Army colonel Assimi Goita now Mali's new military strongman

Colonel Assimi Goita speaks to the press at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali, on August 19, 2020 after confirming his position as the president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP).

Photo credit: Malik Konate | AFP

What you need to know:

  • There's still no word on what will happen to Mr Keita going forward.
  • The coup chiefs, meanwhile, called on the public to return to normal life.
  • They made no reference to the detained leaders or their whereabouts.

Army colonel Assimi Goita has been introduced as Mali's new military strongman after a mutiny forced President Boubacar Keita out of power. 

"Let me introduce myself, I am Colonel Assimi Goita, chairman of the National Committee for the salvation of the People," he said Wednesday.

He led the coup that ousted the president.

"Mali is in a situation of socio-political crisis. There is no more room for mistakes," Goita, surrounded by armed military men, told journalists.

His entourage told AFP that Goita, who is in his forties, had until now headed Mali's special forces based in the centre of the west African country, torn for the last five years by jihadist and sectarian violence.

There's still no word on what will happen to Mr Keita going forward.

Mounting pressure

Coup leaders in Mali faced mounting international pressure on Wednesday, a day after they ousted Mr Keita following months of protests. 

The African Union (AU) suspended Mali and joined Europe and the US in demanding the new-born junta free the 75-year-old president, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other leaders taken captive. 

The coup chiefs, meanwhile, called on the public to return to normal life, warned against acts of "vandalism" and threatened to punish any soldier found guilty of extortion.

But they made no reference to the detained leaders or their whereabouts.

The dramatic events in one of Africa's most volatile countries began early Tuesday, when rebel officers mutinied at a base near Bamako and headed into the city, where they detained Keita and Cisse. 

Hours later, Keita -- beset by angry protests over economic stagnation, corruption and a brutal Islamist insurgency -- announced his resignation.

He said he had been given no other choice but to quit, and sought to avoid bloodshed. 

Jubilant crowds had cheered the rebels on Tuesday as they arrived in the capital Bamako. 

There were few visible traces of those events on Bamako's streets on Wednesday -- troops had not been deployed en masse despite the coup leaders announcing a night-time curfew. 

Heading a growing chorus of criticism, the 55-nation AU blasted the "unconstitutional change of government" in Mali.

The bloc announced that it was suspending Mali -- -- a rare move that bars a member from attending all summits and meetings -- "until restoration of constitutional order." 

It also called for the release of Keita and other officials, a demand also made forcefully by Brussels and Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States "strongly condemns the August 18 mutiny in Mali as we would condemn any forcible seizure of power."

"The freedom and safety of detained government officials and their families must be ensured," he said.

The 15-nation West African bloc Ecowas, which had tried in vain to mediate in the long-running political crisis, also said it would suspend Mali from its internal decision-making bodies.

It pledged to close land and air borders to Mali and push for sanctions against "all the putschists and their partners and collaborators". 

The UN Security Council was due to hold emergency talks on the situation on Wednesday. 

'Take responsibility'

The coup leaders appeared on television overnight to pledge a political transition and new elections within a "reasonable time". 

Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff Ismael Wague said he and his fellow officers had "decided to take responsibility in front of the people and history". 

In a brief media appearance later, Wague said the junta -- the self-described National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) -- called on Malians to "resume their activities in a healthy manner."

Civil servants were "invited" to return to work on Thursday, he said.

He added that no people had died during the coup, despite unconfirmed reports of several deaths.

"The committee stresses that, during its operations, there were no deaths, contrary to certain allegations that talk of four dead and 10 injured," Wague said, repeating: "Zero deaths and zero injured."

Anti-jihadist fight 

French President Emmanuel Macron was among the first to condemn the mutiny -- Mali is the cornerstone of French-led efforts to roll back jihadists in the Sahel. 

Wague said "all past agreements" would be respected, including Mali's support for anti-jihadist missions such as the UN force in Mali (MINUSMA), France's Barkhane force, the G5 Sahel, and European special-forces initiative Takuba. 

The coup leaders also remain "committed to the Algiers process", a 2015 peace agreement between the Malian government and armed groups in the north of the country, he said. 

Swathes of Mali's territory are outside of the control of central authorities and years of fighting have failed to halt an Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since emerging in 2012. 

Protests

The failure to roll back the jihadists was a major factor in fuelling frustrations with Keita's rule, say analysts.

Tensions flared in April after the government held long-delayed parliamentary elections, the results of which are still disputed. 

A loose coalition of parties, grassroots groups and other organisations came together in the so-called June 5 Movement, united by the aim of getting Keita to resign.

But its campaign veered into crisis last month when 11 people were killed during three days of unrest sparked by a demonstration. 

Neither the movement nor its informal leader, imam Mahmoud Dicko, have yet reacted to the coup.