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Ghana – Mali: Who will have the last word, Goïta or Akufo-Addo?

By Fatoumata Diallo
Posted on Wednesday, 3 November 2021 11:07

Nana Akufo-Addo and Assimi Goïta. Montage JA / AFP

With only four months left to go until the end of the transition period, Colonel Assimi Goïta intends to remain in control of the transition timetable. This is not to the liking of Nana Akufo-Addo, Ecowas’ current president, who is pushing for power to be transferred to civilians as soon as possible.

In public, their handshake is always warm and their smiles soothing. However, on 17 October, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo determinedly disembarked from his plane and stepped onto the tarmac at Modibo-Keita airport (formerly Bamako-Senou).

The current president of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) made this necessary visit because the Malian authorities are no longer respecting the commitments they made after the coup d’état that led to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s fall on 18 August 2020.

Akufo-Addo met with the president of the transitional government behind closed doors and, although no statement or communiqué followed this exchange, the former delivered the message that West African heads of state are concerned about Assimi Goïta’s procrastination. Although 22 February 2022, the date set for the upcoming presidential election and which will mark the end of the transition period, is fast approaching, the Koulouba palace’s tenant has not mapped out a clear timetable.

The master of clocks

Nevertheless, far from complying with his peers’ demands, the president of the transition government seems determined to remain the master of clocks, and he has certainly made this evident. On 25 October – barely a week after the Ghanaian president’s visit – Hamidou Boly, Ecowas’ permanent representative in Mali, was ordered to leave the country within 72 hours.

Bamako accuses the Burkinabe diplomat of being involved in “efforts to destabilise the transition government.” The authorities claim he is close to political parties and civil society movements that want to put an end to the current regime and even claim to have “proof” to back up their accusations.

Ever since he took office, he has been going around in circles. He has his own agenda. Every time there is a question regarding the timetable, Choguel deflects the problem…

Although Abdoulaye Diop, Mali’s foreign affairs minister, assured us on 1 November that Bamako had informed Ecowas several months ago of these suspicions, the latter seemed initially stunned by the announcement. The accusations were heavy and the organisation stalled before responding formally. It did so only two days after its emissary was abruptly declared ‘persona non grata’.

In a statement published on 27 October, the Economic Community said it “regretted” the diplomat’s eviction, especially as it came “at an important and delicate time and was characterised by Ecowas and other partners’ support of Mali’s political transition amid a complex security situation.”

This is a firm warning, which nevertheless demonstrates that the sub-regional organisation – faced with a fait accompli – has taken note of Bamako’s decision, since it has already announced that it has “initiated the process of recalling the representative to ensure that he returns under the best possible conditions.”

Benevolence and flexibility

How did things get this bad? Even though Mali was suspended from Ecowas after the 24 May coup d’état, the West African organisation had done everything to spare Bamako. In fact, the heads of state had protected the country from economic sanctions that had been envisaged for a long time and which would have further asphyxiated it.

Moreover, relations between Goïta and his counterparts had seemed, until then, rather good. During the first phase of the transition government, presided over by Bah N’Daw, Goïta had regularly sought the West African leaders’ advice whenever he disagreed with the retired officer, who he eventually overthrew. In particular, he often consulted with deposed president Alpha Condé, and regularly spoke with Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara and Togo’s President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, with whom he developed strong ties over time.

“Assimi Goïta exuded a confidence and serenity that earned him his peers’ esteem and understanding. This is why the heads of state remained flexible after the second putsch,” says a Malian official who served during the first phase of the transition government.

For his part, even though he has a reputation for knowing how to be firm when the situation calls for it, the Ghanaian president is described as a very ‘courteous’ and ‘balanced’ man. Within Ecowas, which he chairs, he is far from being a hawk. In fact, he is on the side of those who are against adopting a position that’s too rigid towards the military, which are extremely powerful in Bamako. “He has always shown great openness and understanding of the situation in Mali,” says our source.

War of influence

However, the very real possibility that the transition timetable hasn’t been respected, as well as growing fears that the coup plotters haven’t observed their commitments, have undermined this relatively calm climate. Boly, whom the Malian authorities feel is unyielding, has paid the price of this power struggle.

On a visit to Bamako in early September, Goodluck Jonathan, Ecowas’ mediator for Mali, called the authorities to order and urged them to stick to the initial timetable, but his request that a clear timetable be published before mid-October was ignored. “Ecowas understood that prime minister Choguel Maiga was playing with them,” said a former member of the presidential palace. “Ever since he took office, he has been going around in circles. He has his own agenda. Every time there is a question regarding the timetable, Choguel deflects the problem by saying that he must hold a meeting… This is what finally pushed Ecowas to harden its position.”

Ever since the second transitional government was established, Bamako and Ecowas have been engaging in a bitter war of influence. According to a diplomatic source based in Bamako, now that Boly is out of the talks, the Malian authorities have set their sights on another figure participating in the ongoing negotiations: Côte d’Ivoire’s Jean-Claude Kouassi Brou, president of the organisation’s commission. Those close to Goïta equate the latter’s positions with those of Ouattara, who is known for being close to France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who is not exactly popular within Koulouba’s corridors.

In response, Ecowas is considering applying individual sanctions to Malian leaders, if it turns out that the transition timetable is not being respected.

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