staying power

Mali: Who really is Assimi Goïta, the man who said ‘No’ to France?

By Benjamin Roger, Aïssatou Diallo, Fatoumata Diallo

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Posted on February 1, 2022 11:36

Assimi Goïta was a complete stranger when he took over the Mali transition in August 2020. Secret and discreet, the former commander of the Special Forces has engaged in an unprecedented showdown with ECOWAS and France. Is he ready to do anything to stay in power?

It is the day of the Sacrifice. On this Eid-el-Kebir, the crowd is crowding the great mosque of Bamako. Everywhere in the city, the mood is festive, and the men who have come to worship are in a playful mood despite the deployment of security forces: the highest authorities are praying. Suddenly, a man appears behind Assimi Goïta’s back. He brandishes a knife and tries to reach his throat.

But this is a colonel of the special forces that he is attacking, a man who has chased the terrorists in the North, learnt to defeat the enemy, fought hand-to-hand. The soldier dodges. Imperturbable.

This is not the first attack from which the president of the transition has escaped. He already knows that it will not be the last. In a few moments, on 20 July 2021, the assailant was overpowered, and the Malian leader’s personal security team cordoned off the area around the great mosque. “May God give him strength,” some onlookers chanted in Bambara as Goïta slipped away. On his return to Koulouba Palace, surrounded by a few faithful, the survivor relativizes. “It’s all part of the game,” he says serenely. The game? But what is he playing?

“No to ECOWAS, no to sanctions!” Six months after this assassination attempt, on 14 January 2022, a huge crowd defied ECOWAS. It responded to the call of its leader, who skilfully orchestrated this show of force in the Council of Ministers. Millions of CFA francs were mobilised for the people of Bamako to take to the streets. Did ECOWAS want elections on 27 February 2022? No, it did not. It agreed to give the junta a slightly longer period to stay in power, provided that it does not exceed six months or a year? No again. Here in Bamako, Goïta is in charge. And he does what he wants.

How did this unknown man end up at the head of Mali, engaged in an almost senseless power struggle? Did he always dream of the golds of Koulouba? To understand the rise of this discreet military man, we must go back to the 18 August 2020.

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