In Mali, the transitional government remains in my view a military junta with a partial civilian veneer. One could view transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maïga (a civilian appointed June 2021) as a full member of the transition, and certainly he appears to have exercised some influence, most notoriously in what appear to be targeted crackdowns (French) on his own critics and rivals. Yet fundamentally, I think he is useful to the junta in a few, interconnected ways – he can absorb criticism and can also float controversial ideas, and then absorb more criticism. That works until the criticism gets too intense, of course, but then the junta can fire him, appearing to be responsive to domestic and/or international pressure, and then find someone else to either reprise the role or to provide a kind of makeover.
It’s been rumored before that the junta, headed by Colonel Assimi Goïta, was contemplating firing Maïga. But criticism has heated up in recent days with statements from political parties calling for Maïga’s firing. Here’s the main statement, from a coalition of parties, released on July 21:
Notably, the parties present themselves as anti-Maïga, pro-transition – in other words, seeking to drive a wedge between Goïta and Maïga. Part of that dynamic may have to do with the junta’s own (scary) authoritarianism, which goes well beyond just Maïga’s own seeming reprisals against enemies. Criticizing Goïta is riskier than criticizing Maïga. Yet on another level, (what I take to be) the junta’s strategic use of Maïga appears to be paying off – criticisms that are, ultimately, about the destructiveness of the whole ruling clique can be recast as criticisms of one individual, effectively letting the junta off the hook or at least buying them more time, their most precious commodity.
It’s not that Maïga doesn’t have some support. And I think someone else in the role could improve things in Mali somewhat – but the (very bad) fundamentals would not change with his departure.