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2021-06-11

Choguel Kokalla Maiga, who on Monday was named prime minister of Mali, is a veteran figure who has flipflopped between supporting dictators and launching verbal broadsides as a member of the opposition.

Some describe him as a political chameleon — although this could also be a handy quality in the challenges that lie ahead.

Maiga, 63, was appointed following international pressure on Mali to name a civilian government leader after its second coup in nine months.

Colonel Assimi Goita last month deposed the leaders of a caretaker government who were themselves installed after a putsch that toppled elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Keita was forced out in August by young army officers, led by Goita, following protests over perceived corruption and a bloody jihadist insurgency.

In response to the second coup, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali from the 15-nation bloc and urged Goita to appoint a civilian prime minister. France has also suspended military cooperation.

Goita was sworn in as the new transitional president on Monday and promised to stand by Mali’s commitments.

Maiga, his choice as premier, is a complicated character with a long record of finding a path through the jungle of Malian politics.

A Malian researcher who requested anonymity cast Maiga as someone who had “supped at every table.”

Maiga is now expected to form an inclusive government — a tall order in a vast and politically polarised nation, where a brutal jihadist conflict has left swathes of territory outside of state control.

– Soviet-trained –

In the 1970s, Maiga spent a decade in the Soviet Union studying telecommunications, before returning to Mali to work in the telecoms sector.

He then entered politics by joining the party of Mali’s former dictator Moussa Traore, who ruled from 1968 until he was overthrown in 1991.

From then on, Maiga often found himself at the centre of political affairs in the capital Bamako.

He ran for president of Mali in 2002, 2013 and 2018, but never received more than three percent of the vote.

However, he twice served as a government minister, and was a close associate of Keita’s before joining the opposition and becoming one of his fiercest detractors.

Last year, he became a leading figure in the M5 movement, which spearheaded the anti-Keita protests.

After the August coup, Maiga pushed for power-sharing between the army and the M5 movement, but the military quickly sidelined the opposition group.

He blasted the post-coup government a “disguised military regime” in December.

But in a mark of his shifting loyalties, Maiga said on Friday that the offer of the prime minister’s role “touched his heart”.

Maiga remains divisive among M5 members, according to Malian news editor Bokar Sangare.

But, he said, Maiga was a talented strategist who had advanced the M5’s agenda.

– ‘His moment’ –

Maiga supported Keita’s presidential bid in 2013, after he himself was knocked out of the race.

He then served as Keita’s communication minister from 2015 to 2016, before being replaced in a reshuffle.

An African diplomat in Bamako, who declined to be named, said Maiga “never got over” the fact that Keita had sidelined him.

In opposition, Maiga became known for his criticism of the 2015 Algiers peace accord, a shaky agreement between the government and several armed groups in the country.

Then during the uprising against Keita last year, Maiga called for a “total change of system” and a “refoundation of the state”.

Boubacar Haidara, a researcher a Mali’s University of Segou, said that the M5 “allowed Choguel Ma?ga to regenerate himself politically”.

The opposition movement embodies the change demanded by Malian people, he explained, adding that this was Maiga’s “moment”.

M5 has plans — which critics say are vague — to reform the constitution and fight corruption, among other issues.

But questions remain about the amount of power Maiga will have with the army lurking in the background.

“Will he have the freedom?” Haidara asked.

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