Sanogo, the putschist who sees himself as Mali's De Gaulle

11th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who emerged from obscurity to lead a coup in March, has kept a strong hand on politics in Mali, comparing himself to the late French general and ex-president Charles de Gaulle.

The middle-aged Sanogo, who was once a US-trained English instructor to his fellow Malian officers, spearheaded a mutiny that spiralled into a full-blown coup, plunging one of West Africa's leading democracies into crisis.

In a statement published in the French daily Le Monde in October, Sanogo compared ousted leader Amadou Toumani Toure to French general and discredited war hero Philippe Petain who was imprisoned for treason by De Gaulle.

"I have only been to Mali what De Gaulle was to France," said Sanogo.

As head of state of France while Germany occupied two thirds of its territory during World War II, Petain signed an armistice with Adolf Hitler, with whom his regime later collaborated closely.

De Gaulle led an armed resistance against the French government and became president after the war.

Sanogo's coup, which observers described as accidental, was sparked by soldiers' anger over their rout at the hands of well-armed Tuareg separatist rebels seeking independence for their homeland in the north.

Demoralised and under-equipped, the putschists slammed Toure's regime for its incompetence in the face of the rebellion by the disenfranchised desert nomads, which has simmered for decades.

The captain, with a green beret perched on his shaved head, slightly pockmarked cheeks and a hoarse, raspy voice, promised in several television appearances to hand power to a civilian government.

Two weeks later he signed an agreement with mediators from the ECOWAS regional bloc to put in place an interim government, and Dioncounda Traore was appointed as its president.

But his retreat appeared to be a facade as he continued to order arrests of politicians, journalists, soldiers and those seen as close to the former regime.

"Since March, Sanogo and his men have been implicated in a steady stream of abuses -- disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, extortion, and intimidation of journalists, artists and opposition voices," Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka said.

From his headquarters at the Kati military barracks outside Bamako, Sanogo continued to wield his influence, further weakening the interim regime as the Tuareg and their Islamist allies proceeded to seize the country's north, an area larger than France.

In May, Sanogo and his former junta were granted a general amnesty and the captain received the status of former head of state and all the accompanying benefits, as mediators attempted to clear a political logjam.

A month later this status was withdrawn, but Traore decided to appoint Sanogo as head of a committee on army reform.

Sanogo persistently fobbed off criticism against the role of the coup in the effective split of Mali, as Islamic extremists broke with their Tuareg allies and implemented brutal sharia law in the vast arid north.

"If one holds me responsable for what happened with the coup, it is as if one blames De Gaulle for the June 1940 debacle in France," he said in a radio interview, referring to the German invasion.

He has also fiercely opposed plans for a military intervention to drive out the extremists.

Sanogo was often seen wearing a shining United States Marine Corps pin attached to his uniform as a reminder of several trips made to the US, where he received training in Georgia and Quantico, Virginia.

Friends say he is a ladies man with several children who likes a good party, football and sports.

© 2012 AFP

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