It must have seemed like rather a good idea at the time. Frustrated at the government’s failed attempts to quell a rebellion in the north, a group of middle-ranking Malian soldiers decided to take matters into their own hands, arresting the president, taking over the palace and seizing power.
A few days later, a somewhat embarrassed coup leader, Amadou Sanogo, was forced to admit that things hadn’t quite gone to plan. Rebels had taken advantage of the chaos Sanogo’s coup had created to overrun the capitals of three northern regions, including Timbuktu.
Governing, it turns out, is actually rather difficult. Campaign promises – or for Captain Sanogo, coup promises – are not necessarily easy to keep once the keys to the presidential palace have been handed over, be it through the ballot box or at gunpoint. And Captain Sanogo is not the only leader to learn this lesson in recent days. In Britain, the Tories have just realised that making seemingly minor pastry-based adjustments to the tax code or giving mild-mannered advice about when to fill up your car with petrol can have unexpected results.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has discovered that fire and brimstone may play well in elections but it doesn’t provide clean water, electricity or jobs.
While in Spain Mariano Rajoy is finding out that although voters may have said they were willing to put up with austerity, they’re not actually that willing now they’ve seen what it looks like.
Mario Cuomo, the one-time governor of New York, famously said politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. He was being kind. Most politicians would love to be able to govern in prose – at least it would make some kind of sense. Instead there is a feeling they are mudding through, trying their best, but with nobody entirely sure if what they’re doing is actually going to work.
It’s a sensation captured perfectly by the British satire, The Thick Of It, which followed a hapless minister and his equally unfortunate and incompetent spin doctors. American viewers are about to be treated to a similar show, Veep, produced by the same team led by comedian Armando Iannucci, and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a US vice president completely out of her depth.
It might be a while before the Malian equivalent is playing across West Africa, but any aspiring coup leader having second thoughts about taking power may want to get their hands on a box set of Armando Iannucci comedies before they pick up their weapons.