Mali: Will Assimi Goïta be able to get out of trouble?

By Fatoumata Diallo
Posted on Monday, 27 December 2021 16:31

Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of two military coups and new interim president, walks during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako
Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of two military coups and new interim president, walks during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Amadou Keita - RC2QVN9CZI5U

With two months to go before the statutory end of the transition, and the postponement of the elections promised for February 2022, Assimi Goïta no longer has many options. To save his legacy and exit through the front door, the coup colonel must play the role of unifier.

What was Colonel Assimi Goïta thinking on the morning of 7 June, as he swapped his usual fatigues for the uniform of the commander of the Autonomous Special Forces Battalion of the Aguerrissement Centres (BAFS-CA), and took the oath of office as a military leader before the Supreme Court?

Had he then measured the significance of this new function when, with his left hand on the Constitution and his right hand raised to the sky, he swore: “Before God and the Malian people to respect the Constitution and the Transition Charter”? Did he, who had always preferred adventure on the perilous terrain of Mopti to the prestige of power, feel up to the task?

Seven months after the establishment of the second transitional government, the commitments made by Goïta on 16 September 2020 in Accra, during an extraordinary ECOWAS summit on Mali, in which he assured that the transition would last only eighteen months, seem far from respected.

At the beginning of November, the Malian authorities informed ECOWAS of their desire to extend the transition beyond 27 February 2022, the date on which the presidential and legislative elections were to be held. This decision could lead to heavy sanctions against the country.

The ECOWAS ultimatum

Although no immediate sanctions were imposed on Mali at the 60th conference of ECOWAS heads of state on 12 December in Abuja, it is clear that the outcome of this meeting was not favourable for Bamako.

Although it took note of the correspondence from the transitional president, who promised to bring a new timetable to the attention of West African leaders by 31 January 2022 – to ease tensions and show goodwill – ECOWAS did not agree with Goïta.

It has, despite efforts, decided to reiterate its initial position, which is to maintain the end of the transition by that date. “The heads of state, after a lengthy exchange, decided to maintain the date of 27 February 2022 for the organisation of elections in Mali. They decided that additional sanctions would come into force in January 2022,” the regional body said.

Before that, 27 December will be a decisive step. According to Malian electoral law, President Goïta has until that date to sign a presidential decree convening the electoral college. If signed, this decree will make it possible to hold the double ballot on 27 February 2022. However, if the deadline passes, the extension of the transition will be officially ratified and ECOWAS could legitimately apply additional sanctions on Mali for “non-compliance with the regulatory deadline of the transition”.

The transitional government has managed to alienate the whole world…

Will Assimi Goïta be able to get out of trouble? While the new transitional authorities are banking on the support of Malians by capitalising on a highly nationalistic discourse, internally the transitional government is under pressure from all sides.

Moving towards a front against the transition?

Faced with an uncertain horizon, the political parties in Bamako are getting annoyed. The challenges of the transition have not been met,” said Housseini Amion Guindo, leader of the Convergence for the Development of Mali (Codem).

With three months to go before the deadline initially agreed by the transitional government, the authorities have succeeded in alienating the whole world, starting with ECOWAS, which is threatening to increase sanctions against our country,” he said.

For former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the current leaders show no sign of a way out. In addition to failing to respect the transitional deadlines, the succession of strikes in recent weeks in the banking sector and the inflation of the cost of basic necessities have left a part of the population tense, as they beat the pavement to get IBK out of the country, dreaming of more social justice.

This bitter observation is echoed by former allies of the current government. The extension of the transition, the numerous arrests of political figures and the rise of a nationalist discourse have pushed many of them to distance themselves from Koulouba. “The transition has failed,” said a disgusted Issa Kaou N’Djim, the 4th vice-president of the National Transitional Council (CNT), who was dismissed from his post after an outburst on a local media against Choguel Maïga.

The change of course for this former figure of the Movement of 5 June-Reassembly of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), who was a fervent supporter of Goïta and called for his election in the next presidential election, illustrates the malaise that exists within the Malian political class.

“Prolonging the transition is an admission of failure for the authorities. The transition charter we wrote was known to all. It recommended finding all the means to ensure security throughout the country. In view of the situation, sixteen months later, it has only deteriorated”, N’Djim said.

Within the M5-RFP, which brought Choguel Kokalla Maïga to the Prime Minister’s office and some members into the government – the Minister of Refoundation, Ibrahim Ikassa Maïga, for example – some leaders admit that they are no longer in phase with the political orientation given by Choguel. There is no hope in nationalism,” says Tahirou Dembélé, political adviser to Modibo Sidibé. Choguel Maïga’s speech is turning into populism and that is dangerous.

