Mali’s interim president and prime minister have reportedly “resigned”, two days after they were arrested by the military in a widely condemned coup, according to an aide to the military-appointed interim vice-president.
Both civilian leaders, the president, Bah Ndaw, and the prime minister, Moctar Ouane, remained under military arrest on Wednesday in the Kati army base, outside the Malian capital Bamako, amid widespread international condemnation and promises of sanctions.
The vice-president, Assimi Goïta, a 38-year-old army colonel who led a military coup last August, again orchestrated the arrests on Monday, blaming a government reshuffle earlier in the day which removed two influential military-appointed cabinet ministers.
In a broadcast on Tuesday, Goïta described the reshuffle as an attempt to “sabotage” the transition agreement, brokered by the international community, civilian opposition and Mali’s army. The military has asserted increasing dominance over Mali’s politics over the last decade, fuelling political turmoil while the west African country has been plagued by jihadist insurgency.
On Wednesday, an aide to Goïta, Baba Cisse, said: “The president and his prime minister have resigned. Negotiations are ongoing for their liberation and the formation of a new government,” in comments seen by Reuters.
The removal of both civilian leaders and the army’s swift re-formation of the transitional government will probably consolidate the military’s power before elections next year. The moves come amid a visit by a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which helped broker the transition agreement and is pressing to resolve the latest crisis.
Mali’s military leaders have acted in defiance of outraged international allies and opposition and civil society groups.
In a statement broadcast on state television on Tuesday Goïta said Ndaw and Ouane had been placed “outside of their prerogatives”. “The vice-president of the transition saw himself obligated to act to preserve the transitional charter and defend the republic,” the statement read by his aide said.
There was international anger at what was widely seen as the second military-led coup in under 10 months. European Union leaders, the African Union and the US condemned the “kidnapping” of Mali’s civilian leaders on Monday night, and warned of sanctions.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said it was an “unacceptable coup d’état” and warned: “We are ready in the coming hours to take targeted sanctions” at an EU summit on Tuesday. A response is likely to be discussed at an emergency UN security council meeting on Wednesday.
The US said on Wednesday it was suspending security assistance to Mali’s military, almost a year after reducing support following the coup in August.
“We are now suspending security assistance that benefits the Malian security and defence forces that we had continued previously pursuant to available authorities,” the US Department of State said. “The US will also consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who impede Mali’s civilian-led transition to democratic governance.”
Tensions between civilian government officials and the army have been constant since the then president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was overthrown in August. Ndaw and Ouane had been tasked with overseeing a fragile 18-month transition back to civilian rule. The reshuffle on Monday 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, before elections next year.
The military retained the strategic portfolios it controlled during the previous administration, but two leaders of the August coup – ex-defence minister Sadio Camara and ex-security minister Modibo Kone – were replaced, drawing the ire of the military.
Kati’s military base had twice before imposed its will by ending the rule of Malian leaders. In August last year, the military took Keïta to Kati and forced him to resign after mass anti-government protests. A mutiny there also helped topple his predecessor, Amadou Toumani Touré, in 2012.
Resentment at the role of France, the former colonial ruler, in Mali’s affairs has also fuelled political upheaval. Mali has been in turmoil ever since. Touré’s departure triggered an ethnic Tuareg rebellion to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, which was hijacked by al-Qaida-linked jihadists.
French forces helped beat back the insurgents in 2013 but they have since regrouped and mount regular attacks on the army and civilians. They have exported their methods to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, where attacks have skyrocketed since 2017.