A military officer who helped depose the president of Mali in a coup last month has announced that a retired colonel will lead the West African country as interim president until elections are held in 2022.
Malian soldiers abducted the former president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and made him resign on state television in August in a coordinated coup that capitalized on a ballooning popular uprising against the government.
Regional leaders from the Economic Community of West African States had tried but failed to mediate talks with the protest movement before the coup. After Keïta was overthrown on August 18, Ecowas leaders met with the coup plotters in an attempt to limit the period of time before the next elections were held and to insist that a military officer not lead the interim government.
Though the new president, Bah N’Daou, is technically a civilian, he is both a retired military officer and a former defense minister who served under Keïta. He also served as an aide to Mali’s former military dictator, Moussa Traoré.
N’Daou’s appointment was announced in a statement Monday by Col Assimi Goïta, who was the leader of the coup against Keïta and who will also serve as N’Daou’s vice president. Both men were appointed by a group of 17 electors chosen by the coup leaders and will be sworn in Friday.
Announcing the new president on state television, Goïta said that there had been different views on who should lead the interim government before elections. “Some wanted a purely military transition, others wanted a civil transition, and others proposed a mixture,” he said. He did not specify which category a transition led by N’Daou would fall into.
Goïta said that members of the June 5 Movement were involved in choosing N’Daou to lead the transition. But one of the movement’s leaders, Choguel Maïga, denied that this was the case.
“We were not part of the body that determined the president and vice president. We learned about this decision through social media and the press,” Maïga told local reporters.
The unrest in Mali began in June when a coalition of opposition politicians, religious leaders and civil society groups organized protests against the government in what became known as the June 5 Movement.
Protesters said the government had not done enough to address the corruption and bloodshed that has plagued the country for eight years. Regional and French counterterrorism forces, with US support, have been pulled into Mali to fight a terrorist insurgency in the vast stretch of land south of the Sahara known as the Sahel.
But the main reason for the demonstrations — which repeatedly led to tens of thousands of people in the streets — was the accusation that Keïta had altered the results of a legislative election in April.
Security forces in the capital, Bamako, cracked down on the movement in July, when several protesters were killed.
After the coup, the United States suspended military aid to Mali. France, which has 5,000 troops stationed in the region, condemned the coup and demanded that Keïta be released from detention, which he eventually was. Regional leaders threatened economic sanctions if civilians were not returned to power.
In a video summit held soon after the coup, the president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, told a dozen of the region’s heads of state that staging coups was “a serious sickness for a country.” ECOWAS, the West African economic coalition, has not yet commented on the appointment of N’Daou or Goïta.
The presidents of Ivory Coast and Guinea are both facing elections in October amid widespread protests, and some leaders fear the coup in Mali will set a dangerous precedent.
But many Malians have expressed their support for the coup plotters, and their mistrust of the country’s politicians.
When the soldiers drove through Bamako, taking Keïta and his prime minister, Boubou Cissé, back to their military base, hundreds of young people turned out in support. The June 5 Movement drew thousands to a rally three days later to celebrate the “victory of the Malian people.”