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.

Quick Items: ECOWAS and Mali, and Corruption in the Sahel

Two quick items.

First, a few important pieces on Mali:

  • The government of President Dioncounda Traore has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base some 3,000 soldiers in Bamako. The BBC reports that “before the deployment can go ahead, it will need a mandate from the [UN] security council, which earlier rejected an intervention plan because of a lack of detail.”
  • International Crisis Group has released a briefing on Mali that urges “determined and coordinated international action.” From the briefing:

All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risks undermining the transitional institutions and creating chaos that could allow religious extremism and terrorist violence to spread in Mali and beyond. None of the three actors sharing power, namely the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, the prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, enjoys sufficient popular legitimacy or has the ability to prevent the aggravation of the crisis. The country urgently needs to mobilise the best Malian expertise irrespective of political allegiance rather than engaging in power plays that will lead the country to the verge of collapse.

  • IRIN, finally, has a report on aid delivery to northern Mali: “NGO Médecins du Monde (MDM), active in the north for more than a decade and now with over 250 staff supporting more than 20 health posts, including Kidal hospital, says NGOs have to get beyond the main towns and villages and reach more vulnerable communities in outlying areas.”

Second, this month the Global Observatory of the International Peace Institute is focusing on the Sahel. I have contributed a piece on corruption. If you read the piece, let us know your thoughts here in the comments.

Malian Authorities Attempt Balancing Act on External Military Intervention

With a new government in place, one of whose stated goals is to fight Islamist militias in the north, Malian authorities are shifting their stance on the question of external military involvement in the country’s crises. While previously Malian leaders had stated they would not accept outside troops, now they are envisioning a limited role for soldiers provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc has steadily pressured Mali to solve the political and security crises stemming from a rebellion that began in January and a coup that occurred in March. Accepting ECOWAS troops could change the course of the conflict in Mali, although logistical problems (especially the small number of available troops and the lack of detailed planning) continue to surround the idea of an external intervention.

The position of Malian authorities on the role of external forces, moreover, is not yet clear: authorities are attempting to balance the appearance of national sovereignty with the acceptance of outside help.

Let’s look at some statements:

Mali does not want African troops to be deployed into combat against Islamic extremists occupying its north, but seeks logistical support from its neighbours, according to a letter seen by AFP on Thursday.
The letter from interim president Dioncounda Traore to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), dated September 1, requests “help from ECOWAS to recover occupied territories in the north and the fight against terrorism.”
“However the deployment of a constituted police unit or combatant military troops is not applicable,” read the three page letter.
[...]

Traore requested assistance in “the reorganisation of armed forces and security” in terms of training, equipment and logistical support.

For the restoration of Mali’s territorial integrity he requests “aerial support (intelligence support, direct support of engaged troops, destruction of hidden logistical bases) and the deployment of five battalions to the frontline to be gradually used to control the reconquered towns.”

Traore asks for help, in other words, but places limits on what external forces can do. One reason for this stance may be a desire to act decisively on the northern question while simultaneously blunting domestic criticism of accepting outside help:

Iba Ndiaye, a leader of the United Front for the Defence of the Republic and Democracy (FDR) — a coalition of 40 political parties — praised the move but urged authorities to “act fast to free the north of the country.”

However Nouhoum Keita from the opposition African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI) party said it was against the intervention and wanted “to liberate the north with our own armed forces”.

More important even than placating politicians may be the need for Traore to placate the Malian military, especially the former junta led by Captain Amadou Sanogo:

Leaders of an influential former military junta…immediately rejected the possible deployment of foreign troops on Malian soil.

[...]

“Our reaction is clear. We agree to logistical and air support and air strikes, but ground troops are out of the question,” said Bakary Mariko, spokesman for former junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.

In fact, Traore’s stance may not have placated Sanogo and his faction at all. Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group argues that Sanogo fears the political consequences (for himself) of an external military intervention (French):

External military aid for the reconquest of the North would threaten his influence with the government…Sanogo hopes for an intervention in which the Malian army will be as numerous as possible.

[...]

ECOWAS wants a military presence in Bamako to protect the institutions of the political transition. Sanogo vehemently opposes this possibility and Traore himself rules out this option in his letter, which appears then as a concession made by the government to the soldiers.

VOA reported yesterday that ECOWAS and Mali have “resolved [their] differences…over the deployment of a standby force,” though as Andrew Lebovich points out ECOWAS has provided little detail concerning their agreement. Even if Bamako and ECOWAS agree on details, the more important struggle over the role of the external force may be the one playing out inside Bamako.

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.

Africa News Roundup: Traore Returns to Mali, Constituent Assembly Meets in Somalia, Senegal Boosts Electricity, and More

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore returned home yesterday from France, after a two-month recuperation.

