Is Mali back to square one after the arrest of President and Prime Minister?

Finally, there seemed to be a way out of chaos for Mali. Soldiers deprived President Keïta last year and promised, after years of violence and advancing jihadism, to return power to the people. But since yesterday, the West African country seems to be back to square one. The military arrested the Prime Minister and President of the Interim Government on behalf of the Vice President. How now?

After their arrest, President Ndaw and Prime Minister Ouane were taken to a military base near the capital Bamako. A few hours earlier, changes had been made to the interim cabinet. Two senior soldiers involved in the previous coup were expelled from the government: Minister of Homeland Security Kone and the Minister of Defence Camara.

The arrests of the President and Prime Minister have not yet led to disturbances. It was quiet in Bamako this morning, reporting news agencies AP and Reuters. This afternoon, Vice President Goita said that he had ordered the deposition of Ndaw and Ouane, according to Reuters.

He

said they had not consulted with him about the changes in the cabinet and thus violated the agreements. Goita, a colonel, led the coup against former President Keita.

The current situation underlines that the way out of the ongoing crisis in Mali is far from smooth. Immediately after the coup d‘état by the army, in August last year, there was cautious optimism again in the country for the first time in years. It is, of course, a coup d’état and that is unconstitutional, said Mirjam de Bruijn, professor of Africanism at Leiden University, after that coup. She was in Bamako then.

The military gave a very clear analysis of the situation in Mali. That gives hope. The people I speak to had not hoped for a coup d‘état. But now that it has happened, they say: ‘Maybe this was a good solution, ‘De Bruijn said.

Tricky job

In September, the interim government was commissioned to work towards free elections. Under international pressure, the junta had transferred power to Ndaw, a retired colonel, who started a difficult job. He had to meet with several political groups, all of which fought for more influence, while at the same time keeping the military happy.

He got a year and a half for the job. After more than half a year, it seems already gone wrong, although Vice-President Goita stressed in his press statement today that the aim remains to organise elections next year.

Meanwhile, the international community is looking at developments in the country with concern. A delegation from the association of West African countries ECOWAS is arriving today in Bamako in an attempt to calm down. ECOWAS also played an important role in the establishment of the interim government.

The European Union, the United States and the United Nations have demanded the immediate release of Ndaw and Ouane. EU foreign chief Borrell threatens sanctions against those who stand in the way of the change’.

Jihadist groups associated with terrorist groups al-Qaeda and IS greatly benefit from the disorder in Mali. For example, at the military coup in 2012, jihadists took over large parts of the country.

The extremists want to establish a caliphate in the region:

An intervention in 2013 led by France, which still maintains strong ties with the former colony, could somewhat stop the advance. Dutch soldiers were also active in Mali, between 2014 and 2019.

In recent years, extremists have resumed and expanded their influence in the north and middle of the country, as well as in neighbouring countries Burkina Faso and Niger. Experts expect groups to grow stronger only if instability persists in Mali.