Mali: Who’s who in the Bamako coup

By Aïssatou Diallo, in Bamako
Posted on Monday, 7 September 2020 07:18

Assimi Goita
Col. Assimi Goita, center, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, is accompanied by group member Malick Diaw, left, as they meet with a high-level delegation from ECOWAS, in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. (AP Photo)

They have been in power since they forced the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Who now runs Mali? How did they divide up the roles? A deep dive into the heart of Mali's new junta.

A fine rain falls on Kati.

On the immense military base of the garrison town, children play soccer, carefree, while an endless procession of military vehicles rumble by. The convoy heads towards the command post, opposite the playground.

This is the stronghold of Mali’s new masters, the soldiers who make up the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) who overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 18.

As the procession enters the courtyard and parks in front of the main building, the soldiers stand to attention.

The door of a massive Hummer opens and Assimi Goïta emerges.

The young 37-year-old colonel, who was proclaimed ‘Head of State’ by the official birth papers of the CNSP published in the Official Gazette on 27 August, is wearing the same battle dress as that of the men of his close detail — men from the Autonomous Battalion of Special Forces and the War Center, which he commanded until the coup d’état.

READ MORE Mali Coup d’État : Military proposes three-year transition

A quick salute and disappears into the building. It was there, in a room of barely 14 square meters that served as his office, accessible via a dilapidated staircase, that he received visitors in the first days after the coup.

The man is discreet. Hardly prolix.

The son of a soldier, a conscientious student, Assimi Goïta is a poster boy for the schools and training centers of the Malian army.

He went through the ‘Prytanée militaire de Kati’ and the École militaire interarmes de Koulikoro, where he chose the army, specializing in armored weapons and cavalry. Mali’s new strongman also underwent training in the United States and Germany.

Assimi Goïta, the “calm man”.

In the aftermath of the putsch, the junta published his official biography, in which he is presented as a man “adept at challenges”.

Apart from that, little information filters through about him or his career.

READ MORE Mali: Coup leader Assimi Goïta is from an elite fighting unit

It is also difficult to know his vision of the “new Mali” that the CNSP intends to put in place.

The president of the Committee spoke to the media only once, on the day of his appointment, to introduce himself and call for unity. Since then, he has “taken on a higher profile” and only participates in meetings deemed strategic: those with international partners and influential personalities in Bamako.

After the leaders of the Mouvement du 5 juin-Rassemblement des forces patriotiques du Mali (M5-RFP) accused the junta of cutting itself off from the people and going it alone, Assimi Goïta met with the founding families of Bamako and visited former president Moussa Traoré – a former general, also a putschist who had participated in the coup that ousted socialist president Modibo Keïta from power in 1968.

READ MORE Mali: Rapid organisation of post-coup elections a grave error

His objective: to secure popular support. But although these visits were publicized in the media, Assimi Goïta refrained from speaking before microphones and cameras.

“He is a calm man who expresses himself little,” reports an African diplomat. “He is a man of the field, humble and self-effacing,” adds another, who even describes him as “frail,” given his size.

If he is still seeking support among the public and the political class, within the army, the designation of Assimi Goïta as president of the CNSP is well known.

Until then, the colonel had been at the head of an elite force that brought together soldiers from several corps.

“Contrary to what happened in 2012, for this coup d’état there was a synergy between officers from several corps. Moreover, during the first outings of the CNSP, berets of different colors were observed,” said Marc André Boisvert, a researcher specializing in the Malian army.

Malick Diaw, on the front line of negotiations with ECOWAS

Malick Diaw (green beret), welcomes former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (center) upon his arrival in Mali on August 22, 2020.
Malick Diaw (green beret), welcomes former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (center) upon his arrival in Mali on August 22, 2020. © AP/Sipa

The second key figure in the junta is Colonel Malick Diaw.

First Vice-President of the CNSP, he is Deputy Chief of the Kati camp. He also served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the National Guard in Kati’s 3rd Military Region.

Colonel Diaw is on the front line in the negotiations between the junta and ECOWAS.

On August 27, he traveled to Niger to meet with Mahamadou Issoufou, and then to Ouagadougou to meet with Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.

READ MORE Mali: ‘Ecowas should have santioned IBK,’ says Choguel Maïga

He had a clear objective: to convince the two heads of state to plead for a lifting of sanctions, on the eve of an extraordinary summit of presidents of the region.

It was also he who headed the delegation of about ten officers who received the M5-RFP on the evening of August 29th, in order to ease nascent tensions.

While the junta in power is caught in a vice between, on the one hand, Ecowas, which demands a transition of a maximum of one year, led by a civilian, and, on the other hand, the June 5 Movement, which does not intend to allow itself to be sidelined from the transition, Diaw’s role is both discreet and central.

“These are young field officers, novices at the top of power, who find themselves from one day to the next having to deal with governance, managing international relations and mediation,” recently confided Hamidou Boly, resident representative of Ecowas in Mali, who is in direct contact with Colonel Diaw.

