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Mali's military PM lashes out at France, UN

September 24, 2022

Malian Prime Minister Abdoulaye Maiga said the country had been "stabbed in the back" by Paris following the withdrawal of French troops. He also slammed UN chief Antonio Guterres over a spat with the Ivory Coast.

Malian interim Prime Minister Abdoulaye Maiga speaking at UN General Assembly
Malian interim Prime Minister Abdoulaye Maiga spoke at the UN General Assembly on SaturdayImage: Mary Altaffer/AP/picture alliance

Malian colonel and interim Prime Minister Abdoulaye Maiga lashed out at France on Saturday in comments made in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

Maiga said Bamako had been "stabbed in the back" by France's military withdrawal early this year. Paris maintained a military presence in the country between 2013 and 2022 in a bid to assist Mali in its fight with an Islamist insurgency.

Last month, Mali accused France of arming Islamist militants without providing evidence.

Maiga slams 'French junta'

Maiga condemned Paris for what he called a "unilateral decision" to transfer remaining forces to neighboring Niger, which is also grappling with Islamist militants, as is the case of much of the Sahel region that divides Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa.

France aborted the mission amid rapidly deteriorating ties with Mali's military government — which took power in 2020 and does not plan to hold elections until 2024, based on its current timetable — and as Mali's military called in Russian mercenary support. 

Mali's prime minister tried to turn the tables, however, repeatedly referring to France's government as "the French junta."

Maiga, an army colonel, was appointed interim prime minister by Assimi Goita, who took power in a military takeover in 2020, and then in another coup in 2021.

"The French junta has damaged universal values and betrayed its long tradition of humanistic thought," Mali's prime minister claimed, arguing that Paris had acted "in service of obscurantism" and engaged in "neocolonial, condescending, paternalistic and revanchist" politics.

"Move on from the colonial past and hear the anger, the frustration, the rejection that is coming up from the African cities and countryside, and understand that this movement is inexorable,'' Maiga said, addressing France.

The territory that now encompasses Mali was part of the colony of French West Africa until its independence in 1960.

"Your intimidations and subversive actions have only swelled the ranks of Africans concerned with preserving their dignity," he said.

Maiga also praised the "exemplary and fruitful cooperation between Mali and Russia." Western states have raised concerns around the presence in Mali of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, who have been accused of human rights violations.

Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in front of Malian and Russian flags
The Wagner Group began supplying Mali with hundreds of fighters in 2021Image: Alexander Shcherbak/dpa/picture alliance

Ivorian soldier row 'not within remit' of UN

The interim prime minister also criticized UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over his position on a row between Mali and the Ivory Coast.

Guterres said 46 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali were not "mercenaries," contrary to the claims from Bamako's military government.

Maiga snapped back at Guterres in his speech, arguing that the issue did not "fall within the remit of the secretary-general of the United Nations." He went on to threaten "legal consequences" for Guterres' statements, and reiterated Bamako's demand that the UN peacekeeping force in Mali be reformed.

Mali's prime minister accused Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acting president Umaro Sissoco Embalo of "mimicking" the UN's stance and "banalizing" ECOWAS. "It is important to stress to him that the secretary-general of the United Nations is not a head of state and the acting president of ECOWAS is not a state official."

ECOWAS has sanctioned and repeatedly criticized Mali in the aftermath of the 2020 coups, as the junta has made almost no progress in overseeing a transition back toward civilian government. It lifted the sanctions in July following the latest promise for an election in 2024.

Maiga also slammed a number of African leaders, including Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who he accused of not really being Nigerien, and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who he said had "preserved power for himself and his clan" by changing the constitution and allowing himself to govern for a third mandate.

Coup leader and interim President Assimi Goita sent Maiga to the UN General Assembly in his stead, staying home to attend an event commemorating Mali's independence from France. 

sdi/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)