Mali: Filling in the Portrait of the CNSP a Bit More

Mali had a mutiny/coup on August 18, overthrowing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK, in power 2013-2020). Last week I wrote a sketch of Mali’s new military junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (French acronym CNSP). Since then, structures have solidified a bit, top coup leaders have given numerous interviews, and more details about the leaders’ biographies and backgrounds have emerged. Even though the CNSP’s plans and proposals are still somewhat in flux and subject to negotiation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others, a fuller portrait of the CNSP is nevertheless possible to draw.

Let’s return to this still image from the CNSP’s first television appearance the night of the coup (early hours of August 19), captioned by a well-informed Malian observer:

Since August 19, the three men in the center have been the most prominent public faces of the junta.

Reuters has a short “factbox” with a few sentences on each officer. The Africa Report also has brief biographies of these five officers as well as some discussion of a general, Cheikh Fanta Mady Dembélé, whom some observers believe is unofficially connected with the CNSP.

Here is the hierarchy of the CNSP so far, and which type of unit each figure came out of:

  • President: Colonel Assimi Goïta (special forces)
  • 1st Vice President: Colonel Malick Diaw (national guard)
  • Spokesman: Major Colonel Ismaël Wagué (air force)

I have not been able to find the formal positions that Camara and Koné were given in the CNSP, but I suspect there may be more than one vice president (see this photo where Diaw’s name placard reads “1st Vice President”).

Let’s look a bit more closely at the first three, then.

Goïta, second from left in the photo above, quickly emerged as president of the CNSP. Search for his name and you will find pieces talking about how he is “U.S.-trained,” just as you will find pieces framing the junta as trained by Russia or some other foreign country. In my view this issue is mostly/entirely a red herring because any officer who rises to a certain rank is likely to have had contact with a foreign military. That’s not to excuse the U.S. or anyone else – but my takeaway is that a lot of foreign trainings, especially on themes like civil-military relations or human rights, are essentially a kind of theater and credentialing ritual for both the trainers and the trainees. And Denis Tull and Andrew Lebovich put it well:

Jeune Afrique profiles Goïta here, first discussing his style – which is much more restrained, as they point out, than those of Guinea’s Moussa Dadis Camara (in power 2008-2009) or Mali’s Amadou Sanogo (in power 2012). That profile then discusses his military career. Among some interesting details are the idea that his time in the special forces since 2014, and particularly as commander of a special forces unit since 2018, made him visible and respected throughout the army. Also, as various outlets have noted, he was reportedly ordered back to Bamako (from central Mali) in July 2020 to help deal with the anti-IBK protests – an irony, I think, rather than any sign of collusion between him and the protesters. In terms of English-language biographies, here is one sketch from APA News, describing his military career. He has a formidable résumé, no question about it.

The CNSP’s 1st Vice President is Colonel Malick Diaw, fourth from left in the photo above, whose name was one of the first – even before Goïta’s – to emerge in early media coverage of the mutineers/coup leaders. He was deputy head of the Kati military camp where the mutiny began on August 18. There are some important details about him in this account of the mutiny written by Libération‘s Léa Masseguin and Olivier Dubois; the authors write that Diaw has been complaining for quite some time, on behalf of his men, about conditions the military is facing. The same report says Diaw was a “key actor” in the 2012 coup. That report depicts Diaw and Camara as the leading actors in the mutiny.

The CNSP’s spokesman is Major-Colonel Ismaël Wagué, who had been deputy chief of staff of the Air Force. He has been all over the media but I have not yet seen a detailed biography of him either. Jeune Afrique has an interview with him that’s worth a read.

I haven’t seen much on Koné and Camara beyond the few sentences one reads in the reports I linked to above from places such as Reuters and Africa Report.

As I mentioned in my previous sketch of the CNSP, this strikes me as neither a pure “senior officers’ coup” in the sense of the top generals removing the head of state, as happened for example in Mauritania in 2005 and 2008; nor is this a junior officers’ coup akin to 2012 in Mali, much less something like Samuel Doe’s 1980 coup in Liberia. But it’s a lot closer to the senior officers’ coup than the junior officers’ coup. Check out this thread from Marc-André Boisvert about the savvy and one might even say professionalism that the CNSP leaders have shown so far:

Another note: whether the mutiny/coup was spontaneous or not, it is remarkable how the CNSP put together, quite quickly, the support of key officers from multiple units and branches of the armed forces.

Finally, I’m still not sure whether any of the Twitter accounts claiming to be the CNSP’s account are genuine. But one is here.

3 thoughts on “Mali: Filling in the Portrait of the CNSP a Bit More

  1. Col. Diaw is consistently seen these days (as in the photos here) wearing a green beret, which would make him regular army rather than National Guard (whose troops wear brown berets). Diaw had a previous command in the NG but I don’t believe that he retains any affiliation. As for Col. Camara, I too have read that he was associated with the CNRDRE in 2012; I looked through my notes from back then and found no mention of him, so he didn’t appear to be one of the public faces of that junta.

  2. Pingback: Mali Roundup: Transitional Cabinet Meets, ECOWAS Lifts Sanctions, Prisoners Exchanged with JNIM, Malaria Cases Rising | Sahel Blog

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