Africa Watch – The game of thrones

1st June 2021

Military officers in Mali arrested the president, prime minister and defence minister of the country’s interim government on Monday after a cabinet reshuffle, multiple diplomatic and government sources told Reuters. President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure were all taken to a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako, the sources said.

The arrests bring further uncertainty to the West African country after a military coup in August overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the takeover, but many inside the government and the opposition worried about the military’s hold over key positions. The arrests occurred after the announcement of a change in government in which two members of a military junta that seized power in August were replaced.

The key player in the last two coups in Mali is Colonel Assimi Goïta, whose desire to lead the transitional government was halted when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) placed sanctions on the country while insisting that the provisional government must be led by a civilian. This meant that Col Goïta could only serve as vice president, while retaining significant influence in the military as well as a strategic position in the transitional government. Following a cabinet reshuffle, which Col Goïta claimed he was unaware of, this second coup, nine months after the last, was all but assured and Goïta made sure to declare himself president.

In a previous analysis, we noted that the ECOWAS’s decision to lift the economic sanctions it had imposed on Mali was an acknowledgement of a compromise with the Malian junta, encapsulated in the fact that it conceded to the nomination of Bah Ndaw, a retired Colonel, as Mali’s interim president as well as Moctar Ouane, a former Foreign Minister, as the country’s prime minister. As part of this compromise, at least four cabinet posts (defence, national reconciliation, security and territorial administration) were given to military officials, with one of the coup leaders serving as the defence minister. With Col Goïta serving as Vice President, an important actor in the widely celebrated August 2020 coup, a cabinet reshuffle without his support in the midst of a two-week strike led by the main union created room for an easy takeover.

This second coup attracted condemnation from France, with the former colonial power threatening EU sanctions on the West African state. However, Paris’ stand is nothing short of hypocritical following its decision to be moot about the Chadian situation that saw Mahamat Déby take over power following the death of his father, Idriss Déby.

What the recent situation in Mali demonstrates is that the country might just have been set on a path of repeat coups and counter-coups, which could further cause a destabilisation not just in Mali but in the region as well. More to this, it raises concerns since Bamako is struggling to regain control of the northern and eastern parts of the country from militant groups and insurgents. With Colonel Assimi Goïta currently at the helm of affairs, there is a likelihood that he may be unlikely to honour the timeline for transition of power back to civilian rule, which could destabilise the country, further worsening an already intractable Islamist insurgency.