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Army figures retain key roles in Mali ministerial reshuffle

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Transitional Mali President Bah Ndaw arrives for the Summit on the Financing of African Economies at the Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, on May 18, 2021. (Photo by Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP)

Mali’s interim government on Monday appointed new ministers with army figures retaining key portfolios despite growing criticism over their role in the West African state.

Military officers will head the ministries of defence, security, territorial administration and national reconciliation in the new government, the national broadcaster said.

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The war-torn country’s interim government pledged on May 14 to appoint a new “broad-based” cabinet, amid growing anger over the prominence of military figures and the slowness of promised reforms.

In August, army officers ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was under pressure for his handling of Mali’s jihadist insurgency.

The military junta, threatened by international sanctions, later handed power to a caretaker government that pledged to reform the constitution and stage elections within 18 months.

Putschists and men with military links retained powerful roles in this interim government, however.

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Coup leader Assimi Goita is currently serving as interim vice president, and the interim president, Bah Ndaw, is a retired army officer.

In the new government of 25 ministers, the military kept the strategic portfolios they controlled during the previous administration.

However, two members of the junta — ex-defence minister Sadio Camara and ex-security minister Colonel Modibo Kone — have been replaced.

Brigadier General Souleymane Doucoure was appointed defence minister, and Major General Mamadou Lamine Ballo security minister.

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Growing pressure
An official at Mali’s interim presidency, who requested anonymity, said the reshuffle was designed to send a message that “respect for the transition deadline remains the priority”.

He also underscored the necessity of replacing the defence and security ministers.

“They are not emblematic figures of the junta,” the official said, referring to the newly appointed generals.

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The reshuffle comes at a time of growing political contestation in the capital Bamako, and pressure to stick to the reform deadline.

The interim government announced last month it would hold a constitutional referendum on October 31, with elections to follow in February next year.

But the pledge has spurred many doubts as to whether the military-dominated government has the will, or the ability, to stage votes on such a timescale.

The country also faces a major logistical and security challenge, as swathes of territory are in the hands of jihadists.

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Divided opposition
In a sign of mounting frustrations, the opposition M5 movement — which spearheaded anti-Keita protests — this month called for the dissolution of the interim government, demanding “a more law-abiding and more legitimate” body.

But the M5 is divided. Two members of the Union for the Republic and Democracy party, for example, were appointed interim ministers Monday. The party is part of the M5.

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As well as political feuding, Mali is also currently wracked by other disputes.

The country’s largest union, UNTM, called the second week of strikes Monday after pay negotiations with the interim government collapsed.

As a result of the latest changes to the government, five women now have ministerial portfolios as opposed to four under the previous administration.

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