Mali Announces Transitional Leadership, Partly Meeting Conditions set by ECOWASSeptember 22, 2020 in Mali
On Monday 21 September, the military junta in power in Mali named the country’s post-coup interim government, though questions have emerged whether the West African ECOWAS bloc will accept the transitional leadership, given that it only partly meets conditions set by the regional bloc.
The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), which is led by Col. Assimi Goïta, announced Monday on Mali’s state television ORTM that retired Maj. Col. Bah N’Daw, 70, has been named president of the transitional government, which is set to be inaugurated on Friday 25 September. Although technically Bah N’Daw is a civilian, he is both a retired military officer and a former defence minister who served under former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. He also served as an aide to Mali’s former military dictator, Moussa Traoré, who died last week. On Monday, Goïta also confirmed that he would serve as N’Daw’s vice president, in a move that only partly meets conditions set by ECOWAS and which cement’s the CNSP’s desire to maintain some degree of influence and control over Mali’s transitional period. Both men were appointed by a panel set up by the CNSP.
Since Monday’s announcement of Mali’s transitional government, questions have emerged about what role civil society groups and political leaders had in selecting the interim leadership. Notably this concerns the main opposition group M5-RFP. While Goïta disclosed that members of the movement were involved in choosing N’Daw to lead the transition, one of the M5-RFP’s leaders, Choguel Maïga, has denied that this was the case. Speaking to reporters, Maïga disclosed that “we were not part of the body that determined the president and vice president. We learned about this decision through social media and the press.” The coalition has led demonstrations over the past several months against the Malian government and former President Keïta. It has also indicated its desire in recent weeks to be part of the transitional government. If the M5-RFP rejects the new interim leadership, this could fuel further tensions and unrest in Mali. Meanwhile on the ground in Bamako, opinions also appear to be divided over the nomination, with the local population split between wanting a civilian or military leader.
What is evident is that the new interim government will maintain strong ties to the army. Furthermore, the decision comes after the junta stated last week that it would prefer the military to run the transitional period. On Monday, Goïta disclosed that “each proposal has its advantages and its disadvantages,” referring to the choice between a civilian or military president, adding that the committee had taken “a global context” into account when selecting N’Daw, in what appears to be a reference to pressure from ECOWAS.
So far, N’Daw has not indicated whether or not he will accept the nomination. Furthermore, while ECOWAS has also yet to comment on Monday’s announcement, Goïta’s installation to become vice president is likely to be quickly rejected by the international community, which for weeks now has called on Mali’s junta to restore civilian rule as soon as possible. The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has also insisted that both the president and vice president of the interim government be civilians. While ECOWAS has previously shown some flexibility, agreeing last week to an 18-month transitional time frame for holding new elections, the regional bloc has stressed that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and vice president were named. ECOWAS has already closed borders to Mali and has imposed sanctions in the wake of the 18 August coup, though it currently remains unclear what additional actions the West African bloc may undertake in the wake of Monday’s announcement. It is however likely that ECOWAS, at a minimum, will show some dissatisfaction with Goïta being named vice president, and at a maximum, maintain its stance on the issue and impose further sanctions on Mali. ECOWAS has already stopped financial and commercial trade with Mali, with the exception for basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, fuel and electricity. Further sanctions however could severely impact the West African country, which is already dealing with a severe economic downturn coupled with the ongoing jihadist insurgency and persistent inter-ethnic violence.