Time is running out for Mali's interim leader Dioncounda Traore. His government failed to meet an ECOWAS deadline for the formation of a unity government. The West African body has extended the deadline by ten days.
In March this year, armed soldiers in Bamako overthrew the government of Amadou Toumani Toure, accusing his government of not doing enough to quell a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. The soldiers quickly set up a National Committee for Recovering Democracy and Restoring the State, with coup leader Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo as its chairman.
Tuareg separatists took advantage of the chaos in Bamako and seized control of almost the entire north, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. Militant groups active in the north include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine, an Islamist group which the US accuses of having links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Under pressure from regional body ECOWAS, Captain Sanogo handed over power to an interim civilian government under the leadership of Dioncounda Traore. Traore was given a deadline by ECOWAS to unite the country. However, violence broke out in the capital and Traore was severely beaten by pro-coup civilian protesters.
Need for 'a wider debate'
President Traore has now returned from France where he spent two months receiving medical treatment for head injuries. On his return, he announced on state television that he was going to fast track the formation of the unity government.
Traore immediately appointed two new deputies. The media interpreted this as a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, the man he had left in charge and who had made little progress. Some major political party members had already called for Diarra to resign. In an interview with DW, Diarra said he did not understand the speculation about his role.
"If I should be removed from power, the president would have said it clearly," Diarra said. "We have more important problems that we are trying to solve right now. When those problems have been solved, then we can see whether the prime minister should be ousted or not."
For Prime Minister Diarra, those important problems include the formation of a unity government. But analyst Issa N'Diaye, a political scientist at the University of Bamako, said that Traore's plans to take power into his own hands have nothing to do with unity and would only set the clock back. N'Diaye said Malians "had hoped that he (President Traore) would have learnt something from the crisis". He said that the "problems of Mali cannot be solved without introducing a wider debate, listening to the people and including every stakeholder". N'Diaye believes that President Traore has become "a prisoner of his party that does not want to let go of power".
Who speaks for the Tuareg?
Bringing all parties to to the negotiating table is a major challenge. Experts say there are too many vested interests. There are, for example, the soldiers who took part in the military coup, and who have the backing of some of the political parties. They accuse the government of not giving the army enough backing in the fight against Tuareg rebels in the north. Some pro-Sanogo supporters turned to violence, culminating in the physical attack against Traore. Amnesty International reported that soldiers loyal to the government were tortured.
David Zounmenou, who monitors the situation in Mali for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, says Sanogo is still clinging on to power, although the situation in the north has escalated as a result of the coup he spearheaded. Mali's constitution prohibits Sanogo from further politifcal activity, a point raised by the opponents of the coup, who have the support of large sections of the population.
Both sides appear to have reached a consensus that north and south Mali should be brought together again as a single state under a secular government. MNLA rebels have announced they will not participate in such a government and continue to call for their own independent state. David Zounmenou says the MNLA should not be seen as representaves of all the Tuaregs.
"There are Tuareg leaders who are in consultation with the government to be part of it," Zounmenou told DW.
The idea of a government of national unity does not mean every individual ethnic group should be represented. Instead, it should "reflect political ideas. Because if you extend government in the name of unity to every sector of a country you might end up having a government of a hundred ministers while the task that awaits them may not even be addressed," Zounmenou said.
Elections seen as the solution
In the medium term Zounmenou sees only one solution to Mali's political crisis. "Only elections can provide for a legitimate government, representative of the people that will really incarnate the unity of Mali." That's also the view of interim President Traore. To avoid conflict over personal interests, he has announced that neither he nor his two deputies will stand in the president elections.