Minister in the front line

Mali: 10 things to know about Alousséni Sanou, one of Goïta’s top ministers

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on February 4, 2022 10:31

Firefox_Screenshot_2022-02-03T16-49-31.618Z Alousséni Sanou, Mali’s minister of economy and finance, in Bamako on 25 March 2021. © Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mali/Facebook
Alousséni Sanou, Mali’s minister of economy and finance, in Bamako on 25 March 2021. © Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mali/Facebook

Alousséni Sanou has become one of the key figures in the system set up by Mali’s military. At a time when the country is under sanctions and the tug-of-war with the West is intensifying, here he is, as minister of the economy, in the front line.

1. Kati

Alousséni Sanou was born in 1964 in the garrison town of Kati, about 15km from Bamako. Most of the coups d’état in recent years have started in Camp Soundiata, more precisely, in the third military region, which is located in this town.

The camp was the headquarters of the Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple (CNSP), which overthrew Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta before being dissolved by decree in January 2021.

This geographical proximity is coupled with the fact that Sanou is also reputedly close to some of the junta’s main figures, including Colonel Assimi Goïta, president of the transition government.

2. Friends with Goïta

Unknown to the Malian political microcosm – as well as to public opinion – Sanou had met Goïta in Kati before being appointed as minister of economy and finance in the first transitional government led by Moctar Ouane. Since then, the two men have become friends, which explains why the banker was appointed to head this strategic portfolio. Sanou is also close to another member of the junta: Colonel Sadio Camara, minister of defence and veterans.

3. Acting CEO

Sanou graduated with a degree in economics from the École Nationale d’Administration in 1987. Since 2006, he has been the financial and accounting director of the Banque Nationale de Développement Agricole (BNDA), which he joined in 1991.

Between 2017 and 2019, he served as this institution’s interim CEO and director-general. He was “respected by the members of his department”, “very generous”, “self-effacing, but a good worker”, according to one of his colleagues at the time.

4. A “good Samaritan”

Within the BNDA, Sanou played the role of facilitator on behalf of certain figures of the junta in power today. Some of them employed him as their account manager.

“He played the role of a good Samaritan, opening lines of credit for them in the past,” said one of our sources in the public banking institution.

5. Eviction

Sanou first joined the government in October 2020. However, he was ousted in May 2021 during a reshuffle in which then-president Bah N’Daw and prime minister Ouane tried to remove Colonels Modibo Koné and Camara from power, as well as figures reputedly close to the military, such as himself and Lamine Seydou Traoré, the minister of mines, energy and water.

N’Daw and Ouane’s attempt to take control precipitated the second coup d’état, led by Goïta, who dismissed the two men a few hours after the government team had been announced.

6. Discreet but influential

According to a government minister who served under the N’Daw presidency, Sanou is one of the country’s most influential civilians. A central figure in the junta’s system, he participates in the nightly meetings held in Kati, during which the ruling military defines its strategy.

7. PMU and Treasury

In April 2021, when Ouane was still prime minister, Sanou had not agreed with certain appointments, in particular those of Alfousseyni Niono as head of the Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) and Mahamane Dédéou at the Direction Nationale du Trésor et de la Comptabilité Publique. “This created great unease within the government,” says a former minister.

As soon as N’Daw and Ouane were relieved of their duties, Niono and Dédéou also lost their posts. In their place, Sanou installed people who were close to him: Fassery Doumbia, his chief of staff, took over the PMU, and Boubacar Ben Bouillé, one of the Sheriff of Nioro’s loved ones, took over the reins of the Treasury, which he had already headed between 2012 and 2015.

8. Fear of the media

Not very talkative in public, Sanou tends to remain discrete, both in the media and during his – rare – meetings with international financial institutions. He has only talked with representatives from the IMF and the World Bank a few times.

“He is the regime’s money man, but not necessarily the perfect technocrat,” says a former aide to the prime minister. “He is not as flamboyant as some of his predecessors, like Boubou Cissé or Mamadou Igor Diarra. Perhaps he has a complex about them.” “He is not self-effacing, but he is extremely careful. He wants to be sure that, if a problem arises, it will not be his fault,” says a former colleague.

Not at all comfortable in front of the cameras, Sanou tries to avoid them as much as possible. Far from being a tribune, he does not like to speak in public either, including before the Conseil National de Transition (CNT), the legislative body, to which he prefers to send a proxy when his presence is not essential.

The political class and public opinion do not appreciate his shyness, especially at a time when Mali is facing heavy economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS and UEOMA.

9. Future prime minister

A few weeks ago, rumours were still spreading that Choguel Kokalla Maïga was planning to resign from his post as prime minister.

Initially considered Goïta’s “sniper” in the tug-of-war between Mali and some of its partners, France in particular, Maïga is now seen as a “fuse.”

In the event that he has to step down, Sanou’s name is high on the list of potential successors, as is that of Abdoulaye Diop, the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

10. Responding to sanctions

Goïta has entrusted Sanou with the task of responding to the economic sanctions against Mali. The minister is in charge of convincing the banks to take on some of the government’s demands.

We discovered that one of these is “a formal ban on banks freezing state accounts” and “communicating state positions” in their books.

During a meeting with the Association Professionnelle des Banques et Etablissements Financiers on 10 January, Sanou said that it was “out of the question that commercial banks block the accounts of the state and its branches.”

However, this firm and voluntarist stance has led observers and actors on the Malian economic scene to wonder – off the record – if the minister of the economy is being totally transparent when he talks about the consequences of sanctions.

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