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Col. Assimi Goita and ECOWAS

Mali, a poor west-African country, is notorious for anti-constitutional change of government at the centre. Coup d’etat often happened with grave socio-economic political consequencies for the nation. Democracy had demonstrated its weaknesses and strenght with the former having more impact on the lives of the people. Since flag independence from France in 1960 Mali has had to deal with democratic inadequacies and institutional failures akin to Nigeria.

Close to a month now a mutiny emanating from the Kati army barrack, few kilometers from Bamako, had soon degenerated transforming itself into a coup against the democratically-elected President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita (IBK). A relatively unknown soldier, Colonel Assimi Goita, had realised a bloodless change in government at the zenith of power.

The dethroned President, a septuagenarian, was inside the presidential palace in the capital city with his ex-Prime Minister when the Goita gang came in, encountering no resistance whatsoever, and effecting their arrest! The two executive heads of government were taken to the Kati garrison town and detained.

IBK had been in power for six years well into his second tenure. His presidential stewardship was nothing to write home about; it was one fraught with corruption, nepotism, and social and economic hardship much like that of President Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria. When the gargantuan insecurity situation (brought about by the jihadist elements) was added to the governmental failure then his regime was fundamentally flawed and weakened.

Prior to the popular putsch the fallen Head of state had been confronted with opposition from the streets. An organised group of opposition forces including political parties, civil society groups and religious bodies had regrouped under the banner of the Movement of 5 June/Patriotic Forces Group (M5-RFP) organizing demonstrations on the streets and calling for IBK’s downfall.

Following these street protests that sometimes turned violent and bloody the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had appointed a special envoy (Nigeria’s ex-President Goodluck Jonathan) to go for mediation. But his efforts came to nought since the forces at play wanted nothing less than IBK’s resignation.

Led by the charismatic Imam Mahmoud Dicko –whom the deposed President had described as a marabout in desperate search of an islamic republic — the M5-RFP had eroded the legitimacy of IBK rendering him open for any extra-constitutional attack.

Colonel Assimi Goita, alias ‘ Asso’, is a 37 year-old former Commander of the Malian Special Forces that operated in the centre and north of the country where terrorism was more in vogue. He was trained at home and abroad including attending military formations in Gabon, France, Germany and the United States.

The young military officer struck at the right time. And despite the initial regional and international condemnations that trailed the IBK overthrow the putsch remained a popular one as Malians celebrated the fall of an old man whose son, now exiled in Cote d’Ivoire, Karim Keita, was accused of usurping power.

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Like Karim Wade, the son of the former President of Senegal, Abdoulaye, Karim Keita became influential as his father ruled Mali uneasily. A businessman before being elected as a legislator he came back home from Belgium and Canada after his academic pursuits establishing two companies, one hiring cars and the other investment counsels.

Following the coup d’etat ECOWAS issued an ultimatum to the junta to release and reinstate the incarcerated President. Economic sanctions were imposed. The stupid demand of Keita reinstatement ended when the deposed President himself declared that he was no longer interested in the presidency of his country.

He was later released and now he is receiving treatment for a minor stroke in a hospital in the UAE.

Now ECOWAS leaders are adamant in seeing a transition of twelve months period led by a civilian President and Prime Minister. The Presidents of the sub-region met recently in Ghana with the junta leaders and their demands were reiterated unambiguously. The junta is proposing a transition period of 18 months to be led by a civilian or military personality.

There are confusing signs from Bamako even before the departure of the junta leaders for Ghana. Some political groups had claimed that what they debated during the recent consultation forums organized by the putshists and agreed upon were watered down to favour the army boys.

The major problem in Mali is more of a failure of leadership than the coming of the soldiers. Soldiers would not try to intervene in a democratic process if the politicians are doing the normal thing. But when corruption, cronyism, favouritism and cult of personality set in then the way is opened forth for an intervention from military quarters.

Whether Col. Assimi Goita succeeds in heading the transitional period leading to the re-establishment of democracy is not more important than doing the needful to reset Mali on the path of progress. Besides, the terrorism threat is another reason why order is needed to put the terrorists out of business.

ECOWAS must take its responsibility by helping Mali to regain her lost ‘innocence’. It is incongruous to imagine that Presidents Alassane Ouattara and Alpha Conde were the most vociferous against the Keita ouster. These leaders have succeeded in making third term fashionable in the sub-region by their crafty constitutional manoeuvrings to remain in power perpetually.

Now that the godfather of coup plotters in Mali, Moussa Traore, 83, had died it remains to be seen where future coupists would go for inspiration and motivation in Mali. Colonel Goita may well be the last soldier to rise to power in Mali by martial accident. Let him be given the chance to ‘enjoy’ the fruit of his audacity.

AUTHOR: SOC Okenwa…


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