President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) has appointed a new prime minister and renewed his cabinet – again. Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga (SBM), who takes over from Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, is IBK’s fifth prime minister since he became president in 2013. This is as many prime ministers as former President Alpha Oumar Konaré had during his 10 years in office, and one more than former President Amadou Toumani Touré appointed during his 10 years at the helm of the state. Under IBK, prime ministers have generally lasted less than a year, only Modibo Keita succeeded in eking out 15 months. What explains this frequent turnover at the “primature” during IBK’s first term? And what justifies this latest change in particular?
Though the president formally lacks the power to dismiss the prime minister under Mali’s 1992 semi-presidential constitution, the frequency with which IBK has changed prime ministers during his first term in office is strong evidence of the president’s informal powers. Mali, like other premier-presidential systems, is experiencing a situation of party “presidentialization” (Samuels and Shugart 2010), frequently found under circumstances where the same majority controls both the presidency and the legislative majority. In other words, though the president does not formally have the power to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet, the ruling RPM party and its coalition members have effectively delegated this power to him.
President IBK has faced unprecedented security challenges, compared to his predecessors. The government is struggling to hinder the spread of terrorist groups and reestablish state control over large swaths of the national territory, of which only about 20% is considered safe for travel by the UK Government. Terrorist attacks have increased in frequency over the past year and extended over a larger geographical area, with much of central Mali now also affected. Extremists have targeted symbols of the state, attempting to murder of the Chief Justice of the High Court and kidnapping the president of the district court of Niono. Lack of progress on the implementation of the 2015 peace accord with former rebels has not improved matters. IBK’s cabinets have also struggled to handle social crises [see previous blog post here] in the health and education sectors, and an attempt at adopting a new constitution failed last year [see previous post here]. Changing prime ministers and cabinet members has provided IBK an avenue for changing a losing team.
Like his predecessor, the new prime minister, SBM, served as defense minister in a previous IBK government – as did the new foreign minister. Clearly security concerns weighed heavily in IBK’s choice for the top cabinet positions in the new government, and unsatisfactory progress in addressing spreading insecurity likely contributed to shortening the tenure in office of SBM’s immediate predecessor. The new cabinet (see Figure 1 below) includes one portfolio more than the previous one – the Ministry for Local Development – which goes to a member of the RPM leadership, Zoumana Mory Coulibaly. In addition to Coulibaly, five more new cabinet members make their entrance into the government, and five other ministers have changed portfolio. The representation of the ruling RPM remains strong, despite the departure of the former prime minister who was the first vice-president of the party. The five who have left the government include the former minister of Foreign Affairs (a career diplomat who was in charge of negotiating the 2015 peace agreement) and the former minister of Human Rights and Government Reform (who shepherded the failed constitutional reform process). The new government includes one more woman than the previous one.
This most recent change of prime ministers was also the last chance before the looming presidential election in July where IBK is likely to seek reelection for a second term. Other candidates have already announced themselves, including Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, former army general and former minister of territorial administration in IBK’s first cabinet; Kalifa Sanogo (of the ADEMA party – ruling coalition member), mayor of Sikasso, Mali’s second largest city; Modibo Kone, expert at the West African Development Bank (BOAD); and Hamadoun Touré, head of the tech initiative “Smart Africa” and friend of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The ease with which IBK has been able to change prime ministers and cabinet members has provided him with scapegoats for failed policy and security initiatives. However, the botched constitutional reform initiative, where plans for a referendum had to be abandoned in the face of widespread opposition notably against provisions for increased presidential powers, is difficult to explain away. The coming months will demonstrate the resilience of the ruling coalition in the face of a mobilized opposition, and on the other side the ability of the opposition to coalesce around a single or a few candidates. It remains to be seen whether IBK this time succeeded in assembling the winning team that will take him over the finish line to a second term in office.
Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet
|Previous position in cabinet||Affiliation
|Prime Minister||Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga||NEW, Secretary General of the Presidency, former defense minister under IBK||ASMA-CFP, president|
|Defense||Tiéna Coulibaly||Same||Former amb. to US, former minister|
|Foreign Affairs||Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly||Territorial administration (was defense minister till 2016)||UDD, president|
|Security||Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré||Same||Security sector|
|Territorial administration||Mohamed Ag Erlaf||National education||RPM, member of leadership|
|Justice||Hamidou Younoussa Maiga||Appointed in November by the previous PM||Former justice|
|Economy and Finance||Boubou Cissé||Same||Former World Bank employee|
|Mines||Tiémoko Sangaré||Same||ADEMA, president|
|Investment and Private Sector||Baber Gano||Transportation||RPM, secretary general|
|Solidarity and Humanitarian Action||Hamadoun Konaté||Same||RPM leadership|
|National Education||Housseïni Amion Guindo||Sports||CODEM, president|
|Higher Education and Research||Assétou Founé Samake Migan||Same||Former university professor|
|Human Rights||Kadidia Sangare Coulibaly||NEW||Former head of the National Commission for Human Rights|
|Local Authorities||Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa||Decentralization and Local Taxation||Public sector|
|National Reconciliation||Mohamed El Moctar||Same||Public sector, former minister|
|Malian Diaspora and African Integration||Abdramane Sylla||Same||RPM|
|Transportation||Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar||NEW||RPM leadership|
|Habitat and Urbanism||Cheick Sidiya Sissoko dit Kalifa||NEW||ADEMA|
|Agriculture||Nango Dembélé||Livestock and Fishery||RPM leadership|
|Livestock and Fishery||Kane Rokia Maguiraga||NEW||Public sector|
|IT and Communication||Arouna Modibo Touré||Same||Public sector|
|Infrastructure and Equipment||Traoré Seynabou Diop||Same||Public sector|
|Industrial Development||Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim||Same||Public sector|
|Employment and Professional Training||Maouloud Ben Kattra||Same||Labor union|
|Health||Samba Ousmane Sow||Same||Health sector|
|Labor||Diarra Raky Talla||Same||Public sector|
|Trade, Government Spokesperson||Abdel Karim Konaté||Same (also gov. spokesperson)||ADEMA|
|Energy and Water||Malick Alhousseini||Same||Public sector|
|Environment||Keita Aïda M’Bo||Same||Former UNDP employee|
|Zoumana Mory Coulibaly||NEW||RPM, leadership|
|Territory Planning and Population||Adama Tiémoko Diarra||Same||ADEMA|
|Culture||N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo||Same||RPM, leadership|
|Crafts and Tourism||Nina Walet Intallou||Same||CMA (rebel group coordination)|
|Women, Children and Families||Traoré Oumou Touré||Same||Civil society|
|Sports||Jean Claude Sidibé||NEW||Sport sector|
|Religion||Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo||Same||Teaching and consultancies|
|Youth||Amadou Koita||Same||PS, president|
Source: Author’s research.
 Article 38 provides that the president “terminates the appointment” of the prime minister “when the latter tenders the resignation of the government” (identical wording as Article 8 in the French 1958 constitution). Formally, the prime minister is thus only accountable to the legislature, leaving Mali in the premier-presidential sub-category of semi-presidential systems. In contrast, in president-parliamentary system, the president is empowered by the constitution to dismiss the prime minister at will, making the premier accountable to both parliament and president. See Shugart and Carey (1992) for further discussion of these two subtypes of semi-presidential systems.