Mali’s New Old Cabinet

On December 11, Mali’s Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned under pressure from junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo. A new interim Prime Minister, Diango Cissoko, took office. On Saturday he announced the names in his new cabinet. Maliweb has the full list here (French). The government is meant to represent the country politically, regionally, and socially.

Most press outlets are stressing that the new cabinet contains many of the same faces as the previous cabinet, which was formed in August and itself partly overlapped with the cabinet that preceded it. RFI (French) calls the newest cabinet a “government of continuity.” Key ministers – Tienan Coulibaly at Economy, Tiemam Coulibaly at Foreign Affairs, Malick Coulibaly at Justice, General Yamoussa Camara at Defense, General Tiefing Konaté at Interior Security, and Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly at Territorial Administration – remain unchanged. The last three (all military men) are “seen as close to the former junta,” AFP reported in August. Dr. Yacouba Traoré (bio in French here), head of the recently created Ministry of Religious Affairs, also retains his position.

The biggest changes, RFI suggests, are (1) the departure of people close to ex-PM Diarra and (2) the addition of “three new Songhai, Arab, and Tamashek (Tuareg) ministers,” i.e. representatives of northern Malian communities. RFI goes on to list reactions by Malian political actors. AFP (French) suggests that the addition of northern ministers could boost the government’s efforts at dialogue with Ansar al Din, part of the Islamist coalition that controls territory in northern Mali.

The shake-up in Bamako has left many people wondering about the prospects for political stability there as well as for a planned armed intervention in the north. Bruce Whitehouse takes on those issues in this piece, which I highly recommend you read.

Roundup on the Change of Prime Ministers in Mali

Yesterday, after having been arrested by soldiers, Mali’s Interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned from office. Since the March 21-22 military coup, there have been competing centers of power in Bamako, but as Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group told Reuters, “What is really clear now is that the military junta is the one that is in control.” In a move that underlined that point, Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the March coup, appeared on state television to comment on Diarra’s resignation, saying, “Some weeks ago he (Diarra) said if anyone wanted him to go, he would tender his resignation, not to the president, but to us. So yesterday, we saw that it was necessary for him to go.” Interim President Dioncounda Traore has named a “longtime civil servant,” Diango Cissoko (alternative spellings exist), as the new prime minister.

The “second coup,” as Dr. Gregory Mann calls it, has already generated much coverage and commentary – indeed, Mann’s piece is a great place to start. So rather than analyzing events myself, I think I can add the most value by rounding up the most pertinent articles. Since the conflict between Diarra and the soldiers appears to have centered on the issue of a foreign military intervention in Mali, I’ve included several articles on that topic.

Videos/Malian Reactions

Analyses of/Sources for Bamako Politics

  • Pre-coup: El Watan‘s piece (French) with a section entitled “Diarra, the Most Criticized Man in Bamako.”
  • NYT: “Mali’s Prime Minister Resigns After Arrest, Muddling Plans to Retake North.”
  • RFI’s interview with Professor Michel Galy (French).
  • Biographies of Cissoko: official and unofficial (French).
  • Dr. Jay Ufelder, “The Coup Trap.”

Statements by Foreign Governments/Bodies on PM Diarra’s Ouster

  • United Nations.
  • French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See also RT, “France Urges Foreign Military Intervention in Mali after PM Arrest.”
  • US State Department. As Andrew Lebovich commented on Twitter in response to the statement, “So the State Department is going to keep talking about elections in April 2013, or soon after, in Mali.” Let me speak bluntly: I think any election that took place in or around April 2013 would lack integrity and would exclude much of the country, most notably much of the north. Insisting that Mali hold elections in spring 2013 could do more harm than good.
  • UK Foreign Office.

Analyses of the Intervention Debate

  • Reuters: “US, France Differ over How to Deal with Explosive Mali.”
  • Colum Lynch: “[US Amb. to the UN Susan] Rice: French Plan for Mali Intervention Is ‘Crap’.”
  • Wall Street Journal: “EU Moves Closer to Mali Training Mission.”

Newspaper Op-Eds on Intervention in Mali

Relevant Twitter Feeds

Bate Felix, Baba Ahmed, Fabien OffnerDavid Lewis, Peter Tinti, Andrew Lebovich, Hannah ArmstrongTommy Miles, Phil Paoletta, and Dr. Susanna Wing.

Mali’s Islamist Coalition Responds to External Intervention Discussions

Plans for an external military intervention in war-torn Mali are gathering momentum. Mali’s interim government has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base a 3,000-strong force in Bamako. The European Union is “considering requests to support West African-led military intervention in Mali and to restructure the country’s beleaguered army.” France and the United States have urged the United Nations Security Council to approve ECOWAS’ plans, and France and the African Union have said they will support ECOWAS logistically. Even Algeria “may have to accept the deployment of West African troops in its crisis-hit neighbour Mali contrary to its traditional stance against foreign intervention and focus on internal security, analysts say.”