The political parties that form the opposition are vengeful and want the transition to fail.

In this exceptional regime, which wishes to have neither opposition nor a majority, the government can nevertheless count on a major ally: the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD), the former main opposition party under IBK.

Despite the death of its leader, Soumaïla Cissé, the URD is a party that retains a very solid electoral base and influential political bureau members in Mali. Its leaders, who constantly affirm their support for the transition, consider that the political parties that form the opposition are vengeful and want the transition to fail. “The men who oppose the current government are mostly from the IBK regime. They are nostalgic for the old system that ended thanks to the M5,” said Moussa Sey Diallo, deputy secretary in charge of communications at the URD national office.

If the party is so far satisfied with the transition, Moussa Sey Diallo concedes nevertheless that the discretion of Assimi Goïta is a problem. The URD’s communication officer said that Goïta, who limits his outings to the 15 kilometres between the Kati military camp and Koulouba, must “unite around Mali by going before Malians and opinion leaders in Bamako and beyond the capital’s borders”.

National conferences shunned

While the last soldiers of the Barkhane operation left Timbuktu on 14 December, the dialogue between the executive and the signatories of the 2015 peace agreement continues to be distorted in Bamako. On 10 December, they came out of their silence to denounce their “exclusion” from the National Conference on Refoundation. A national dialogue, considered indispensable by the Prime Minister, at the end of which Goïta must present the new schedule.

However, some signatories of the 2015 Algiers peace agreement, namely the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and the Platform, as well as the Coordination of Inclusiveness Movements (CMI), created after the agreement, had expressed their interest in the National Refoundation Conference that ended on 31 December 2015.

Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, spokesperson for the Cadre Stratégique Permanent (PSF) – which brings together the CMA and the Platform – told us that the signatories had made repeated contact with the president of the transition and the ministries concerned with the organisation – to no avail. Faced with the positions of the executive, the main actors of the peace agreement, who say they do not understand this decision, have announced that these meetings do not “commit” them.

The boycott of the meetings by the signatories of the agreement is a blow to the transitional authorities

Is there not a risk that the government will regret this break afterwards? In any case, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane does not conceive of subjects being organised around the APR (Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, the name normally used for the Algiers agreement), during these meetings, without its signatories being present. During these consultations, Malians will be called upon to debate the reasons that make it difficult for the “population not to take ownership of the agreement” or the difficulties relating to its strict application.

The boycott of the meetings by the signatories of the agreement is a serious blow to the transitional authorities. The day after the fall of IBK, the coup colonels had promised to make the implementation of the 2015 RPA a priority.

The Peace Agreement Undermined

Six years after it was signed, the agreement, which was seen as the tool that would bring security to northern Mali, is deeply divided among Malians and successive governments. While some are calling for it to be revised, others are calling for it to be strictly enforced.

History has shown that in Bamako, when there is grumbling in the streets, Koulouba trembles.

“At the beginning of the transition, we had good relations with the authorities, but with the advent of Choguel Maïga and the programming of the National Conferences, we felt the government distancing itself from us,” says Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, who also deplores “the lack of progress in the implementation of the peace agreement”.

At the beginning of October, these groups had already announced their withdrawal from the discussions with the government in Bamako, judging that the process was stalling. Believing that Colonel Ismaël Wagué, Minister of Reconciliation – who belongs to the group of colonels who carried out the coup against IBK – is not up to the task because of certain positions he has taken, they had also asked for his replacement with a more “neutral” figure.

For his part, Abdoulaye Diop, the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the RPA’s negotiators acknowledged that “despite the difficulties and delays, the process is moving forward”. On the political level, he stressed the fact that the transition had been inclusive by allocating ministerial portfolios to four members of the groups that signed the agreement. Moreover, Mr Diop assured us that Bamako is working in collaboration with these movements to speed up the reconstituted army process (the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme), with the aim of strengthening security in the North.

Isolated both internationally and internally, the transitional government seems to want to temper the nationalist discourse by opting for calmer debates throughout the country. But is it not too late?

In mid-December, the Party Exchange framework and the grouping of political parties for a successful transition – which includes Parena, Codem, etc. – and other figures such as Issa Kaou N’Djim, told us about a large demonstration set for Monday 27 December, to oppose the extension of the transition and to restore “constitutional order”. But with what results? History has shown that in Bamako when there is discontent in the streets, Koulouba trembles.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options