Interim Mali President Assimi Goita, a special forces colonel who orchestrated two coups in the last year, said he escaped unharmed after an assailant tried to stab him during prayers at a mosque in the capital, Bamako, on Tuesday. Security agents overpowered two men in the mosque and threw one into the back of a military pickup truck, video obtained by Reuters showed, as Goita, dressed in a sky blue embroidered robe, was ringed by bodyguards.
The president’s office said investigations were ongoing. It did not immediately advance a motive for the attack, which occurred during services marking the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) holiday at Bamako’s Grand Mosque. Mali, the theatre of French-supported operations against al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked insurgents for a decade, was thrown into political turmoil after a military junta led by Goita toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. Goita served as vice-president to transitional leader Bah Ndaw until the latter’s ouster in May. He described the attack as “an isolated action”. State television showed him later receiving well-wishers dressed in the same clothes he had on at the mosque.
Despite initial condemnation of the May coup by Western allies like France, which is seeking to end its military mission in West Africa’s Sahel region, Goita was sworn in as interim president last month. He has promised to oversee a transition that will lead to democratic elections.
Although little is known about the two men that attacked Colonel Goïta at Bamako’s Grand Mosque or their motive for doing so, it comes as no surprise that an attempt was made on his life. Following his second successive coup to wrest power from a civilian transitional government where he served as Vice President, we mentioned that the action was likely to kickstart a vicious cycle of coups and counter-coups. With his newly inaugurated cabinet, Goïta has succeeded in rewarding loyal military chiefs and political actors in order to gain some legitimacy.
France, which criticised the coup and suspended its joint military operation with Mali, has now lifted that suspension. The same can be said of the ECOWAS, which threatened further economic sanctions but have now reneged. Perhaps a key reason for Paris lifting military sanctions on its former colony and the regional body accepting Goïta to lead Mali’s transitional government has a lot to do with the security and political implications of an unstable Mali for the Sahel.
Currently, Bamako is struggling to regain control of the northern and eastern parts of the country from militant groups and insurgents. If Colonel Goïta’s words are to be trusted, then it is possible he would oversee the transition of power back to democratic rule. However, our hunch is that it will go the same way as other military-turned-civilian leaders, who consolidated their hold on power by transforming into elected leaders while retaining their hold on power and the military. For Goïta, he has the added headache of constantly watching his back. Not a rosy picture for all involved.