Mali: Who’s who in the secretive inner circle of President Assimi Goïta

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 1 September 2021 10:43

Now the undisputed head of Mali’s transitional government, President Assimi Goïta has kept a Praetorian Guard at his side, which mostly consists of fellow service members.

To ensure one’s survival in a transitional regime, it’s best to surround oneself with people whom one can nearly trust blindly. Ever since he assumed the role of President of the Republic, Colonel Assimi Goïta, who knows he is being scrutinised on the international scene, has been applying this principle to the letter.

Secretive by nature, he has been careful not to reveal anything since the 24 May 2021 crisis, which plunged Mali into its second coup in less than a year. He now surrounds himself with only a handful of loyal followers. Foremost among them are his comrades from the Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple (CNSP), with whom he meets every day to “talk about the country’s situation.”

Colonel Sadio Camara

Sadio Camara and Goïta have known each other for a long time, as the two men have been at the forefront together. Appointed at the beginning of the transition government to the very strategic position of defence minister, his ousting from Moctar Ouane’s second government led to a second coup d’état within less than a year. Goïta stated that removing Camara from this position without his agreement was a “violation of the transitional charter” and the “oath taken [by Bah N’Daw] on 25 September 2020.”

Colonel Malick N’Diaw

The 42-year-old native of Ségou has headed the Conseil National de Transition (CNT), Mali’s legislative body, since December 2020. He is a key member of Goïta’s inner circle and was part of the quartet that led the 18 August 2020 coup.

Like his companions, he attended Kati’s Prytanée Militaire, of which he became the director years later. This is not the first time this colonel, who is discreet and known for his negotiating skills, participated in a coup d’état. In fact, he was one of the principal actors behind the 2012 putsch that overthrew Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) and brought Amadou Haya Sanogo to power.

Colonel Modibo Koné

He left his position as minister of security and civil protection to head the state security department. In Mali, this post is often headed by one of the president’s trusted men. He is a graduate of Kati’s Prytanée Militaire and trained at the École Militaire Interarmes de Koulikoro (Émia). Koné is a man of action who has participated in several Malian army operations, including “Maliba”, which was launched in 2013 with the aim to recapture the northern part of the country.

Colonel Ismaël Wagué  

He served as the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff before being appointed the transitional government’s minister of national reconciliation. He undoubtedly obtained this position thanks to the good public opinion that he had garnered after carrying out the 18 August 2020 coup.

Captain Demba N’Daw

This chief of staff, who has the rank of minister, is one of Goïta’s closest collaborators. He is an army captain who also passed through Kati’s Prytanée Militaire and manages the president of the transitional government’s agenda. During the 24 May crisis, he monitored the phone line between Goïta and the many foreign actors who wanted to talk to Mali’s new strong man.

Commander Baba Cissé

Cissé, who was Goïta’s special advisor and in charge of his communication, has risen through the ranks in recent months. He is very accessible, despite his rank as commander, and knows when it’s time to be serious.

After the 24 May coup d’état, he took to the floor and defended Goïta and his men’s actions. Given Goïta is not very comfortable in front of cameras, the colonel assigned Cissé the duty of transmitting his messages on air.

Abdoulaye Diop

Diop is one of Goïta’s secret weapons. He is a seasoned diplomat who was once Mali’s ambassador to Washington and also worked for the African Union. Diop has positioned himself as the transitional president’s PR agent ever since he took up his post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the beginning of July, he went on numerous trips – to Accra, Kigali and Kinshasa – to “carry President Goïta’s message” to these countries’ heads of state. In other words, to improve Goïta’s image, as he is not popular on the international scene.

Robert Dussey

The head of Togo’s diplomacy, who frequently visits Bamako, is a bridge between Goïta and President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé. The Togolese President, who has maintained good relations with Goïta ever since the August 2020 coup, had acted as a mediator during the tug of war between Bah N’Daw and the colonel over the formation of the government last May.

He had behaved like a true godfather, defending the Malian government against the trio of Alassane Ouattara, Goodluck Jonathan and Nana Akufo-Addo to prevent Ecowas from implementing heavy economic sanctions.

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