Sixty years of independence, Mali is at a crossroads again.
The new military rulers, who were ousted last month, fought President Ibrahim Bubakar Keita, who named former Defense Minister Bah Ndau as president of a transitional government on Monday, instructing him to lead the country in elections. Colonel Asimi Goita, leader of the group of soldiers behind the August 18 coup, was appointed vice president.
The announcement, made on state television on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the independent Republic of Mali, marks the latest turning point in a deepening saga with major consequences for a fragile state at the heart of the battle against armed groups in the wider Sahel region.
It was not immediately clear whether the appointment of the 70-year-old Ndaw would please the regional bloc of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been pushing for a transition to civilian governance for weeks. Fearing that the unconstitutional transfer of power could set an example in the country and compromise international efforts to tackle the deteriorating security crisis that has spread beyond Mali, regional leaders are trying to put pressure on the military government by cutting off cash flows and impose sanctions.
Ivan Guichaua, an expert from the Sahel at the Brussels School of International Studies at the University of Kent, said the appointment of Ndaw was “good news”
Describing him as a “lesser-known figure with a reputation for decency,” Gichaua said his profile “seems acceptable to domestic political forces and the international community.
“ECOWAS wanted a civilian president and Ndaw meets that criterion, even though he is a retired military man,” he added. “We are now approaching a functional institutional architecture capable of governing Mali, in which the junta will remain highly influential in any case.”
Andrew Lebovich, a policy adviser at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that while N’Daw is generally seen as a respected figure, it may be too early to determine whether his nomination is a positive development.
“The appointment of a transitional president is just one step in a long process of necessary reforms and government action that has not yet been taken,” Lebovic said.
“We still don’t know what his priorities are as a transitional president, and given that CNSP leader Colonel Asimi Goita will be vice president of the transitional government, it is clear that the junta will maintain an active presence in the transitional government. “
France, a former colonial power that has led international military efforts against armed groups in the region for years, has also called for a speedy surrender. But he also had to take a cautious path in condemning the coup, while softening criticism of military officers who ousted 75-year-old Keita, a leader who appears to have been on good terms with Paris but faced growing opposition at home due to the country’s constant economic turmoil and the spiraling security crisis.
“Once perceived as supporters of Keita, their position (in France) has weakened in Mali,” said Jean-Yves Hayne, a professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University and the ILERI School in Paris.
There was no immediate reaction from France to the announcement of the new government, which is due to open on 25 September.
A turbulent story
A French colony from the late 19th century, Mali gained independence in 1960, first in a federation with Senegal on June 20, 1960, and then became an independent state on September 22 of that year after the secession of the neighboring month before .
Since then, the West African country has maintained strong relations with France, experiencing alternating cycles of political stability and instability, subject to riots, financial woes and military coups – several of them.
Its first president, Modibo Keita, was overthrown in 1968 by Musa Traore, a young lieutenant in the army who met the same fate. nearly a quarter of a century later. Driven by widespread anger at the government, Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Tumani Toure launched a coup against Traore in 1991. But unlike Traore, Toure quickly withdrew from public life – asserting the longest period of democratic rule in the country – only to return about 10 years later to run successfully for the presidency.
There is one month left until his second term, but Toure himself was ousted in 2012 amid discontent with the government’s response to a wave of insurgency in the north of the country. The overthrow and assassination of Libyan Muammar Gaddafi the previous year prompted many Tuareg rebels who had flocked to the neighboring country to fight on the side of their longtime ruler, to cross the Sahara and return to Mali, bringing them rich stockpile of weapons and military trucks.
Taking advantage of the political turmoil in the capital, Bamako, battle-hardened separatists from the marginalized Tuareg community allied with al-Qaeda, quickly seized much of the north. But the revolt was quickly abducted by armed groups that took control of the major northern cities.
As the fighters advanced south, the anxious interim authorities in the capital, Bamako, turned to France for help.
“They (armed groups) are seeking a fatal blow to Mali’s very existence,” then-French President Francis Hollande said in January 2013 when he announced the launch of Operation Serval to repel the fighters. “France, as is the case with its African partners and the entire international community, cannot accept this,” he added.
The French-led military operation helped push al Qaeda-linked fighters to pave the way for the 2013 election, which brought Keita – also known by her initials IBK – to power.
However, violence escalated sharply during Kate’s seven years in power, with large parts of Mali still out of government control.
Despite the many regional and international forces operating in the Sahel – including the French operation Barkhane, whose approximately 5,000 troops are based mostly in northern and eastern Mali – the armed groups have managed to multiply and strengthen their foothold in the semi-arid region south of Sahara.
The attacks have jumped fivefold since 2016, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands amid a dramatically evolving situation in Mali’s volatile central region.
The failure to restore stability after years of military effort has sparked growing anti-French sentiment in Mali, with critics condemning the former colonial power’s military presence in the country and growing suspicious of its role in the wider region.
“In Bamako, [anti-French sentiment] it stems from parts of the political landscape that are most attached to Mali’s sovereignty, which will not accept French interference in Malian affairs, “Guichau said.
“They accuse France of stopping the return of Malian forces to Kidal in 2013, when France drove out the jihadist coalition that occupied northern Mali in 2012 to allow the separatists to regain the fortress.”
Defining it as an internal problem, France did not take over the Tuareg, who remained under the control of its bastion Kidal, a post in the Sahara near Mali’s border with Algeria.
Gichaua said that while this could be considered the “original sin” of the French in the eyes of some sections of Mali’s population, those in Kidal also challenge France’s presence because of the war and the way it is being waged.
Late last year, a series of anti-French protests prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to call on countries in the region to express public support for the costly Paris operation, threatening to withdraw 4,500 troops before changing tactics and deploying another 600 troops.
Following last month’s coup, France, as well as the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, said they would continue operations in the country during the transition period.
And while Mali’s new royal producers may still be at war with the French, it remains to be seen whether Paris will still be able to influence political developments.
“The junta is not in line with the M5-RFP, the anti-IBK coalition that has some vocal anti-French figures,” Guichaoua said, referring to the opposition alliance, which has been leading weeks of relentless street protests calling for the former president’s resignation.
“The junta is made up of pragmatic leaders whose position on the French is open, but may also depend on the M5-RFP’s ability to push through its agenda.”
For Hane, this is where the problem lies. He said progress must be made on the political and economic front if military intervention yields a positive result.
“Military counter-terrorism solutions are only part of a larger strategy. Political stabilization, public support, institutional strength and, above all, socio-economic conditions are key elements for the success of foreign intervention.”