The political tension in Mali has taken another twist after retired Colonel Bah Ndaw, President of the West African country’s Transitional Government was detained on Monday along with Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defence Minister Souleymane Doucoure after a cabinet shuffle.
The three officials were arrested and taken to the Kati military base, outside the capital, Bamako, a move political analysts has said will in no small measure deepen the country’s political crisis.
Condemning the action and calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the detainees, the regional economic grouping, ECOWAS and the African Union’s Mission in the Sahel (MISAHEL) urged the “military to return to their barracks.”
Their joint statement also called on the international partners to support the efforts by the ECOWAS and the AU toward the success of the political transition in Mali.
The leadership of the 15,000-strong United Nations Mission in Mali, MINUSMA has equally issued a similar statement, while Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, the ECOWAS chief mediator on the Mali crisis is expected to return to Bamako on Tuesday.
He was in Bamako last week, and in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, on Monday, attending a meeting for the reconstitution of the ECOWAS Council of the Wise on conflict management.
The Mali transitional government was put together following the 18th August 2020 military coup that ousted the government of elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The arrest and detention of trio took place hours after two military cabinet members were dropped in a government shake-up.
Malian civil society groups and the international community led by ECOWAS had insisted on a civilian-led Transition government, but latter endorsed the Transitional Military Council (TMC)-named government headed by retired Colonel Ndaw with the junta leader as his deputy and the military holding some key portfolios.
However, the Ndaw-led government remained under pressure from the civil society to ensure more inclusivity in its composition and transition programmes, which prompted the cabinet shuffle that brought in more non-state actors, including some members of the M5 Movement.
The M5 or June 5 Movement started the street protests that culminated in Keita’s ouster.
But according to diplomatic sources, President Ndaw and Prime Minister Ouane would appear to have angered the military over some key positions in the new cabinet.
The Kati military base is fast becoming synonymous with change of government in Mali. It was at the base that former President Keita was reportedly forced to sign his resignation in 2020, while a mutiny that started at the same base also resulted in the ouster of his predecessor President Amadou Toumani Toure in 2012.
Following Toure’s removal, the ethnic Tuareg, who had been fighting for self-determination in northern Mali, were able to seize about two-thirds of the country. But their rebellion was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamists who then tried to march on Bamako before French forces intervened to halt their advance in 2013.
Today, northern Mali is occupied by French forces and the MINUSMA and remains largely outside the control of the government in Bamako, although the Transitional government is understood to be negotiating with the Islamist Jihadist groups for an end to hostility and prison swaps.
The latest political tussle could compound the already bad security situation in Mali, which is notorious for chronic political instability characterized by military coups, tribal and religious conflicts, as well as separatist and militant Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS.
These terrorist groups operate mainly in Mali’s north and central regions from where they also launch deadly sporadic attacks on neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Mali also belongs to the G5 Sahel nations (Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania), supported by the EU and the U.S. in the fight against terrorism and Islamist insurgency.
In addition to the 15,000 UN mission, France also has some 4,500 troops based in northern Mali. But these have failed to stop the perennial instability in the country or end terrorism and Islamist insurgency in the Sahel.