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.

Contrasting President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Captain Amadou Sanogo

My colleague Andrew Lebovich and I were at the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida last week. I mention this not only to highlight the work the Center is doing, including on the Sahel, but also because a number of conversations I had with students and faculty there have affected my thinking on current issues in the Sahel. One conversation dealt with the contrast between Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, recently in the news after soldiers shot him, and Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the March 22 coup in southern Mali. The contrast raises important questions about how leadership structures in the Sahel evolve and how they interact with international norms.

General (now President) Abdel Aziz and Captain Sanogo both led military coups. Yet the differences between Abdel Aziz and Sanogo are large. The former was a senior officer, the latter a mid-level one. The former participated in a well-organized, premeditated, and successful coup (in 2005) before leading another successful one in August 2008; the latter came to power in what many view as an “accidental” coup. Within days of their respective coups, Abdel Aziz and Sanogo both promised that elections would be held quickly; but while Mauritania’s military leadership was willing to weather a period of international economic sanctions as it planned a transition, Mali’s junta rapidly gave in to economic and political pressure from the Economic Community of West African States and agreed on April 6 to hand over power (at least nominally) to a transitional civilian government headed by interim President Dioncounda Traore.

Abdel Aziz outlasted international pressure and legitimated his rule, at least formally, by winning the July 2009 presidential election as a civilian. Foreign donors began to resume aid within months of the election. Abdel Aziz has received important visits from European and American government personnel and military commanders interested in seeking his opinion and cooperation on security issues. International powers, in contrast, have been keen to sideline Sanogo in favor of civilian politicians. Abdel Aziz has (until now) wielded clear authority in Mauritania, partly due to outside powers treating him as a legitimate ruler, while the question of who rules southern Mali has remained blurred since April. Sanogo is, along with President Traore and Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, one of three key political figures in southern Mali, but his formal role is heavily circumscribed.

Why did Abdel Aziz attain the status of a recognized president while Sanogo did not? Abdel Aziz’s path was undoubtedly made easier by the fact that his country did not face a major armed rebellion as Mali did when Sanogo took over in March 2012. I would also suggest that Abdel Aziz had a more sophisticated understanding of the international system and a more organized approach to taking and maintaining power. Abdel Aziz stressed his resolve to combat terrorism, projected a sense of direction and organization, and moved through a political transition which, even though some regarded it as mere pageantry, proceeded in an orderly fashion. Sanogo and his clique offered democratic verbiage (naming their junta the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State) and promised to reunify Malian territory after military triumphs by Tuareg separatists in the north. Yet the Malian junta projected an image of disorganization and inexperience, and regional and international actors quickly decided that it lacked credibility.

Another difference I would point to is the different expectations and perceptions outsiders may have held concerning these two countries. Mauritania was under military rule from 1978 to 2007, and experienced numerous coups. Mali, in contrast, had been considered a model for West African democracy since 1992. The coup in Mali horrified international observers, and attracted their attention, to a degree that the 2008 coup in Mauritania did not. International actors were probably less prone to “forgive” Sanogo than Abdel Aziz.

Finally, one should note that the “success” of coup-leader-turned-legitimate-President Abdel Aziz in Mauritania may prove fleeting, or at least vulnerable to the bullets of soldiers plotting a new coup, terrorists attempting an assassination, incompetents firing irresponsibly, or some combination of the above. If one lesson is that some coup leaders are more successful than others based on circumstances, background, and strategy, another lesson is that no one is invulnerable.

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.

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.

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.

Africa Blog Roundup: Caine Prize, Libya, Captain Sanogo, and More

Zungunzungu and others blog the Caine Prize for African Literature.

Edward Kannyo on Libya: “The most recent political developments in Libya strongly support the sense that the country is quickly moving from one autocracy to another one. The only question is whether it will be theocratic, regional-ethnic or some combination of the two.” I am very curious to hear readers’ thoughts on this piece. Do you agree with Kannyo?

Bruce Whitehouse on an interview with Mali’s Captain Amadou Sanogo.

Loomnie reviews Edward Carr’s Delivering Development.

Orlando Reade, “Africa as Science Fiction.”

The Moor Next Door on Algeria and the “Arab Uprisings”:

Algeria has a distinct political background and demography that is sometimes downplayed in discussions about the Arab uprisings, which includes the civil war during the 1990s, an opposition that is pitifully fragmented and a regime made up of remarkably cunning political strategists and tacticians. Much of the writing about the events that took place in the Arab world focuses on forces as opposed to individual actors; the force of Tahrir Square, the force of social media, the force of the example of Mohamed Bouazizi, the force of symbols and avatars. One of the reasons uprisings became successful was that they forced regimes into reactive positions where they   were forced to react in aggressive and impolitic ways. Questions of agency and causality seem to be relegated largely to mystical forces as opposed to decisions and specific circumstances. A popular revolution or uprising is treated not only as likely, but inevitable and existential.

What are you reading today?