Delegates from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met with Mali’s interim Prime Minister Choguel Maiga on 9 June in an effort to address the country’s political crisis following a military-led coup last month.
On 24 May, then vice president Assimi Goita seized power from President Bah N’Daw, arrested both N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and declared himself interim president. This was the second coup led by Goita in less than a year after he led the military overthrow which deposed former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. Following Keita’s removal, Goita was installed as vice-president as part of the negotiated agreement for a civilian-led transitionary government which was meant to pave the way for democratic elections in 2022.
Unlike the August coup, which was precipitated by a months-long political crisis marked by violent street protests, the May coup was instigated after Goita perceived a threat to his power. Specifically, N’Daw and Ouane sought to reshuffle the cabinet without Goita’s input and replaced two key Goita allies ‒ Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone and Defence Minister Sadio Camara. Goita saw this as an attempt by N’Daw to reduce the military’s influence within the transitional government and by extension undermine Goita’s power.
The fact that N’Daw felt emboldened to attempt to replace key Goita allies indicates that the civilian factions within the government were beginning to gain power and support. It is likely that Goita was aware of this and was merely waiting for the opportunity to again seize power.
Although N’Daw and Ouane have since been released from detention, Goita’s military junta is in firm control of the country, and a new military-led cabinet has been appointed. This was cemented by the 7 June inauguration of Goita as interim president. Notably, Goita waited until after the Constitutional Court had ratified his appointment as interim president on 29 May before proceeding with his inauguration. This indicates that the junta leader is attempting to cast a veneer of legitimacy over his seizure of power.
This is due to the fact that Mali has once again faced significant censure following a coup. On 30 May ECOWAS suspended Mali’s membership and privileges, followed by a similar move by the African Union (AU) on 1 June. This has left Mali’s new rulers diplomatically isolated. Possibly, of greater significance was the 3 June announcement by France that it had suspended security and military ties with Mali in response to the 24 May coup. This is notable as France did not do this after the August 2020 coup, using the preceding popular protests as diplomatic cover.
Goita is a life-long military officer who has fought in Mali’s northern conflict zones. The loss of French military aid and cooperation will impact the interim president’s priorities and his core support base within the military. This was further emphasised by French President Emmanuel Macron’s 10 June announcement that France’s anti-Islamist operations in the Sahel would be concluded, and the country’s operations merged with the wider international efforts. This will involve a major restricting of French forces in the Sahel and a likely withdrawal from Mali to more stable and reliable partner states such as Chad.
At present, the situation in Mali is at an impasse. Goita and his supporters are unlikely to willingly cede power and will likely seek to remain in charge ahead of the 2022 elections which, if they occur, will most likely be influenced to ensure victory for either Goita or his chosen proxy. It should be noted that Goita does not have insignificant support among the general population. He was praised by opposition forces for his removal of Keita in August 2020 and there have already been public rallies in support of the recent coup. Goita has sought to cement this backing by appointing Maiga as the interim prime minister. Maiga is the leader of the opposition Patriotic Movement for Renewal party. An alliance between the military and the anti-Keita opposition would be a formidable political force in Mali.
The most active efforts to resolve the crisis are being led by ECOWAS which has deployed former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to mediate the talks. However, at present, Goita appears unwilling to negotiate other than to continue to commit to organising elections in 2022. As of 10 June, ECOWAS appears to be leaning towards accepting this status quo while maintaining Mali’s suspension. This is largely due to the bloc’s lack of political will to focus on the Malian political crisis while addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and the persistent security challenges presented by Islamist militant groups in West Africa and the Sahel.
The continued instability in Mali does not bode well for the region’s security efforts. Mali was already at the forefront of the fight against Islamist militant groups in the region including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and Ansar al-Sharia. The military seizure of the state has focused attention and resources onto Bamako and away from the country’s central and northern regions. This will result in a deterioration of the security environment and a possible increase in attacks as militant groups seek to exploit the security crisis and the reduced capacity caused by France’s impending withdrawal. This will have wider ramifications as any deterioration in Mali’s security environment will naturally affect neighbouring states, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.