West Africa's coup season


Military soldiers of Guinea-Bissau on April 13, 2012 after a meeting in the capital, Bissau. Opposition parties in Guinea-Bissau were to meet on April 14, 2012 to form out a unity government after a military coup derailed presidential elections.



It's coup season in West Africa.

The region is scrambling to deal with upheavals in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

West Africa’s powerful regional bloc, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an emergency meeting Saturday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to consider ways to resolve the political crises in the two troubled countries, according to the Nigerian Tribune. 

Mali's military junta stepped down and restored constitutional order by handing over to the speaker of the National Assembly Dioncounda Traore, who was sworn in on Thursday as Mali's interim president. 

For its part, ECOWAS said it recommends deployment of a regional force to help Mali secure its territory from Tuareg rebels, reported AP.

Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure was near the end of his last term on March 21 when soldiers stormed the presidential residence, sending Toure into hiding and overturning the country's 20-year-old democracy. Mid-ranking soldiers claimed they grabbed power because Toure had mishandled the Tuareg rebellion that began in northern Mali in January.

More from GlobalPost: Mali's Tuareg rebels declare independent state of Azawad

But the Mali coup backfired, as the Tuareg rebels took advantage of the vacuum following the coup to seize three large northern cities, including the fabled Timbuktu. Last week the rebels declared an independent state of Azawad in northern Mali. 

ECOWAS appointed Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré to be the mediator of the Mali crisis and he was holding talks Saturday in the Bukina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, with more than 80 Malians including senior officials of the junta, parliamentary and regional leaders and religious heads.

Related: Touareg versus Tuareg: What's in a name?

The situation is even more murky in Guinea-Bissau. 

ECOWAS is considering proposals to resolve that country's crisis following the coup which occured on Thursday, but so far the regional bloc has not announced a plan. 

But in Guinea-Bissau political parties met Saturday to try to form an inclusive coalition government to lead the nation to a fresh presidential election, reported Voice of America.

The streets of the capital, Bissau, were quiet and soldiers guarded public buildings on Saturday. Former prime minister and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim president Raimundo Pereira both were detained by the military in the coup's first hours, according to Reuters.

A military spokesman says both men are well, but they are still being detained.

More: Guinea-Bissau: Soldiers arrest leaders in coup

The Guinea-Bissau coup was swiftly condemned by the African Union and the UN Security Council, according to News 24. The U.S. embassy in Senegal, which also covers Guinea-Bissau, urged the military to restore civilian leadership, reported VOA. 

Since winning independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has struggled through a dictatorship, three coups and a president's assassination three years ago. The country also is a known a conduit for Latin American drug traffickers shipping cocaine and other drugs to Europe, reported Reuters.

Guinea-Bissau soldiers launched the coup late Thursday just hours befiore campaigning was due to begin for a presidential runoff election. Mutineers took over roads, TV and radio stations, and government offices in Bissau.

The unidentified coup leaders, calling themselves the Military Command, said in a statement they do not want to take power, according to Reuters. The army is known for meddling in political affairs in the former Portuguese colony. Renegade soldiers killed President Joao Bernardo Vieria in 2009.

Guinea-Bissau's opposition, led by unsuccessful presidential challenger Kumba Yala, had called for a boycott of the April 29 presidential runoff. Yala was one of five candidates who claimed the first-round vote was rigged. All were vying to replace the late president Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January. 

The diplomatic initiatives are impressive, but ECOWAS, the African Union and the international community have a lot of work to get democracies and stability restored in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.