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How Mali’s new strongman Goïta grabbed power… again

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 13:05

Assimi Goïta and Bah N'Daw at their swearing-in ceremony in Bamako on 25 September 2020 © Amadou Keita/REUTERS

Mali’s vice-president Assimi Goïta has just dismissed President Bah N'Daw and prime minister Moctar Ouane.

Ever since Mali’s President Bah N’Daw reappointed Moctar Ouane as prime minister on 14 May, several rumours have been circulating widely. Among them are reports of disputes between the former Malian junta (Conseil National pour le Salut du Peuple, CNSP, which was dissolved in January 2021) and N’Daw over Ouane’s continued leadership of the transition government, which was supposed to be open to political groups.

Everything finally came to a head on 23 May at around 5pm, when Colonel Assimi Goïta, the vice-president of the transition government, invited himself to the Koulouba Palace. Furious over having been left out of the formation of the new government, which was then underway, Goïta expressed his anger over the fact that two influential members of the former CNSP, Colonels Modibo Koné and Sadio Camara, had not been given positions.

Prime Minister Ouane’s fate has already been sealed.

Believing that he should have a say in the formation of the government and, above all, the appointments to the defence and security departments (as granted to him by the transitional charter), the vice-president asked N’Daw to reconsider their removal. According to our information, Goïta then threatened his official superior with “irreversible” sanctions if the latter did not do as he requested. There was still time for negotiations, even if they were going to be tough.

Goïta’s ‘astonishment’

The case of Camara, who held the post of minister of defence, was debated until late on 23 May. “This reshuffle was a battle of hegemony between the president of the transition, who wanted to emancipate himself, and the military camp, which wanted to keep its men and replace the prime minister,” a source close to Ouane told us. But the standoff turned into a confrontation.

According to our sources, President N’Daw chose to ignore the threats and refused to comply with Goïta’s demands. On 24 May at around 4pm, Dr Kalilou Doumbia, secretary-general of the presidency, unveiled the second transitional government, in which Colonels Koné and Camara had been replaced by generals.

Everyone close to Goïta was astonished. “Vice-President Goïta was shocked that he had learned about the government’s final composition on television,” said a person close to the National Transitional Committee (NTC). The colonel could not lose face so he decided to act. A few minutes later, soldiers of the National Guard, a corps led by Camara and Koné, arrived at Ouane’s home.

He was arrested on the spot and taken to the Koulouba presidential palace. N’Daw and Doumbia, his special advisor, were also arrested. The president, his prime minister, the special adviser to the presidency and General Souleymane – the new minister of defence who had been appointed a few hours earlier – were taken to a military base in Kati.

Threatened by the former junta

On arrival at the Kati camp, N’Daw and Ouane’s mobile phones were taken away from them and all four men were deprived of any means of communication. “They spent the night being threatened by the ex-junta’s leaders,” said a diplomatic source. Once again, Goïta put pressure on N’Daw by demanding Ouane’s immediate resignation and that Colonels Camara and Koné be reinstated. The president of the transition refused to change his mind.

According to our sources, the ex-putschists had already made their decision. In another part of the Kati camp, other negotiations were already underway between the military and the leaders of the Mouvement du 5 juin-Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5-RFP). Among them were Choguel Maïga, the president of the Mouvement‘s executive committee, and Mountaga Tall, president of the Congrès National d’Initiative Démocratique (CNID).

During the meeting that ended at around 4am on 25 May, ex-junta officials proposed that they designate the future prime minister from within the M5. Maïga and Tall agreed to this, but said that they needed time to decide on who to appoint. In the meantime, N’Daw and Ouane were officially placed ‘outside their prerogatives.’ The name of the future prime minister, which would have to be validated by Goïta, is supposed to be given within the next few hours. However, the M5-RFP remains very divided.

“A president who has been arrested can’t return to the helm”

What does the international community think of the situation?

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) landed in Bamako on 25 May at around 3pm. The delegation, which has already reaffirmed its opposition to “any military interference”, is led by Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, the organisation’s appointed mediator; Jean-Claude Brou, the president of the commission; General Francis Behanzin, commissioner for political affairs, peace and security; and Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, Ghana’s foreign affairs minister.

Jonathan planned to meet with each of the actors of the transition government, including – with Goïta’s agreement – N’Daw and his prime minister. But, according to our sources within the NTC, prime minister Ouane’s fate has already been sealed. “The prime minister proposed by the M5 will be appointed by vice-president Goïta (…) then we will set up a government of national unity,” said an NTC official. As for N’Daw, his destiny is not any better. “A president who has been arrested can’t return to the helm,” says Issa Kaou Djim, the fourth vice-president of the NTC and a staunch supporter of Colonel Goïta.

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