Under a sickle moon a large man with dreadlocks, a sparkling purple cloak and white moccasins climbed the stairs of the house that has become Mali’s new nerve-center. He was a marabout — a West Africa holy man — summoned by the 40-year-old army captain everyone in Kati is now calling le President. The new power in Mali is Amadou Sanogo, a career soldier whose improbable coup d’etat has upturned one of Africa’s strongest democracies. On Monday night he sought strength from the spirit world. He needs whatever help he can get.
It is a week since Sanogo led a mutiny at the garrison in Kati — a sleepy commune of cinder-block bungalows just north of the capital — that intensified into a coup. Swiftly condemned by the international community for daring to upset a rare — if perhaps superficial — African success story, Sanogo and his junta, the self-importantly named Comite national pour le redressement de la democratie et la restauration de l’ Etat (CNRDRE for short), must work out quickly how to cope with a sudden halt in economic and military assistance at a time when Tuareg rebels wage a devastating blitzkrieg in the north, protesters march and public figures bewail democracy’s death.
At the two-story house in Kati, formerly the camp commandant’s headquarters, Sanogo meets with a flurry of diplomats, soldiers and power-brokers, who wait on a first-floor verandah lined with ornamental plants. He smiles bashfully as he shakes the Algerian ambassador’s hand, as though he’s still growing into the role he’s plucked for himself. There’s a hint of the young Vladimir Putin, trying to project a persona that’s bigger than he is, and it’s easy to see why his American mentors (he attended multiple training programs in the U.S.) never marked him out as future leadership material as, apparently, is the case.