Morocco inaugurates diplomatic relations with Mali's transitional government

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has sent Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to Mali to present himself to the country's new transitional authorities
Nasser Bourita

PHOTO/AP  -   The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita

Following the coup d'état in Mali on 18 August and the departure of former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to the United Emirates, the military junta that staged the coup has formed a new transitional government with the specifications requested by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

At the beginning of this week Mali's transitional president, Ba N'Daou, in turn appointed the former foreign minister, Moctar Ouane, who has already begun to receive diplomatic visits and prepare the government's transition to a new paradigm in Mali.

The first diplomat to visit the country was the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita. The speed with which the King of Alaoui sent a minister seems to indicate Morocco's interest in having some influence in the Sahelian country, according to the EFE news agency.

In addition to meeting with the president and prime minister, Bourita was received by the leader of the military coup, Assimi Goita, who, during Keita's expulsion, proclaimed himself interim head of state and is now interim vice-president. He has also met with the influential Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most respected figures in the country.

With this trip, Morocco is attempting to gain a certain amount of ground in a sub-Saharan Africa where, traditionally, the most influential regional power has been Algeria, the country that hosted the Algiers Agreements in 2014, which brought peace between the Bamako authorities and the Tuareg independence fighters in the northeast of the country.

Morocco has attempted to offset Algeria's weight in the Sahel with "religious diplomacy"-playing the card of the traditional relations between the Sufi religious brotherhoods of Morocco and these countries-and with the growing economic penetration of Moroccan companies in these countries.

Ouane Mali
AFP/ RAVEENDRAN - The new Prime Minister of Mali Moctar Ouane
ECOWAS has not yet lifted the sanctions

The presidents of the ECOWAS member countries will meet again to discuss the "grey areas" of the transition in Mali and, for the time being, they are not lifting the sanctions imposed after the coup d'état against Keita.

"The military leaders have yet to meet all ECOWAS demands for a civilian to be vice-president," the Nigerian Presidency said in a statement. The current vice-president is the leader of the coup d'état, the military man Assimi Goita. And this circumstance does not seem to convince the presidents of ECOWAS.

The sanctions "will be lifted when a civilian Prime Minister is appointed," the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, said in a statement last Friday.

However, the Nigerian Presidency sees "grey areas" in the fact that one of the leaders of the coup on 18 August, Colonel Assimi Goita, who has headed the body set up by the coup leaders under the name of the National Council for the Salvation of the People for the month since the lifting, has been appointed vice-president.

According to the Nigerian presidency, the president of ECOWAS, Ghana's head of state, Nana Akufo-Addo, will officially write to West African leaders "to determine the next steps".

The lifting of sanctions was long awaited and seemed imminent, as former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has acted as mediator for the crisis, said last week that "we are optimistic that this event will mark the beginning of a return to normality in Mali".

ECOWAS, a regional organisation heavily involved in the transition in Mali, demands that both the president and the prime minister be civilians and that the transition not exceed eighteen months, as conditions for lifting the battery of economic and financial sanctions imposed on this country and activating its membership in the organisation, now frozen.