way it happened, less.

In sum, Captain Sanogo’s future is bleak.

Former President Amadou Toumani Touré and Moussa Traoré have both find a way to transform their coup into a political ascension:  ATT by stepping back and built an image of great democrat, Traoré by providing advices on managing a country in the shadow.

Sanogo’s future is unclear. He does not have the standing of a “democrat” as he was mostly forced by the international community to return constitutional power. He would also have difficulty to rebrand his coup as a move in favor of democracy (or in the liberation of Mali…). And he does not have the experience of 23 years in power to build an “expertise” like Traoré did after many years of meditation in jail.

So, what is to understand from his latest nomination as the President of the Comité Militaire de Suivi de la Réforme des Forces de Sécurité et de Défense, providing him with a golden parachute of a monthly sum of  3,900,000 CFA (Almost 8,000 US$, wage and allowance included)?

It seems that it follows Traore’s way of governing: consensus. Since the beginning of the crisis, he kept bringing diverging actors together, spending more energy on compromising than taking decision. Malians blame him for lacking leadership. Even my maid at home would call him “weak” and “feminine”. Joseph Nye might call it « soft power ». We could also call governing a fragile country from a weak position to do so.

Nevertheless, Sanogo’s nomination provides the Captain an honorable exit strategy. And probably his last chance to leave in good terms.

Now the international community is active in Mali. They made it clear that (some) international justice will prevail (the International Criminal Court launched investigations), that Mali has to go back to Constitutional rule and that the Green Berets need to “build capacities”. It is a new game as nobody took attention of the political elements of the crisis for over 8 months.

There is now considerable tension on Sanogo to step down, and go back where is he from. The reconfiguration of power in Mali since the military intervention, which reaffirmed Dioncounda Traoré’s and a political transition, has been disadvantageous to Captain Sanogo.

And he has not much room to maneuver. But in spite of the golden exit that has been crafted for him, he might still want to exercise his power of nuisance. Now, as the North is “liberated”, Sanogo’s attempts to retain power can only be political as no military feats can boost his achievements. If he succedes in a nuisance attempt, this could be very hurtful for Mali that remains weak. If he fails, this means game-over for the Captain.

Sanogo’s smartest move seems to be a tactical retreat. That is probably the best opportunity he has in his hand for now, until a new game and new rules appear. But does he get a sense of the game he is stuck into?