Mali’s interim leaders have announced a new government months after a military coup allowing an Islamist takeover of the country’s north and forcing nearly half a million people to flee homes.
The government has 31 ministers, including five said to be close to coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who nominally handed over power to a civilian interim government months ago but still hasn’t relinquished control.
None of the ministers in the new government are closely linked to the democratically elected president who was ousted in March, according to the list announced on state television on Monday.
West African leaders had threatened to expel Mali from their regional bloc and impose sanctions if it failed to assemble a unity government as promised.
The country’s interim leaders had already missed an August 10 deadline for doing so, raising concerns about the political transition, with rumours also swirling about the interim prime minister’s ties to the coup leader.
Critics wanted Mali’s unity government formed as soon as possible, hoping it could better fight radical Islamists now ruling the vast north, an area the size of France.
The militants have solidified their hold amid the power vacuum in Bamako – even stoning to death an adulterous couple and chopping off the hand of a suspected thief in their quest to implement a strict version of Sharia.
“I hope the new government together will make the liberation of the north its No. 1 priority,” said Malian civil society leader Aboubacrine Assadek Ag Hamatta on Monday.
Mutinous soldiers staged their March 21 coup just months before elections, driving the country’s democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure into exile not long before he was due to step down anyway.
Sanogo later signed an agreement pledging to return the country to civilian rule, and the interim president and prime minister were named as part of that deal.
Even after signing the agreement, though, he showed little interest in stepping aside completely.
Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra has become an increasingly divisive figure in Mali in recent weeks due to allegations he’s been meeting with the coup leader.
The reports have raised suspicions Sanogo – and not the interim administration – is making key decisions about the country’s future.
Mali’s crisis has displaced an estimated 435,624 people, with more than half fleeing to neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations.