Mali strongman vows to honour 'all commitments,' stage elections

·3-min read

Malian strongman Colonel Assimi Goita vowed to honour his country's commitments and reaffirmed the goal of staging elections by next February as he was sworn in as transitional president on Monday following his second coup in less than a year.

The closely-watched ceremony in Bamako came after Goita, who headed a coup last August, ousted the civilian president and prime minister of a transitional government on May 24.

In doing so, he sparked diplomatic uproar and deepened fears of chaos in a country key to efforts to stem the jihadist insurgency sweeping the Sahel.

"I swear before God and the Malian people to preserve the republican regime... to preserve democratic gains," said Goita, who was dressed in full military regalia.

"I would like to reassure sub-regional, regional organisations and the wider international community that Mali will uphold all its commitments, for and in the higher interest of the nation," Goita said.

He also stood by staging "credible, fair and transparent elections according to the scheduled dates" -- a reference to the February 2022 deadline set by the transitional government.

Dozens of army officers were in the audience and enthusiastic clapping broke out at some points during Goita's speech, while troops in combat gear were visible in the background.

Goita replaces a civilian president, Bah Ndaw, whom he forced out last month along with Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.

Ndaw and Ouane had been key to demands that the latest military takeover in the chronically coup-prone country would be short-lived.

They were named as head of an interim government that would steer Mali back to full civilian rule.

- Anger -

After they were booted out on May 24, Mali's regional partners reacted with anger but fell short of reimposing the sanctions that had levered the junta into accepting the interim government.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and African Union (AU) suspended Mali, while France froze joint military operations with Malian forces.

The former colonial power has 5,100 troops stationed in the Sahel to help fight jihadist violence that erupted in Mali in 2012 and now threatens the region.

Maintaining its international partnerships, not least with France, is crucial for Mali, one of the world's poorest countries and whose security forces suffer from poor equipment and training.

Under pressure to return to the February 2022 trajectory to civilian rule,

Goita is expected to name as his prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga, a former minister and member of the M5 protest movement.

The M5 helped to force out former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last August following mass protests over perceived corruption and a bloody jihadist insurgency.

The movement became sidelined in the first post-coup administration, which was dominated by mililtary figures.

But there has been a noticeable rapprochement between the military and the M5 since the events of May 24.

Maiga, 63, is close to religious leader Mahmoud Dicko, who has repeatedly spoken in favour of negotiating with the jihadists -- a position ferociously opposed by France.

But on Friday, Maiga insisted his country would abide by its international obligations and paid tribute to French troops who have died in the country.

bur-sd-ah-siu/ri

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