Two colonels active with the troops

Colonel Sadio Camara and Colonel Modibo Koné, respectively second and third vice-presidents of the CNSP, are also very connected officers with the troops in the field.

The anger of the Malian Armed Forces (Fama) escalated a few weeks before the coup d’état.

The military complained about the lack of equipment to deal with jihadists in the center and north of the country. The level and disbursement of pay was also at the heart of the discontent.

The country’s new leaders, some of whom were themselves on the ground recently, are therefore working to reassure the troops.

Former director of Kati’s ‘Prytanée militaire’, Sadio Camara held a series of meetings on 26 and 27 August in the 6th military region, in Sévaré, in the center of the country.

He also visited the security posts of Koro, Boulkessi and Hombori. Everywhere he goes, Colonel Camara explains the reasons for the coup.

The military, for their part, took the opportunity to express their own grievances, which mainly concerned the reorganization of the army and training. They also insist on the corruption that reigns in the army.

Colonel Modibo Koné, a member of the National Guard and former commander in Koro, in the Mopti region, made a visit to Air Base 101, which was involved in Operation Maliko.

On 1 September, he went to the Directorate of Military Engineering and then to the Parachute Commandos Regiment to “inquire about their concerns.

The following day, he visited the gendarmerie school in Faladiè and, finally, the guard camp at N’Tomikorobougou. Again, the focus was on “listening to the men”.

Ismaël Wagué, media personality

Ismaël Wagué at Kati, August 20, 2020.
Ismaël Wagué at Kati, August 20, 2020. © Baba Ahmed/AP/Sipa

In the order of protocol, the fifth coup maker, who has become one of the main media figures of the putschists, is the Colonel Major, Ismaël Wagué.

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force, he enjoys a solid reputation both within the army and among a section of public opinion.

READ MORE ‘There has been no coup d’état in Mali’ – Ismaël Wagué, CNSP spox

It was he who, on the day of the putsch, read the CNSP declaration on national television. He then spoke to Malian and international journalists.

At the beginning of September, the CNSP also set up teams of officers who went to meet civilians in Bamako to gather their vision of the transition.

Representatives of the political parties of both the former majority and the former opposition were received, as well as association leaders and trade unionists. While these discussions sometimes give rise to tensions, the CNSP intends to show that it is open to dialogue.

The National Concerts, first announced for August 29th and then cancelled after the M5-RFP ran amok for not being associated with the organization, are back on the calendar.

They are scheduled to take place Saturday, September 5, in all regions.

Civil society organizations, political parties, trade unions and armed groups that are signatories to the Algiers Agreement of 2015 are invited for the occasion to “a workshop to validate the terms of reference under the direction of governors,” said CNSP spokesman Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

The generals expected to take the lead in the transition

In addition to these officers in the limelight, the CNSP is also “advised”, in a discreet way, by several people.

Although he denies being one of the brains behind the putsch, General Mahamane Touré, former commissioner in charge of Political Affairs, Peace and Security at ECOWAS, has appeared alongside the junta’s leaders at several strategic meetings.

Mahamane Touré was Director of the Peacekeeping School, Chief of Staff of the Malian Army from 2013 to 2016, before being appointed Mali’s Ambassador to Niger in 2018.

Since August 2019, he has been Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to our sources, Ecowas would not be reluctant to see this retired general, who has held positions in civilian organizations, take the lead in the transition.

The other general whose name is regularly cited is Cheick Fanta Mady Dembélé.

Officially, the latter is not part of the CNSP.

But several of our diplomatic and security sources present him as a key man in the mechanism.

He is a graduate of the military school of Saint-Cyr in France, of the German Federal Army University in Munich, and of the General Staff School in Koulikoro.

The General also headed the Peacekeeping School and went through the African Union, where he was in charge of conflict management and strategic planning within the Peace and Security Commission.

General Dembélé is also a close associate of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maïga, who in recent days has spoken to the media.

The division of roles within the junta was the subject of decrees, which were made public on September 2.

Colonel Assimi Goïta then proceeded to make some twenty appointments to strategic positions.

In particular, General Oumar Diarra was appointed Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces.

Considered ‘honest and rigorous’ by military sources, he will have the task of reforming the army. He replaces General Abdoulaye Coulibaly, who is still detained by the junta.

Another appointment was that of Colonel Lassina Doumbia, who became Director General of State Security, the intelligence services.

Colonel Jean Dao became Chief of Staff of the National Guard and General Souleymane Doucouré was designated Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense.

The civilians

While the appointments were mainly military, a few civilians were also appointed as advisers.

This is the case of Moussa Camara, now special advisor to the president of the CNSP in charge of human resources, Cheick Oumar Traoré, special advisor in charge of information and communication, and Youssouf Coulibaly, in charge of legal affairs.

Celebrated as heroes on Independence Square on August 21 for having put an end to the socio-political crisis that was getting bogged down, the soldiers who pushed Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign are now expected to be solid in the organization of the debates for the implementation of the transition.

The first meetings to be held across the country from Saturday, September 5, with the objective of setting a roadmap, will be crucial.

They will give direction that the transition will take, both in terms of its duration and the profile of its president.


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