Malian strongman Colonel Assimi Goita returned home on Monday after West African leaders condemned a recent coup that cemented his grip on power and tasked him with naming a new prime minister.
Dozens of supporters greeted Goita on his arrival, an AFP journalist said.
At a crisis summit in Ghana, the ECOWAS leaders condemned a recent coup — the second in nine months — but stopped short of reimposing sanctions on the volatile Sahel country.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to suspend Mali from the 15-nation bloc.
And the regional leaders urged Goita, an ex-special forces commander, to appoint a new civilian prime minister and to form a new “inclusive government”.
J. Peter Pham, a former US envoy to the Sahel, said that ECOWAS had acquiesced to a “fait accompli” and had tacitly recognised Goita as the head of state.
The colonel first came to international attention on August 18, when he led the army officers who overthrew Mali’s elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita for perceived corruption and his failure to quell a bloody jihadist insurgency.
After the takeover, the military agreed to appoint civilians as interim president and prime minister under pressure from ECOWAS.
But in a move that provoked a diplomatic uproar, soldiers last week detained transitional president Bah Ndaw and prime minister Moctar Ouane, releasing them on Thursday while saying that they had resigned.
Mali’s constitutional court completed Goita’s rise to full power on Friday by naming him, transitional president.x
The United States and Mali’s former colonial master France have both threatened sanctions in response to the second coup.
ECOWAS refrained from doing so, despite having imposed a trade and financial embargo on Mali after the coup in August.
Nor did the West African bloc call for the reinstatement of transitional president Bah Ndaw.
ECOWAS is still pushing for Mali to transition to civilian rule under a previously agreed timetable, however.
The bloc suspended Mali from ECOWAS until February 2022, “when they are supposed to hand over to a democratically elected government,” Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said after the meeting.
Mali’s junta said last week that it would continue to respect that timetable, but noted that it could be subject to change.
With the junta going back on its previous commitment to civilian political leaders, doubts have been raised about this pledge.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper published Sunday that Paris “could not stay by the side of a country where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or a transition”.
On Monday his government backed ECOWAS’s insistence on a presidential election in 2022 as an “absolute priority”.
France has some 5,100 troops deployed across Africa’s arid Sahel region as part of its anti-jihadist force Barkhane.x
It first intervened in Mali in 2013 at the request of the government, to help quell a jihadist rebellion that broke out the previous year.
The brutal Islamist insurgency is still raging in the vast nation of 19 million people, and has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Macron also warned that France would withdraw its troops from Mali should the country lurch towards radical Islamism under Goita’s leadership.
Choguel Maiga, an opposition leader who is tipped to become the new prime minister, has close ties with the influential imam Mahmoud Dicko.
Both men, as well as most of Mali’s political elite, favour dialogue with Mali’s jihadists in order to stem the bloodshed in the country.
Paris has long opposed this policy.