Mali: The Shape of the Transition

Interim President of Mali
Mali’s interim President on his return to Bamako

Upon his return from Paris, where he spent two months recovering from the mob attacks that took place in the presidential palace on 21 May 2012, Mali’s Interim President Dioncounda Traore has set the tone for the political transition in Bamako.

A key challenge now is whether the political and the military elite will finally dump their personal ambitions and rally behind this initiative to restore peace and stability in Mali.

In his address to the nation on Sunday, President Traore defined the contours of the new political transition in his country to end the painful episodes that have characterised Mali since the downfall of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the resurgence of the Tuareg-led invasion.

His address to the nation came at a time when calls were being made for a structured political order in Bamako as the first step towards framing an effective response mechanism to the crisis. The address also came at a time many political actors called for the resignation of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, who is accused of failing to provide the decisive leadership needed for a successful political transition in Bamako.

A few days before the return of the interim president, the coalition of political parties opposed to the junta, Front uni pour la sauvegarde de la Democratie et de la Republique (the United Front for the Defence of Democracy and the Republic, FDR) issued a call for the resignation of the Prime Minister.

The coalition argued that Diarra failed to provide independent leadership and a strategic vision that could steer the process toward a successful outcome. The Prime Minister was accused of appointing officials close to the Junta to important portfolios including defence, national security and territorial administration. His decision to appoint as the only State Minister Sadio Lamine Sow, a former special adviser to Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, also came under fire.

Some observers believe that the Prime Minister was ‘managing’ both the head of the now defunct junta and the ECOWAS mediator (Compaore) to remain in power. They also indicated that Cheick Modibo Diarra has not been able to put in place a truly representative government of national unity as requested by the main national political actors and regional leaders. Indeed, it was his recent declaration that the interim President was ‘unfit to accept his resignation’ that was seen as a new potential threat and obstacle to the coherence and cohesion needed for the political transition to shape up.

In that sense, President Traore’s address to the nation sought to reassure Mali’s citizens about his commitment to effectively lead the country out of its current confusion. While reiterating his confidence in the national security agencies in terms of protecting state institutions and citizens, he suggested the creation of a number of transitional organs including a High Council of the State (Haut Conseil d’Etat), a Government of National Unity (GNU), a National Transitional Council (NTC) and a National Commission for Negotiations as key institutional pillars for the transition.

In essence, the decision to reconfigure the architecture of the transitional organs responds to three main concerns.

Firstly, it seeks to redefine the main centres of power, therefore the institutionalisation of a collegial decision-making framework (a president assisted by two vice-presidents), while extending the call to major political and social forces to join an inclusive government of national unity.

Secondly, it is a direct response to the looming conflict of interests and attributions between the presidency and the Prime Minister, which could have led to more unnecessary tension in the transition process.

Thirdly, the new configuration is expected to allow contribution from both domestic actors and regional authorities to political stabilisation, modalities for the negotiations and the defence of the territorial integrity of Mali.

It would be a mistake to view a GNU as the final answer to the crisis. The next challenge for the interim president is to mobilise local and international support for the completion of the transition plan. Also, it is essential to establish that his decision to reconfigure the transitional architecture is not necessarily directed against the prime minister, but rather meant to provide a government that responds to the problems affecting northern Mali.

The regional body, while acknowledging the role and the possible contribution of the junta, has also warned against any form of interference that would disrupt the political process. The softening of Captain Amadou Sanogo’s attitude towards the regional political and military initiatives is already a sign of a more constructive dynamic in the relations between the military and the political elite.

However, while waiting in anticipation for the GNU to be made public and the transition organs to become effective, the situation in the north remains precarious, with daily occurrences of serious human rights abuses by Arab terrorist invaders.