In Somalia, the National Constituent Assembly “began a marathon-nine-day meeting on Wednesday to debate on a provisional constitution, before final ratification by a national referendum.” This is a critical step in the transition process, though it comes behind schedule.

AP on evictions in the Makoko area of Lagos, Nigeria:

Makoko is a sprawling community of bamboo homes and shacks built out of driftwood, close to the University of Lagos campus and visible to daily traffic that plies the Third Mainland Bridge, the link from the mainland to the city’s islands. Those living in Makoko subsist largely as fishermen and workers in nearby saw mills, cutting up water-logged timber that’s floated into the city daily. Some work jobs outside of the slum as gate guards and in other industries, though most live almost entirely within its watery boundaries.

The people of Makoko have created their own life independent from the state, with its own schools and clinics, however ill-equipped. Commerce goes on in its creek alleyways as women sell sizzling dishes and goods from canoes. Others sell videos and telephone airtime cards from the shacks just above the waterline, where a maze of wooden planks connects the homes.

Senegal has received an $85 million loan to help boost electricity.

The Guardian: “Burkina Faso’s School for Shepherds Thrives”

Kenyan presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, even if one of them is elected in March 2013, would still have to stand trial at the International Criminal Court, where they face charges of fomenting post-electoral violence in 2007-2008.

After a strike that cost twelve production days, work has resumed at First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein mine.

What else is going on?

Mali: Transition Falters, ECOWAS Contemplates Military Intervention

Following the March 22 military coup in Mali, regional pressure on the military government prompted the launch of an ostensibly civilian interim government in April. That government, headed by former head of the National Assembly Dioncounda Traore, was supposed to organize new elections and pave the way for a permanent civilian government. But the transition has been dogged by problems, especially the war against rebels in northern Mali and the persistent political influence of military coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.

Now the transition’s 40-day term is set to expire (either on May 20 or May 22, depending on what legal interpretation prevails – see Whitehouse’s linked piece below), and confusion has grown: Sanogo wants to hold a convention to choose a new interim leader, but Traore wants to remain in power for twelve months. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a major source of external pressure on Mali, prefers the latter option. Mali-based journalist Martin Vogl says this is “not [a] good sign.” Dr. Bruce Whitehouse, meanwhile, sees a pervasive distrust of politicians at work in Mali; in some quarters an anti-politician feeling seems to boost support for the junta and its “extra-institutional approaches” to politics.

Where does the confusion in Mali leave ECOWAS? The regional bloc says it is ready to take various steps: reimposing sanctions and even ordering a military intervention. ECOWAS’ threats should be taken seriously; the organization has acted more decisively during Mali’s crisis than many, including me, had expected. ECOWAS is already moving to send peacekeepers to Guinea-Bissau, site of another recent coup.

Is an intervention in Mali feasible? I have heard it would not be without external support. ECOWAS countries, including regional giant Nigeria, might not have the financial or military resources to mount such an operation. External support, however, may be forthcoming:

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, says ECOWAS is just waiting for authorization from the United Nations to order the intervention.

“A strategic plan has been drawn up, and if the ECOWAS force has to be deployed, we need a go-ahead from the UN Security Council,” Mr. Ouedraogo said.

The US is ready to support an ECOWAS intervention with logistics and military planners, says US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

“The US fully supports Ecowas’s mediation efforts to help Mali return to democratic rule,” Mr. Carson said in a conference call with reporters. “We have been willing to provide logisticians and planners” to an ECOWAS operation, if the Malian military does not cede power, Carson added. “But the mission and role must be defined before we make any kind of commitment.”

I do not expect we will see large numbers of American or French troops on the ground in Mali. But the possibility of a Western-backed (“backing,” in this case, seems to mean financial and logistical support) ECOWAS intervention in Mali is certainly on the table.

Mali: Political Dimensions of the “Apolitical” Interim Government

Mali’s transitional “government of national unity” is taking shape. Yesterday, interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who was appointed April 17, formed a cabinet comprising 24 members. The new government serves under interim President Dioncounda Traore. Traore was formerly president of the National Assembly under ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, who lost power in the March 21 coup.

News coverage of the new government’s formation is emphasizing two characteristics: the apolitical background of many ministers and the inclusion of military personnel perceived as being close to the coup leaders.

On the first point, the apolitical appointments continue a trend that began with the appointment of Diarra himself, who was an astrophysicist prior to his entry into politics. Yet if the intention of the interim government’s leaders is to project an image that their government is above politics, the appointments have not been received that way – the Malian press reports objections to the new government’s composition from both pro- and anti-coup political factions (French), and says that the process of forming the government has brought Diarra (French) face to face with “the reality of public life.” Assembling a government without including members of major political parties is a deeply political decision, one that could alienate people whose support the interim government might want.

