63-year old Choguel Kokalla Maïga, who was appointed Mali’s prime minister on 7 June, has undoubtedly won the biggest battle of his political career.
Often described as intransigent, even divisive because of his positions, this political animal will now have to step down as leader of the opposition party Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5-RFP) so that he can portray himself as a unifying figure.
The new head of government will be able to count on his knowledge of the Malian political scene, since he has worked with different regimes throughout his career. Maïga was one of Moussa Traoré’s close associates. He also served as minister of industry and trade under Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) and then as minister of digital economy, information and communication under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK).
During the next eight months of the transition government, Maïga will have the onerous task of reconciling Malians, who no longer have much faith in their leaders. He will also have to organise ‘free and transparent’ elections.
According to many observers of Malian public life who have met him, “Choguel has no real friends in politics.” However, the prime minister will be able to count on his allies, who are mostly friends of circumstance and members of the M5.
Ibrahima Ikassa Maïga, a professor at the Université des Sciences Politiques et Juridiques de Bamako (USJPB), is seen as the prime minister’s right-hand man within the M5. In fact, Choguel Maïga brought him along when he met with former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (the Ecowas mediator in Mali) for the first time in his new role as prime minister.
The two men have become closer through their work within the M5-RFP, where Ibrahim Ikassa Maïga now serves as its national coordinator. Ikassa is an important asset to the prime minister, as he is a member of one of the largest political formations in the country.
He is also the third deputy secretary in charge of justice and institutions within the Union pour la République (URD), a party that was long chaired by Soumaïla Cissé, until his death in December 2020. Ibrahima Ikassa Maïga was appointed as minister of state refoundation, in charge of institutional relations, on 11 June.
At 64, Mountaga Tall has a long political career behind him. He unsuccessfully ran for president in the 1992 election at the age of 35, and again in 2002. Tall is a progressive, who founded the Comité National d’Initiative – the first political association to openly call for the establishment of democratic pluralism in Mali.
Tall was a fervent opponent of Traoré (who died in 2020), to whom Choguel Maïga was devoted. Between this child of Ségou and Mali’s prime minister, a history of alliances of circumstances was written.
Already in 2002, the two men had come together through the ruling Alliance pour la Démocratie au Mali-Parti Africain pour la Solidarité et la Justice (Adema-PASJ), with the aim of weakening IBK, then the parliamentary president. As a result of this agreement, Keïta’s Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM) lost all its seats within the Assembly’s bureau. IBK then found himself isolated and confronted with an extremely hostile climate, to say the least.
Ditto in 2020, as their alliance within the M5 contributed to the fall of President IBK. Even though some may say that the two men dislike each other, they do put aside their differences to achieve their goals. So much so that today, “Choguel can do nothing without Mountaga, and vice versa,” according to an observer.
Over time, Jeamille Bittar has become one of the M5’s key allies, as he became the movement’s spokesperson following the departure of certain pillars like Issa Kaou Djim. He consolidated his position after the divorce between the Coordination des Mouvements, associations as well as supporters of Imam Mahmoud Dicko (CMAS) and the M5. The seasoned businessman offered the premises of one of his companies in Sogoniko and the M5 made it their headquarters.
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Throughout his career, the former president of Mali’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Economic and Social Council has combined business and politics. He belonged to Touré’s political family for some time, holding the seat of first vice-president of the Parti pour le Développement Économique et Social (PDES) and then becoming the party’s candidate in the 2013 presidential election. Today, Bittar follows in the footsteps of Choguel Maïga, with whom he regularly dines.
A former Malian ambassador to Mauritania, he is undoubtedly the ‘Mr Diplomacy’ of the new prime minister’s entourage. He also attended the first meeting between Nigeria’s former president Jonathan and prime minister Choguel Maïga.
The two men met more than a year ago within the Front pour la Sauvegarde de la Démocratie (FSD), a grouping of opposition political parties that was first chaired by Cissé. He was very close to the URD president, whose release he actively supported. On 11 June, he was appointed as Choguel Maïga’s special adviser.
Mohamed Lamine Haidara, known as “Mao”, is undoubtedly one of the politicians most loyal to him. “He is the one who shaped Choguel,” some observers say.
The relationship between the two men dates back to the early 1990s. In 1994, Mao, who was one of the young Choguel’s biggest supporters, was arrested by the government for land corruption. Choguel Maïga then went to the front to denounce a political plot to eliminate the only mayor of Bamako who did not belong to Adema, the presidential majority party.
The man who was to become prime minister then called for young people to mobilise within the Quinzambougou neighbourhood in Commune 2, to demand his ally’s release.
After joining the Conseil National de Transition (CNT) – Mali’s legislative body – the Imam of Missabougou was one of the first to resign in early December 2020, as the initial move did not meet his expectations. This close friend of the influential Dicko then submitted his resignation from the CMAS.
Even though at the time, his entry into the CNT confused some of his M5 comrades, he has since become closer to the movement. On 4 June, he led the prayer at the rally celebrating the first anniversary of the M5-RFP protest. His close relationship with Choguel Maïga led to his appointment on 11 June as deputy minister to the minister of health and social development, in charge of humanitarian action, solidarity, refugees and displaced persons.
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