Who’s Who Guide to Main Power Brokers in Mali’s Crisis
Mali has been cast in political disarray after a military junta seized control of the country, forced the president to step down and pledged to facilitate fresh elections. These are some of the key power brokers in the crisis:
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
Criticized for his failure to tackle a deepening economic crisis and a deteriorating security situation, IBK, as he’s popularly known, was forced to step down this week after mutinous soldiers surrounded his home and detained him alongside Prime Minister Boubou Cisse. A career politician since the early 1990s, Keita served as prime minister and speaker of the National Assembly before winning 2013 elections by a landslide. He enjoyed the support of powerful Muslim preachers in the country before falling out with the most prominent leader. Keita, 75, is being held at military barracks on the outskirts of Bamako, the capital. Heads of state from the Economic Community of West African states, a regional bloc, have called for his reinstatement. The junta has dismissed the demand, saying Mali’s next leader should either be a soldier or a civilian.
The popular Saudi-trained Muslim cleric was the most prominent voice in mass protests against the government that started in June and called for Keita’s resignation. Dicko backed Keita until they fell out in late 2017 over, among other things, the president’s choice of Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga as prime minister. Dicko, 66, is one of a few leaders who wants the government to negotiate with jihadist groups. While his decision to step down as head of the influential Islamic High Council last year suggested he might bid for a role in government, Dicko announced after the putsch that he’s retiring from politics.
The former Nigerian president serves as a mediator for Ecowas, which made several earlier attempts to broker a compromise between protesters and the government. Jonathan, 62, is set to meet with the junta leaders and press for the Keita’s reinstatement.
A 37-year old army colonel, Goita has emerged as the leader of the junta that forced Keita from power. The army unit he serves in has been involved in fighting al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in Mali’s center and north, near the border with Algeria. He has participated in military training exercises the U.S. holds in West Africa.
Sy Kadiatou Sow
Popular discontent with Keita’s government boiled over into mass protests when the Constitutional Court overturned some legislative election results earlier this year in favor of Keita’s ruling party. Sow, 65, a former foreign affairs minister and one of a handful of prominent female politicians, then emerged as a leader of the protest movement calling for his ouster. Sow heads the coalition of politicians, religious leaders and civil-society organizations known in Mali by its acronym M5-RFP.
Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga
Named as prime minister in 2017, Maiga, 66, was forced to step down last year after bloody inter-communal clashes left dozens dead and fueled criticism of his administration’s failure to halt the violence in the country. Maiga won plaudits for touring Mali’s neglected rural areas in 2018 and visiting the restive northern town of Kidal, which is controlled by ethnic Tuareg separatists. He is seen as a potential candidate to lead a transitional government.
Mali’s main opposition leader was abducted by Islamist militants while campaigning for the legislative elections in March. Cissé, 70, and his team disappeared near his hometown of Niafunke, in the north of the country. Attempts to negotiate for his release have so far failed, despite appeals from human rights and civil-society groups to the government to accelerate the talks. Cissé lost a run-off vote against Keita in 2013, and again in 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Keita’s release and a return to civilian rule, but has otherwise been cautious not to be seen to interfere. When Mali’s former colonial power intervened in 2013 to stop Islamist fighters from moving south toward the capital, its troops were hailed by jubilant crowds. The sentiment has turned since as Malians begrudge what some perceive as a loss of sovereignty. France once saw IBK as a crucial ally in the fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel, where it’s deployed its 5,000-strong Barkhane force. Keita’s regional peers will likely be left to negotiate his fate, while France weighs the future of its security mission.
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