The president and the interim prime minister of Mali have reportedly “resigned” two days after their arrest by the army in a widely condemned coup, according to an assistant to the acting vice-president appointed by the army.
The two civilian leaders, the President, Bah Ndaw, and the Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, remained under military arrest Wednesday at the Kati military base, outside the Malian capital Bamako, in the middle of a widespread international condemnation and promises of sanctions.
Vice President Assimi Goïta, a 38-year-old army colonel who led a military coup last August, orchestrated the arrests again on Monday, accusing a government reshuffle earlier in the day that dismissed him two influential ministers appointed by the army.
In a Tuesday broadcast, Goïta described the reshuffle as an attempt to “sabotage” the transition agreement, negotiated by the international community, the civil opposition and the Malian army. The military has asserted increasing dominance over Malian politics over the past decade, fueling political turmoil as the West African country has been in the throes of a jihadist insurgency.
On Wednesday, an aide to Goïta, Baba Cissé, said: “The president and his prime minister have resigned. Negotiations are underway for their release and the formation of a new government, ”in comments seen by Reuters.
The removal of civilian leaders and the military’s swift reconstitution of the transitional government will likely consolidate the military’s power ahead of next year’s elections. The steps come as part of a visit by a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which helped negotiate the transition agreement and is pushing to resolve the last crisis.
Malian military leaders have acted in defiance of outraged international allies and opposition and civil society groups.
In a statement released Tuesday on public television, Goïta said that Ndaw and Ouane had been placed “outside their prerogatives”. “The vice-president of the transition was obliged to act to preserve the transition charter and defend the republic”, indicates the press release read by his aide.
There was international anger over what was widely seen as the second military coup in less than 10 months. The leaders of the European Union, the African Union and the United States on Monday evening condemned the “kidnapping” of Malian civilian leaders and warned against sanctions.
French President Emmanuel Macron said it was an “unacceptable coup” and warned: “We are ready in the coming hours to take targeted sanctions” at a European summit Tuesday. An answer will likely be discussed at an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday.
The United States said on Wednesday it was suspending security assistance to the Malian army, nearly a year after cutting back its support following the coup in August.
“We are now suspending security assistance which benefits the Malian security and defense forces that we previously maintained under available authorities,” the US State Department said. “The United States will also consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who obstruct the civilian-led transition of Malians to democratic governance.”
Tensions between civilian government officials and the army have been constant since the overthrow of then-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August. Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing a fragile 18-month transition to civilian rule. Monday’s reshuffle came in response to pressure from opposition and civil society groups, warning that the transitional government must be able to act independently of the military, ahead of next year’s elections. .
The military retained the strategic portfolios it controlled under the previous administration, but two leaders of the August coup – former defense minister Sadio Camara and former security minister Modibo Kone – were replaced, sparking the ire of the army.
The Kati military base had previously imposed its will twice by ending the reign of the Malian rulers. In August last year, the military took Keïta to Kati and forced him to resign after mass anti-government protests. A mutiny also helped topple his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Touré, in 2012.
Resentment over the role of France, the former colonial ruler, in Mali’s affairs has also fueled political upheaval. Mali has since been in turmoil. Touré’s departure sparked an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by jihadists linked to Al-Qaida.
French forces helped repel the insurgents in 2013, but they have since regrouped and launched regular attacks against the army and civilians. They exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, where attacks have exploded since 2017.