President Sanogo?

The preoccupation in Bamako lately is what will happen on Tuesday, May 22. That’s the day when Mali’s constitutionally mandated interim period ends, and the 40-day term of office of Dioncounda Traoré, the man who’s been serving as interim president, expires.

By law, the interim period is intended for the president to organize new elections, an outcome ruled out by Mali’s de facto partition since early April. So what next? Yesterday I listened to a panel of local jurists on a radio talk show discuss what Mali’s constitution calls for in this case, and whether it would allow Dioncounda to remain as interim president in the absence of new elections. I came away fully edified on two points: One, there’s no legal consensus on either question; Two, local jurists cannot discuss these questions without shouting at each other. Those favorable to Dioncounda (and therefore, in the eyes of many Bamakois, favorable to the country’s ancien régime) say the constitution clearly allows him to stay on, while those hostile to him say this is a legal impossibility.

If not Dioncounda as president during the upcoming transitional period, then who? A number of Malians are in favor of seeing Captain Amadou Sanogo, the leader of Mali’s military junta, assume the presidency. Spokesmen for the junta have said that the army is the only “neutral umpire” capable of guiding the transition. On the BBC’s “Network Africa” program this morning, correspondent Martin Vogl echoed statements we’ve been hearing for days in the Malian press: “It’s absolutely certain that there’s a faction within the junta that want Captain Sanogo to take over.”

That faction may or may not include Captain Sanogo himself, who has been characteristically cagey on the question. In an interview televised on ORTM Saturday evening, journalist Youssouf Touré asked Sanogo (at the 17:45 mark), “Are you a candidate to be president of the transition?”

“That makes me laugh a bit,” Sanogo responded with a chuckle. “I believe that on March 22 [the date of the coup d’état in which the junta toppled President Amadou Toumani Touré from power] I specified something to my people — who are the most important, the Malian people…. We came with motivations. To remake a worthy, republican army. To face up to our major challenges. These are my objectives, the rest matters little to me.”

The interviewer asked a few minutes later, “So Captain Sanogo is not a candidate to be president of the transition?”

Sanogo replied “If you say ‘candidate’ it’s as though there are elections. But in any case I have my priorities.”

The interviewer later asked, “You made a declaration at a certain moment, you said ‘After the 40 days of the transition, not a moment more, I will take my responsibilities.’ How do you analyze that sentence? What does it mean?”

Sanogo’s answer: “That sentence was quite simple. ‘After the 40 days, not an hour more, sans quoi je prendrai mes responsabilités.’ ‘Taking my responsibilities,’ it’s coming back to the accord-cadre [the agreement signed on April 6 between the junta and ECOWAS]. Whatever doesn’t come out of the accord-cadre, I’m not for it. It’s a document that was established by consensus between the committee and ECOWAS, I don’t see any reason one or the other party would deviate from it. That’s the reason.”

Interviewer: “And if somehow after the 40 days, there’s still no president of the transition on whom you can agree, can you imagine what that will mean?”

Sanogo: “The Malian people will decide on that. Who will be their president.”

Interviewer: “You’re awaiting their answer?”

Sanogo: “I’m awaiting the people’s answer.”

[You can find a transcript of the interview in French provided by Info Matin.]

Since the accord-cadre was signed last month, Sanogo has used it to justify everything he’s done. The problem is that this agreement is unclear on what happens after the 40-day period, just as it’s unclear on what role the junta should play going forward. It was never intended to be a definitive document, merely the framework for further negotiations. ECOWAS mediators and foreign governments do not share Sanogo’s interpretation of this text. What does he mean when he says the Malian people will decide? Which people, exactly? How will their decision be made? Who determines which candidates will be up for the people’s consideration?

One of the ways Sanogo has appealed to Malians thus far is by appearing to be both outside and above politics. When he hides behind the vague accord-cadre and refuses to speak clearly about his intentions, however, he is merely playing politics. The question is whether he realizes this, or whether he maintains a messianic vision of himself as the man who will save Mali from its politicians.

So the question of who will be Mali’s interim president remains. ECOWAS negotiators left Mali on Saturday after days of talks with the junta failed to resolve the issue. They are scheduled to return tomorrow for further negotiations. Meanwhile Captain Sanogo has called for a national convention to determine who will be president. Bamakois are holding their breath, hoping the resolution will be a peaceful one.

