A Pandemic Coup’s Causes and Repercussions

The ousting of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 18 following weeks of protests was the first coup of the COVID era. It provides a sobering example of how the pandemic has exacerbated existing social and economic inequities around the world.

Though the political and economic turmoil that sparked this coup began years before COVID-19, the pandemic added fuel to the fire. Strict lockdown restrictions imposed in March had devastating economic impacts in one of the poorest countries in the world but did not stop the rise in insurgent violence, adding to existing political tensions.

Despite the lockdown restrictions, the Malian government held delayed legislative elections earlier this year with less than 24% turnout. Many stayed away from the polls due to violence, the virus and general indifference toward the government.

Prior to the coup, Mali had a limited spread of the virus. And– despite its new military leaders pledging a return to normalcy— it remains unclear how the pandemic will be managed with the government in a state of limbo.

Global leaders from Africa, Europe and the U.S. condemned the coup, also putting into question how global coronavirus relief efforts will be carried out amid heightened political tensions.

COVID-19 also continues to pummel economies dependent on tourism, demonstrating that as the pandemic continues, governments will face tough decisions in the months ahead between balancing public health and economic impacts.