Mali’s interim president and prime minister resigned yesterday, two days after they were arrested by the military, an aide to the vice president said, deepening a political crisis and potentially setting up a standoff with international powers.
President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were taken to a military base outside the capital on Monday after a cabinet reshuffle in which two officers lost their posts.
The intervention led by Vice President Assimi Goïta has jeopardised Mali’s transition back to democracy after a coup in August overthrew former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. It has provoked international condemnation and raised fears that a political crisis in Bamako could affect regional security.
Goïta, a colonel, also orchestrated last year’s coup. He has promised that elections planned for next year will go ahead.
“The president and his prime minister have resigned. Negotiations are ongoing for their liberation and the formation of a new government,” said Baba Cissé, an aide to Goïta, in comments sent by the military to Reuters.
The resignations came as a delegation from Ecowas visited Mali to press the military to back down.
During a meeting late on Tuesday with Goïta, the delegation, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, raised the possibility of sanctions against the officers responsible for the takeover, according to a military official who was present.
It had been due to meet Ndaw and Ouane on Wednesday, but it was not immediately clear if that had happened.
It is not clear if Ecowas would be satisfied with a replacement president and prime minister, or if it will insist on Ndaw and Ouane being reinstated. Ecowas and other powers want a civilian-led transition to democracy to continue.
Ecowas imposed sanctions, including border closures, on Mali after the coup in August before lifting them when Goïta’s junta agreed to an 18-month, civilian-led transition.
Other sanctions could follow. Emmanuel Macron, president of former colonial power France, said on Tuesday he was prepared to impose targeted sanctions over what he called “a coup within a coup”. The European Union’s foreign policy chief also threatened sanctions.
Mali’s neighbours and international powers fear the crisis could further destabilise a country that Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State have used as a launch pad for attacks across the region.
Goïta defended his actions on Tuesday, saying the president and prime minister had violated the transitional charter by failing to consult him about the new cabinet.
He also accused the government of mishandling social tensions in Mali, including a strike last week by the main union. The union said on Tuesday it would suspend the strike in light of the political crisis.