It is pretty worrying that Mali’s coup of March 21st was led by junior officers. Your standard-issue general-led coup obviously doesn’t say great things about the military leadership’s basic willingness to subordinate itself to civilians, but a junior-officer coup says terrible things about the structure of the army itself.
So we have to look for some other explanations, and the institutional weakness of the Malian military seems like an obvious candidate. Consider the previous experience with military regimes led by junior officers like Master Sergeant Samuel Doe in Liberia in the 1980s and Valentine Strasser in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. You have to have a pretty undisciplined army for a junior officer to mount a coup. And Whitehouse argues pretty convincingly that Captain Sanogo basically blundered into supreme executive power. It’s hard to imagine how a group of junior officers could just stumble upon power in a relatively professional army.
This might also help explain Capt. Sanogo’s relatively quick turn to civilians. Regimes led by the bottom brass, according to research by Barbara Geddes [PDF] tend to be particularly unstable and require a lot of effort to expand the ruling coalition in order to survive. There’s a new interim president in Mali, but it looks like the putschists will have a pretty strong, lingering influence.
This basically adds an institutional reason—an undisciplined military—to the general sense that Mali’s got some serious and persistent risk of political instability. Mali’s coup came in the context of a food crisis and a rebellion. In addition, there were signs of risk visible last year, despite the general perception that Mali was a relatively stable regime. Jay Ulfelder has been a must-read on the coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, putting them into clear statistical context. Statistical trends help us to identify surprisingly likely (or unlikely) cases, and Mali was pretty high up Ulfelder's rank-ordering of coup risk in 2012.
I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that ongoing instability in Mali is overdetermined. But overall, we have pretty good reason to expect continued, and potentially quite severe, military fractiousness. And the rebellion is likely to remain in charge in the north for the foreseeable future. The new interim president talks a big game, but I don’t see a chaotic army really able to dislodge the Touareg.