As Reuters points out, uncertainty about who really rules in Bamako – coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, civilian President Dioncounda Traore, or Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra – could efforts to retake Mali’s Islamist-held north. But many powerful actors are pushing for a military campaign of some kind.

These developments have not gone unnoticed in the north. The Malian press has transcribed a phone interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Islamist coalition that rules northern Mali. I have not been able to find an in-depth profile on Hamaha, but this comment on him from AFP is notable:

Malian national Omar Hamaha, one of the main Islamist commanders in the north, is a case study in the bridges between [Ansar al Din, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, the main players in the Islamist coalition].

He is known as the second-in-command to the AQIM boss in charge of Gao. But during the seizure of Timbuktu in April, he referred to himself as the chief-of-staff of Ansar Dine, and now says he holds the same position in MUJAO.

“Remember, we are all mujahedeen. Whether a fighter is from MUJAO, Ansar Dine or AQIM, it’s the same thing,” he told AFP.

“We have the same ambition, the application of sharia. Whenever there’s an attack on one of us, it’s an attack on everyone.”

Hamaha is frequently quoted as a spokesman for the coalition in local and international media (see here, for example), where his rhetoric often emphasizes the coalition’s embrace of violence in the service of its determination to impose shari’a across Mali. In the aftermath of the Malian army’s killing of sixteen Muslim preachers earlier this month, Hamaha expressed the Islamist coalition’s rejection of mediation efforts and its objective of capturing Bamako:

He warned that the Islamists would one day attack the south. ‘‘We will plant the black flag of the Islamists at Koulouba,’’ he said, naming the hill on which Mali’s presidential palace sits.

Hamaha reiterated these messages in his recent phone interview (French), in which he expresses defiance regarding the possibility of an external intervention. My translation:

I was contacted last Saturday by the Minister of Defense for discussions. I told him that we are open to dialogue if the government is ready to submit itself to the shari’a. Plainly speaking, if the authorities are ready to apply the sharia. I was surprised that the Minister of Defense spoke to me of secularism (laicite). That impedes all dialogue with them. We are jihadists…We are ready to take the lead and to defeat all armies by the sword, whether they be from ECOWAS or even NATO…Nothing will be able to stop our advance on Bamako and the rest of Mali because we have chosen to die for the religion.

More remarks from Hamaha here (French).

The statement leaves me wondering how seriously to take the threat of the Islamist coalition’s southern advance. The Islamists’ capture of the town of Douentza (map) on September 1 certainly raised some eyebrows, and their repeated references to a southern advance indicates that the threat is not just an offhand comment. On the other hand, advancing into southern areas could stretch the Islamists thin, exacerbate the political backlash they sometimes face, and hand them military defeats. Whatever happens, ECOWAS and other external forces can expect stiff resistance from the Islamist coalition, and external forces may even find themselves initially working not just to retake territory, but to repel new attacks.

Mali’s New Government

This has been a big week for news from Africa! Along with missed transition deadlines in Somalia and the announcement of the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, this week saw the formation of a new “national unity government” in Mali. The unity government’s creation was a key demand of the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been attempting to stabilize Malian politics.

Interim President Dioncounda Traore and interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra have retained their offices.

AFP details some of the changes:

The national unity government announced by presidential decree Monday has 31 ministers of almost all political shades including four women.

Tieman Coulibaly, a member of the anti-coup Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR) party, becomes foreign minister…The new administration also includes a new ministry of religious affairs, headed by Yacouba Traore.

Among those reappointed are three military members seen as close to the former junta: Defence Minister Colonel Yamoussa Camara, Security Minister General Tiefing Konate and Minister for Territorial Administration Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.

Justice Minister Malick Coulibaly and Health Minister Soumana Makadji were also reappointed.

[...]

The communication ministry will be taken over by Bruno Maiga, a junior minister in the previous administration formed on April 24.

Coulibaly replaces Sadio Lamine Sow, seen as close to Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, the top West African mediator in Mali’s crisis.

The Malian government’s website is here (French).

Analysts are attempting to assess the relative strength of Dioncounda, Diarra, and Sanogo within the new government. RFI (French, via Peter Tinti) writes that Diarra was able to dominate the politics of selecting the cabinet: “In his new team he counts nearly fifteen of his close associates, many more than any other actor on the Malian political scene.” Do not, however, count Sanogo out as a political force.

The new government excludes the group Ansar al Din and other members of the Islamist coalition that controls much of northern Mali, where rebellion began in January. I would guess, though, that the Islamists would not have joined even had they been invited.

VOA on the government’s priorities:

Toure told VOA that the new government will move forward with plans to seek outside help to liberate the north, which has been controlled by Islamist militants for the past five months.

“We have two priorities: re-establish territorial integrity of Mali in the north, the second priority is organizing elections. The government will start working as soon as possible and try to get support from ECOWAS, from the African Union and from the United Nations.”

Whether they can achieve those priorities is another matter.

For more on the new government, see this alarmist but somewhat informative piece on the new religious affairs ministry, and also see US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s remarks from yesterday. And for an important look at how Mali got here, see this piece from Dr. Bruce Whitehouse.