Regarding the second point (the appointment of military personnel), AFP writes, “The three [appointees] — Colonel Yamoussa Camara, Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly and General Tiefing Konate — will hold the defence, interior and civil protection portfolios in the west African country where the military seized power last month.” The BBC has more on the story. The prominence of (pro-junta?) soldiers in the new government will add to suspicions that the junta continues to play a large role in the interim government’s decisions. Their inclusion is, in other words, another form of politics.

The formation of the cabinet represents a step forward for the interim government in terms of personnel and perhaps policy, but it has not brought clarity, whether about who rules Mali, when elections will come (they are supposed to occur very soon), or what “national unity” will mean during this transition.

Mali: Arrests of Top Politicians Cast a Shadow over the Transition and the Elections [Updated]

Back in January, before the rebellion began in the north and before the coup in Bamako, Mali was looking ahead to presidential elections scheduled for April (since cancelled). There were, as I and others saw it, four main candidates: former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (runner-up in the 2007 presidential elections, former cabinet minister Soumaila Cisse (runner-up in the 2002 presidential elections), former prime minister Mobidbo Sidibe (.pdf), and president of the National Assembly Dioncounda Traore.

When the military junta agreed to the installation of an interim civilian president, they chose Traore as the interim president. Traore has been charged with heavy tasks, chief among them organizing new elections in as short a time-frame as forty days.

Traore’s appointment, given that he was a leading presidential contender, raised questions about the neutrality of the interim government within the political field. Commentators like Dr. Bruce Whitehouse have also argued that the junta has not, itself, left the field.

Now a wave of arrests has further called the interim government’s political neutrality into question. Military spokesmen have said the arrests were made in the interest of national security, but many perceive political motivations at work. Among those arrested are the (once and future?) presidential aspirants Sidibe and Cisse, who were taken into custody Tuesday. Whitehouse provides more detail on the arrests. As Whitehouse points out, both men have been previously targeted by the junta since the coup, Sidibe perhaps because of his ties to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, and Cisse for reasons that are less clear. Keita, the fourth of the candidates named above, has not been arrested. He released a statement (French) condemning the arrests and calling them “a serious attack on the process of returning to a constitutional existence.”

Whitehouse mentions reports that Traore was not informed of the arrests in advance. In my view the arrests still have the potential to severely damage Traore’s political image. I have not heard a statement from Traore as to whether he will continue to run for president now that the elections – under his watch – are being reorganized. Perhaps he will not run, as there could be strong expectations in place that he refrain from doing so given his current position. If he does run, the arrests of his competitors will stand out even more strongly. But even if he doesn’t run, the arrests seem to have already tainted perceptions of his government among political elites and among ordinary citizens, many of whom are apparently outraged by the arrests.

Assembled outside the hotel where Traoré continues to stay since his April 12th inauguration, members of political parties’ youth organizations shouted “Liberate, liberate” and held signs saying, “Military to the front lines, power to civilians.”  Scores of soldiers and riot police stood nearby.

Malians say they are shocked and outraged at Tuesday’s pre-dawn arrests of at least seven people, including former prime ministers Modibo Sidibé and Soumaïla Cissé, deposed defense minister Sadio Gassama, as well as bank executives and the head of police.

The arrests and the protests only add to the tense climate and the severe challenges the transitional government faces as it attempts to reorient the country and clarify who is in charge in Mali.

[UPDATE]: The junta releases the prisoners.

Africa News Roundup: “Total War” in Mali, Coup in Guinea-Bissau, Heglig, Mauritania Border Buildup, and More

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore has pledged “total war” against rebels in the northern party of the country.

It looks as though there has been a coup in Guinea-Bissau.

Newly elected Senegalese President Macky Sall makes his first overseas trip – to Gambia and France.

South Sudanese troops continue to hold the Heglig oil field inside (north) Sudan, but they stated yesterday that they would withdraw if Sudan agrees that a neutral force can take charge of the area. All Africa now has a section of its site entitled, “Are the Two Sudans Heading for War?”

The dream of building an oil pipeline from South Sudan to Kenya moves into a new phase.

In Nigeria, a new video from Boko Haram threatens President Goodluck Jonathan. The opposition Action Congress of Nigeria party – which is strongest in the Southwest and in the Middle Belt – has urged the government to renew efforts at dialogue with the rebel group.

In other Nigeria news, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has claimed an attack on an ENI pipeline.

Mauritania increases troop levels on its border with Mali.

What else is going on today?