"I introduce myself: I am Colonel Assimi Goita, president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People." With these words the mystery of who would be the new leader was revealed de facto in Mali after the coup on Tuesday and the forced resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, still held by the putschists. An Army officer, in his 40s, Goita was until now the head of the Malian Special Forces based in the turbulent central region of the country, with extensive experience of fighting against jihadists and with good international connections. However, it is only the visible head of a hit in which little has been left to improvisation.
The Economic Community of West African States (Cedeao) insists on calling for the release of the president and prime minister and even for them to be reinstated in their positions. Despite this, the presidents of the region are aware that although their first demand will eventually be achieved, the second is nothing short of impossible. A high-level delegation negotiates in Bamako with the coup plotters more realistic issues, such as the transition roadmap and who will be the man to lead a process to the Sudanese, with power in the hands of a national council made up of civilians and military, which will lead to free elections.
Goita is surrounded by a certain aura of a war hero. As soon as his name was known, information began to circulate on social networks about his participation, in 2012, in the battle of Tinzawatene against the Tuareg rebels, in which he was arrested by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). "We do know for a fact that he was in Boulikessi in 2019 and that he fought there against the jihadists," says researcher Marc André Boisvert, an expert in the Malian Army. In this confrontation, one of the worst blows suffered by the Armed Forces of this country, the radicals managed to occupy a military post for a few hours and some 85 soldiers died.
But the president of the military junta did not act alone. The first reference to who his companions were, the family photo of the coup plotters, was their public appearance in a television studio less than 24 hours after the start of the military coup. Along with Goita are four other officers, all colonels, Malick Diaw, Sadio Camara, Modibo Kolé and Ismael Wagué. More or less the same age, some of the same class, friends with each other, with a history Warrior and all in the second line of the hierarchical structure of the Army of Mali. They are not the generals, but they are very close to the high command.
Unlike the last and chaotic coup in Mali in 2012, in which different bodies of the Armed Forces fought each other, this time there was no armed resistance of any kind. It is not clear yet whether this was due to the rapid arrest of certain generals or if, on the contrary, the unanimity was complete and they preferred to let lower-ranking officers take the risk of taking the lead in the riot.
In the opinion of Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), this has been a "well executed" coup. “It suggests that there was one or more thinking heads behind it. Many rumors circulate about the collusion of generals and even some unconfirmed names. But in any case we are not talking about amateurs, but from people with a deep knowledge of how the State and the international community work, ”he says.
Two facts confirm this thesis. In the first place, Keita was not only forced to resign but was forced to sign the dissolution of Parliament. This annulled the possibility for the president or vice president of the National Assembly to assume power in the event of a vacuum, as provided by law. Second, once they verified the absence of internal resistance and that they had power in their hands, the coup plotters rushed to reassure the international community by guaranteeing respect for the agreements and commitments signed and promising a process of transition towards democracy. through free and transparent elections.
"These coup plotters are not much like previous generations of lone wolves," says Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute and an expert on the Sahel. “It is more about a well-organized group riding the wave of popular protest. It remains to be seen what their links are with the popular movement June 5 (M5) and if they have international support or from certain powers to survive in the face of the coming round of African and Western sanctions ”, he advances.
The unanimous logic of the condemnations of international organizations, which cannot show any fissures, at least formal, in the face of such a flagrant breach of the constitutional order, contrasts with the signs of euphoria and the general satisfaction with which the Malian population has lived through this process . In fact, coup leaders and leaders of the June 5 popular movement maintained contacts prior to the putsch, which does not mean that there was coordination. "I don't think they were aware," adds Theroux-Benoni, "in fact the M5 took a long time to take an official position," which turned out to be favorable to the coup. As this expert considers, the unity of this heterogeneous movement will be put to the test from now on given the disparity of ideologies and objectives of its members. "They were only joined by their demand for the resignation of President Keita, but he is gone."
Similar opinion defends Sambe. “The hardest part of a coup comes after its protagonists are hailed as liberators. Even the leaders of the M5 are going to find themselves faced with the reality of the daily management of power and the problems that they themselves have brought to light during the months of demonstrations. Now they will have to find sustainable solutions in front of a street that has its urgencies and cannot wait any longer ”, assures the researcher.
An army in the process of reform
In 2012, the Malian Army looked more like a disorganized gang of gunmen responding to different bosses without much coordination with each other. There were so many different uniforms that the first measure taken during the French military intervention was to sew shields to their clothing to be able to identify them and not end up dying under friendly fire. But things have changed. "There has been an enormous reform job of this army since 2014 but for a profound change to take place it takes at least 15 years, six is not enough," says Boisvert, who has just presented his doctoral thesis on the Armed Forces of Mali (FAMA).
The first change is their number, it has gone from 12,000 troops eight years ago to almost 25,000 today. The tactical and strategic level has also improved and in this the European Union training mission (EUTM), in which some 200 Spanish soldiers participate, has played an important role. “However, there is a deeper problem of military doctrine, of philosophy. This is manifested for example in respect for Human Rights. In an asymmetric war you must have the support of the population ”, adds Boisvert. The FAMAs have been singled out, even in United Nations reports, for having committed massacres and extrajudicial executions. “There has to be a military justice for these actions to be punished. And in the case of Mali either it does not exist or it is not effective ”, adds the expert.