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.