Mali court appoints Assimi Goita as interim president

Coup leader’s appointment raises the stakes as West African leaders prepare to respond to the coup in Mali.

Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian military government, attends the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) consultative meeting in Accra, Ghana September 15, 2020. [Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]
Court says Assimi Goita would 'lead the transition process to its conclusion' and carry the title of 'president of the transition, head of state' [File: Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]

Mali’s constitutional court has named the colonel who led a military coup this week as the country’s new interim leader.

The ruling, issued late on Friday, said Assimi Goita would “lead the transition process to its conclusion” and carry the title of “president of the transition, head of state”.

The court said it had made the decision due to the “vacancy in the presidency” following the resignation of caretaker President Bah Ndaw.

Goita, 38, was previously Ndaw’s deputy, and had ordered the former leader’s arrest on Monday following a cabinet reshuffle that stripped two soldiers of their ministerial posts.

Ndaw resigned while in detention on Wednesday and was later released.

Friday’s ruling raised the stakes as West African leaders prepared to meet on Sunday to decide how they would respond to the takeover, which regional and Western governments fear could could exacerbate instability in northern and central Mali and undermine a regional fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

Goita’s power grab is his second in less than a year.

Last August, the young colonel led a coup that deposed Mali’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita amid protests against perceived corruption and the government’s failure to quell armed groups. But faced with the threat of regional sanctions, Goita and other coup leaders agreed to hand over power to a transitional government that would steer the country back to civilian rule.

The colonel was then appointed vice president of the interim government and his fellow soldiers were given key cabinet posts.

At the time, mediators from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) insisted that Mali’s transition, which is due to end with elections in February, remain civilian-led. The bloc stipulated in a joint declaration that the vice president of the transition “cannot under any circumstances replace the president”.

ECOWAS heads of state are due to meet in Ghana on Sunday.

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Mali’s capital, Bamako, said Goita’s appointment as interim president was a “long time coming”.

Ndaw’s detention on Monday lifted any illusions of a civilian-led transition, said Haque, while the constitutional court’s ruling made clear that “the real strongman of Mali is Assimi Goita”.

“In the run-up to this announcement, Goita has been meeting religious leaders, union leaders, the opposition in a bid to rally them to his cause,” said Haque. “So this court ruling does not come as a surprise.”

Goita, however, still has to deal with the looming threat of regional sanctions, the correspondent added.

Earlier on Friday, the colonel made his first public remarks since his latest power grab and said the military had had little choice but to intervene.

“We had to choose between disorder and cohesion within the defence and security forces and we chose cohesion,” he said.

He added that he would name a new prime minister from among the members of the M5-RFP coalition, which led protests against Keita last year and fell out with Ndaw and Ouane during the transition.

Jeamille Bitar, a member of the coalition, said its pick for the post would be Choguel Maiga, a former government minister.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies