Assimi Goïta’s Hot Power Grab After Second Coup

  • Goïta secures presidential power following the second coup d’état in months.
  • International organizations condemn military coup, but refrain from sanctions.
  • Expected February 2022 elections remain one of Mali’s ‘make or break’ points.
Source: Sputniknews

Why is Assimi Goïta’s temperature hot?

Answer: Goïta has successfully ousted Mali’s government in the second coup d’etat in nine months. 

On the 24th of May, 2021, Assimi Goïta and the Malian military staged their second coup d’état within nine months, taking control of the Republic of Mali. The coup allowed Goïta, the Vice President of the transitional government and the previous military colonel of the Malian armed forces, to be inaugurated as the new interim President of Mali on the 7th of June, 2021. With this new arrangement, Goïta has effectively become the Head of State and the Head of the Armed Forces, making him the most powerful man in Malian politics today. 

To understand the relevance of this coup, we must take a step back. On August of 2020, following the M5-RFP protests that led to the removal of then-President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Colonel Assimi Goïta and the Malian military set up their first coup d’etat after citing several allegations of corruption and a worsening security situation in the country. After the coup, Goïta installed himself as Vice President, but the country saw a response of international condemnations coming from institutions like the African Union and, most notably, ECOWAS. As a response to the coup, these two organizations implemented sanctions that ultimately crippled the country’s imports by 30%.

Following the reaction of the international community and the world-wide calls to turn the country over to civilian rule, the military junta chose Bah N’Daw, a retired colonel of the armed forces, as the Interim President. N’Daw then appointed Moctar Ouane, a former diplomat and politician, as the Prime Minister. Ouane’s appointment, given his civilian origins, was a means to meet the preconditions established by ECOWAS in order for the organization to lift economic sanctions. N’Daw was considered a decent choice for transitional President given his past experience in Malian politics as well as his longtime presence in the military beside the ex-President Moussa Traoré. As for Ouane, his selection as a civilian PM was likely motivated in the hopes that sanctions from ECOWAS would be lifted. But a month ago, the two were ousted by a coup d’etat.

They were arrested, and they later resigned from the government, leaving Goïta as the effective leader of the country. Their arrest followed accusations of attempting to ‘sabotage’ the country’s shift to democracy by promoting a cabinet reshuffle organized without Goïta’s permission. As a reaction to the coup, international organizations such as ECOWAS and the AU called for the immediate and unconditional release of N’Daw and Ouane, who were reportedly under house arrest following their release from military detention. 

After his first coup, Goïta was forced to give up some power, and he eventually took the backseat as the Vice President. However, the most recent coup demonstrates his increased influence over Malian politics. Previously, Goïta was pressured by the international community to install a civilian government, which he did by selecting N’Daw and (indirectly) Ouane as the leaders. On the contrary, after the second coup, the international pressures to install a civilian government weren’t as strong. This time ECOWAS only called for a civilian Prime Minister to be installed and not a civilian President -acknowledging that Goïta would inevitably lead the country after the second coup. Moreover, Goïta was able to win some support from the M5-RFP after the second coup, which remains a steady political movement within the country. Having secured power as the President of Mali, successfully defying international pressures and receiving support from a former dissident, displays Goïta’s steadily rising temperature. 

What’s changing Assimi Goïta’s temperature?

Answer: The outcome of the second coup has granted Goïta more political leeway than the first.

Surprisingly enough, Goïta seems to have garnered more support in the country after the second coup, especially from members of the M5-RFP -who were initially against him. The increase in support comes after the appointment of Choguel Maiga – the previous chairman of the M5 protest movement – as the country’s Prime Minister. In fact, following the May 24th coup, the M5 and other political sympathizers held a rally in the capital city of Bamako to show support for the military junta that ousted IBK, Ouane and N’Daw. Moreover, they intended to demonstrate their disdain for the French intervention in the northern Sahel region, and some of them even called for Russian intervention given that many see the French operation as a colonial ‘forever war’. Additionally, Maiga’s appointment as PM is also consistent with the demands of ECOWAS, who called for the implementation of a civilian Prime Minister.

The refusal by ECOWAS, the AU, and other states heavily involved with Mali to implement sanctions against the country, shows that they are incentivized to keep the country stable. They clearly want to avoid severe Malian instability that, in the past, has led to worsened ethnic and religious violence in the northern Sahel region. Economic sanctions against Mali would likely further distress the volatile state, causing a potential spill-over of violence or internally displaced persons into neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso or Niger. Therefore, African organizations’ and states’ refrain from the use of sanctions implies a degree of acceptance and legitimization of the coup that the military and Goïta didn’t previously enjoy. 

Likewise, Goïta’s promotion from Vice President to President insinuates an increase in power, even during the time of a transitional government. One of the first displays of power that Goïta made, was reshuffling his cabinet towards more military involvement in many of the country’s most important positions. More specifically, he reinstated Colonel Sadio Camara and elected Colonel Daoud Aly Mohammedine and Modibo Kone to ministerial positions; as Defense Minister, Security Minister, and Environmental Minister, respectively. These appointments also ensure Goïta the power over aspects of the executive branch that he didn’t enjoy in his previous position. 

Having dodged international sanctions in the second coup, gaining and executing his power of ministerial appointments, and winning over domestic influence within Mali, all prove to be examples of how the West African leader’s temperature is rising in the region. If Goïta is able to increase his influence domestically and spur widespread dissidence within his military-filled cabinet, it is very possible that he will have a smooth time ruling without much institutional push back. 

What is driving Assimi Goïta?

Answer: Goïta aims to secure domestic support while promising to restore democracy in Mali. 

