BAMAKO – The head of Mali’s military junta said Monday he will serve as the vice president in a transitional government that is supposed to bring about a return to democracy, more than a month after he led a coup to overthrow the president.
The move announced by Col. Assimi Goita himself on state television may be rejected by the international community, which has called for civilian leadership during the political transition and for the junta to be dissolved.
Goita said that retired Col. Maj. Bah N’Daw, 70, a former defense minister, has been named president of the transitional government, which is to be inaugurated on Sept. 25. Both positions were chosen by a transition committee selected by the junta that included its members and representatives of political parties, civil and religious groups.
The 15-nation West African region bloc known as ECOWAS had demanded that the president and prime minister in any transitional government must be civilians, not from the military junta. It was not immediately clear whether they would accept Goita as vice president as he would still hold a prominent role in government.
Already the regional group has closed borders to Mali and stopped financial flows to the country in the wake of the coup. It was not immediately clear what additional actions ECOWAS may take following Monday's announcement.
While ECOWAS has shown some flexibility in agreeing to an 18-month time frame for holding new elections, the regional organization has made it clear that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and prime minister were named. A president and vice president were named Monday, but there was no mention of a prime minister.
In making the announcement Monday on state broadcaster ORTM, Goita said that each transitional government proposal “has its advantages and disadvantages.”
“However, they need to be analyzed in a global context, taking into account the multidimensional crisis, and the functioning principles and international environment in which Malians operate," he said.
Mal’s political opposition staged weeks of public demonstrations against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita prior to his ouster in August. However, divisions between the opposition and the junta have begun to deepen, with the opposition condemning any attempt to have a military leader in the transitional government.
There has been widespread concern that the ongoing political upheaval in Mali will set back efforts to contain the country’s growing Islamic insurgency. After a similar coup in 2012, Islamic extremists grabbed control of major towns in northern Mali. Only a 2013 military intervention led by France pushed extremists out of those towns and the international community has spent seven years battling the militants.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.