Since he appeared on national television (ORTM) screens on the night of 18-19 August, he has become one of the media faces of the military junta that pushed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign and take power in Mali.
Colonel-Major Ismaël Wagué, spokesman for the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), enjoys a solid reputation within the Malian army. And while all eyes are now om Lieutenant-Colonel Assimi Goïta who, at 37 years of age, has become the new strongman of Bamako by taking over the presidency of the CNSP, Wagué, who was until now Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force, occupies a central place in the coup plot.
But don’t pronounce the word “coup” in front of him… Thursday evening, at the end of a long day that saw the heads of state of ECOWAS increasing the pressure on the military, the officer gave an interview to Jeune Afrique/The Africa Report.
He assures that “the constitutional order has not been broken” and that the junta’s objective is to put in place “a true democracy, to serve the Malian people”. However, he refrains from giving a precise timetable, both for the handing over of power to civilians and for future elections.
Jeune Afrique/The Africa Repport: ECOWAS met on Thursday 20 August by video-conference. It called for the restoration of constitutional order and pronounced sanctions against Mali. What is your response?
Ismaël Wagué: That it is unfortunate, because if there are sanctions, they are against the Malian people, in whose name we are here today. The constitutional order has not been broken, even though we are in an exceptional situation. We are in the process of seeing whether these sanctions are legally valid under regional and international law.
How is Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), as well as the members of his government and the officers who have been arrested?
They are doing very well. IBK and all the others have not been arrested and they are not detained. They have been taken to safety. In this kind of situation, some personalities may be in insecurity.
The proof: some tried to attack IBK’s home even though he was no longer there. At the appropriate time and depending on the security situation, they will be free to move again.
Is it true that negotiations have begun for a departure into exile for President IBK?
There is a lot being said, but all I can confirm at the moment is that they are safe.
How long will the transition last?
At this stage, it is difficult to determine how long it will last. We have already begun to make contact with all of the nation’s active forces and, with them, we will define the work that will be done during this transition period.
It is at that point that we will be able to set the duration of the transition. The objective is a true democracy, at the service of the Malian people. It is a vast project that we wish to carry out as soon as possible in order to organise the general elections.
Who will lead the transition and what will be the role of the CNSP?
On this subject, we are very clear: we have said that we want a civil political transition. That is why we talked about a national committee and not a military committee. A president of the transition will be appointed through a collective decision, after discussions with the nation’s active forces.
Will the personalities who until now have made up the presidential majority be able to be part of this transition?
As far as we are concerned, there is neither a majority nor an opposition. We are open to everyone, including the groups that signed the peace agreement. Everyone has their place in rebuilding Mali.
The CNSP held a series of meetings with members of the political class on Thursday 20 August. What did you talk about?
We told them what we expect of them and they told us what they expect of us. It was very constructive. They asked a lot of questions, which we will answer at a future meeting.
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Some asked for the release of IBK, others asked for the release of Soumaila Cissé [the opposition leader detained by jihadist groups since March]. Some advised us to avoid regional isolation, which is one of our priorities.
What are your links with the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP)?
We have no links with the M5-RFP. On the other hand, its demands seem legitimate to us and we recognize ourselves in their demands.
Why did you issue a note on 20 August asking people to stop bringing you money?
We are here to do a state job and, to do so, we are going to use the legal means of the state, in all transparency. People have to understand that they do not need to give us money because it could damage our neutrality. We want to look at all Malians in the same way.
Was this coup d’état planned in advance and matured in advance?
I do not agree with the use of the term “coup”. It implies that there has been an interruption of the constitutional order when that is not the case. The constitutional order is in force because the Constitution is still in force.
The President dissolved the National Assembly and his government before resigning; that was his prerogative. The President resigned responsibly, after an analysis of the situation. As for us, we have begun a work that we want to carry out with all Malians. We must review our democracy, so that it meets the expectations of the people and so that we never again find ourselves in such exceptional situations.
In 2012, the putsch had facilitated the advance of armed groups and jihadists. Aren’t you afraid that history will repeat itself?
In the last 48 hours, there has been no increase in the number of attacks, but it is possible that some may take advantage of the situation. That’s why military operations continue on the ground. All operational units have been asked to remain calm and confident and to continue to do their job.
We will do our best to strengthen their operational capabilities. Those on the ground are doing a difficult job, and we are elements from the field: some of us were sector commanders, others were unit chiefs.
We know the difficulties our men face and they trust us. We must support them and we ask Mali’s partners, including [the French in Operation] Barkhane, to continue to support us.
But President Emmanuel Macron has called for power to be “returned to civilians” and for constitutional order to be restored. What will happen if he does not recognize the transition?
France and Mali are long-standing partners and we have always worked with Barkhane, with the joint G5 Sahel force and with the Takuba force [a small coalition of special forces created by Paris].
This leads us to believe that, CNSP or not, there will always be this coordination of military support between our two countries.
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