As Goïta has thrown two successful military coups in the past nine months, it is very clear that he and the military believe the country cannot move forward without their guidance. As the dangerous security situation in Northern Mali remains highly unstable, Goïta sees that it is necessary for the military to take matters into its own hands. Putting on the façade of a strongman leader, Goïta looks to spur any threats towards Malian sovereignty from international actors, while simultaneously searching for a way to end the northern attacks – even if that means rewriting the 2015 Peace Accords signed between Tuareg nationalists and Northern Islamist groups. 

Moreover, Goïta wanted to ensure a positive domestic reaction towards his second coup,and thus appointed Maiga as the PM. Given the previous disappointment of the M5-RFP with the bureau rearrangement by N’Daw’s and Ouane’s government, Goïta listened to the public and appointed Maiga to ensure the M5-RFP’s support. Goïta also understood that appointing the former chairman of the M5-RFP would meet the conditions necessary to eventually come to good terms with ECOWAS and the AU.

Additionally, Maiga is a leader that believes that the Algiers Peace Agreement of 2015 -which hasn’t been fully implemented- can lead to the eventual partition of Mali, and consequently, he might want to abandon the deal and start fresh with negotiations. Some international groups see the accords as a failed attempt to spur the northern security threats through decentralization as well as Disarming, Demobilizing, and Reintegrating (DDR) armed groups of the Sahel region. One of the pillars of the DDR campaign was to integrate some of the armed rebels from the signing groups into the Malian armed forces. Unfortunately, the number of soldiers integrated through the DDR mechanism stood at 1,840 soldiers out of a total of 85,000 rebels who were “registered by the signatory groups”. Additionally, as the violence in Mali also spreads to its central regions, the peace deal is seen to have failed at its preventative measures to spur inter communal violence. As Goïta faces the issue of the northern rebels and the failing peace agreement, it is possible that he may look to make negotiations or find a new path through a new agreement with the northern groups. 

As previously mentioned, Goïta’s other appointments can be seen as heavily political. For example, the Defense Minister  -Colonel Sadio Camara- was previously removed from office by Bah N’Daw ( it is actually considered one of the factors that led to the coup). Thus Camara’s reinstatement into the bureaucracy can be seen as a hard-line rejection of the former rule of N’Daw and Ouane. The appointment of the Environmental Minister, Kone, also has a political motivation, given that he was one of the spokespersons for the M5-RFP movement. 

Finally, Goïta has recently announced that he is motivated to further democratize the country and to schedule elections before the February 2022 deadline. During his inauguration, the newly sworn-in interim President said “I swear before God and the Malian people to faithfully preserve the republican regime (…), to preserve democratic gains, to guarantee national unity, the independence of the homeland and the integrity of the national territory”. If true to his word, this move would effectively improve the state of democracy for Malian citizens, which has been practically absent from the country since its demise in the 2012 military coup. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: The international community is losing faith in Mali’s ability to stabilize.

The international community saw the second coup by President Assimi Goïta as a stab in the back for the previous plans of a peaceful democratic transition, and many international actors took a strong stance against the country. For instance, the African Union suspended Mali’s membership in a recent release, which prevents Mali from participating in the African Union’s overall operations. The AU Council saw that the coup was a violation of the AU Constitutive Act’s Article 4, which rejects the presence of coups altogether. Moreover, this organization called for democratic elections to take place before the previously established deadline of February 27, 2022. The communiqué from the council’s meeting also called for the military to refrain from further political processes in the country. If these conditions are disregarded, the AU may think of initiating sanctions against Mali. 

ECOWAS, on the other hand, released a statement on May 30th that denounced the arrests of Bah N’Daw and Moctar Ouane. The organization called for their immediate release and demanded the installation of a civilian Prime Minister, while maintaining the February 27th, 2022 elections deadline. Additionally, ECOWAS suspended Mali from the regional organization, but without the implementation of new sanctions against Mali or Assimi Goïta. In fact, after Maiga met with a representative group from ECOWAS, the President of the Commission, Jean Claude Brou Kassi, said that the group was “reassured” in regards to the ability of both Goïta and Maiga to reinstate democratic elections in February. Though reassured, the group did not lift Mali’s suspension. ECOWAS promotes several initiatives to spur weapons sales among insurgency groups, promote economic cooperation, and to improve the security situation caused by Tuareg rebels in the Sahel. If -as a response to subsequent disobedience- sanctions are implemented by ECOWAS (or the suspension is not repealed), it will cause damage to Malian society.

Another essential reaction to Mali’s situation is that of France’s Emmanuel Macron. At the beginning of the second coup, France -the most involved western country in the Sahel region- suspended its joint military functions with the Malian military. President Emmanuel Macron was noted saying: “radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never”. This is likely a reaction to the connection between the controversial Imam Mahmoud Dicko – a leader of the M5 movement that notably negotiates with Islamist insurgents- and Maiga. Furthermore, on June 10th Macron officially called for the end of Operation Barkhane and called for the military strategy to be fully led by the G5 Sahel.

Since France’s involvement in the region, approximately 50 French soldiers have died, which has also led to an increasingly negative French public opinion towards the intervention in the Sahel. Unfortunately for the G5 Sahel, a unilateral French pullout of troops may lead to an even more detrimental situation. Throughout these years, the French have supplied intelligence, armed support, and training to the Malian troops, and they have also been one of the main forces behind the creation of the G5 Sahel. It seems that France faces a very similar scenario than that of the United States in Afghanistan. Many see both conflicts as a ‘forever war’ that takes innocent soldiers’ lives, but it is also clear that a sudden retreat from the region will further destabilize it. In Mali, a rushed pull-out may also severely affect the G5 states, as we have observed through the spillover effects of the 2012 crisis.