Former Mali Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane named transitional PM

The choice of a civilian opens the way for Mali’s neighbours to lift sanctions imposed after a military coup in August.

Malian Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane
Moctar Ouane served as Mali’s foreign minister in 2004-2009 during Amadou Toumani Toure's presidency [File: Mohamed Messara/EPA]

Mali’s interim President Bah Ndaw has named former Malian Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane as prime minister.

The appointment on Sunday opens the way for the country’s neighbours to lift sanctions imposed after its August military coup.

A civilian premier was the precondition for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to lift sanctions it imposed two days after the August 18 coup removing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, which the military government claimed inflicted no casualties.

A veteran diplomat, Ouane, 64, served as Mali’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1995-2002, and as foreign minister from 2004-2009 during Amadou Toumani Toure’s presidency.

Ndaw himself is a former colonel and defence minister, and was sworn in before Mali’s supreme court on Friday with military government chief Assimi Goita as his deputy.

The military government promised to return the country to civilian rule after a transition period lasting up to 18 months.

Members of Ouane’s government will be unveiled on Tuesday, an officer from the military told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

Ouane has served as peace and security representative for the West African Monetary Union (WAMU) since 2016.

He is originally from Bidi in central Mali, the region most affected by armed groups’ attacks and inter-ethnic violence that have racked the country for years.

Before the coup, former President Keita had faced months of protests against his failure to end the violence or to lift the country out of a grinding economic and institutional crisis.

Lifting sanctions

ECOWAS had said on Friday that it would lift its sanctions against Mali only “when a civilian prime minister is appointed”.

Speaking from Dakar, Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque said that Ouane was the first civilian in a position of leadership, making him “key to ensuring that this government in transition is successful in the eyes of the international community and west African heads of state who have imposed sanctions that have been crippling the economy”.

Haque said Ouane would have to address the wide-ranging grievances in Mali.

“In concrete terms, it means, opening up schools again, paying teachers, ensuring there is enough money in state coffers for hospitals to function again, that there is electricity and water where the state has so often been absent,” Haque said.

While the security and defence will remain the responsibility of the president and vice president, “getting the state back on track will be in the hands of this new prime minister,” he added.

Fearing a lasting power grab by the military, ECOWAS has also demanded that the vice president not be permitted to replace the president under any circumstances.

It also called for people arrested since the coup, including former Prime Minister Boubou Cisse, to be released.

Interim President Ndaw tried to reassure ECOWAS at his swearing-in ceremony on Friday, expressing “Malians’ determination to carry out a stable, peaceful and successful transition under the agreed conditions and timetable”.

“I will never be happier than when handing over to the future elected president, without question elected and elected cleanly,” he added, saying a transition plan hammered out in three days of talks this month would be his “prayer book”.

So far, the plan’s exact contents have not been made public.