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12 Responses to President Sanogo?

  1. cathy says:

    I’m holding my breath as well – can’t decide if I want to be optimistic or pessimistic or realistic for the return of normalcy in Bamako. Thanks again for the update.

  2. Steve says:

    Hi Bruce – I am really appreciating your blog. After reading this post, I re-read the Accord cadre. I can’t understand where the conviction comes from that the interim President must change after 40 days. The Accord seems to say (Chapter II, Article 4) that the interim President is charged with organising elections within a 40-day period but (in Chapter III, Article 5) that this timeframe is not realistic, yet it is still necessary to ensure a “political transition” leading to free, democratic and transparent elections. Is this “political transition” being interpreted to mean that the interim President must change after 40 days? This seems a stretch. The Constitution links the 40-day period to elections, and since the elections will not happen in that timeframe, it seems strange to me that the common interpretation is that the interim President still must change. Any thoughts?

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      There is no common interpretation, at least not in Bamako! Sanogo and his men, along with parties like SADI, have done all they can to muddy the waters, introducing readings of the accord-cadre and the constitution that are dubious but are nonetheless gaining support simply because Sanogo articulates them. I think part of the problem is also that the 1992 constitution didn’t really make provisions for a crisis of the severity Mali is currently undergoing.

  3. Hi Bruce,
    Apart from the fact that Sanogo definitely doesn’t want Dioncounda to stay on, it is difficult to see what exactly he has in mind for the post-transition period.
    In the earlier ‘grand interview’ on Africable on May 6, on the question of the post-40day period, Sanogo said something which may indicate his line of thought (from 11’57” on) though: “Pour ce qui concerne l’interim, je vous dis hein, c’est pas une personne que je vois, mais moi je vois plutot une structure” (“As the interim-period is concerned, I tell you, I don’t see a person, I rather see a structure”). In the sentences before and after this statement, he says in so many words that he considers the transition-period with an appointed president more or less as a waste of time and a hindrance to solving the real problem in the North. This could implicate that he wants to go for a ‘president-less’ interim-period, during which the junta would be heading the Malian state. In such a scenario, Sanogo as the head of this junta, would de facto be in power but would not assume the title of president.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I think what you describe is a quite possible outcome — given his record so far, Sanogo seems to have a penchant for “third way” solutions that satisfy his negotiating partners but leave him with a great deal of power behind the scenes. The interim-sans-president approach would be one such solution.

  4. stephenwooten1964 says:

    thanks for this rich post, bruce. is capt. sanogo still sporting his hunter’s shirt, baton and/or USMC pin these days?

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      He’s still got the stick, but has notably dropped the USMC pin over the last week or two, and I haven’t caught a glimpse of any dozofini on him since late March.

  5. Thanks, Bruce, for all your insights. We keep a close watch with you. In regards to marabouts and hidden amulets, we have heard stories about some of the rebels in the north being mysteriously made to fall ill or be unable to sleep or go a bit crazy. Do you think this is only another rumor, or have you heard anything about this actually happening? Mali fura can be very powerful, but I have not seen any kind of reports substantiating the stories. Either way, the whole problem is very disconcerting with the amount of refugees in the north and the war crimes being reported. If Sanogo does indeed stay on, I hope he allows troops up north to claim back Malian soil.
    Thank and best wishes to your family.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Hi Alli – here’s an article from the Bamako press on that subject:
      As for confirmation, though, I’m skeptical of these stories, what can I say?

      • Thank you! Obviously, it is going to take a whole lot more than some Mali fura to fix the situation in Mali at this point. The news today is not looking good; jobs are being lost and with no money coming in, life as the Malians have known it for so long is really coming to a certain change. My brother-in-law was told today that when the money in the bank runs out, there is no more work at his company where hundreds of Bamakois work. Without the incoming support of aid agencies, thousands will be without jobs, food, and basic necessities. If the sanctions are imposed again, life will get more and more difficult in Mali. As Cathy in the first response says above, it is hard to know if we should be “optimistic or pessimistic or realistic.” Do you think there is anything that the average citizen in Mali can do? It seems so far out of their hands at this point.

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