He is neither an anonymous person nor a celebrity. Retired Colonel-Major, Bah N'daw was appointed on Monday September 21, 2020 to lead the transition period agreed upon for the return to constitutional order, following the military coup and forced resignation of then embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) on 18 August. He was not on the shortlist of personalities considered to hold such a post. The retired officer will be assisted by the current head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goita, as vice-president. According to the latter, who personally announced the news on national television, a “swearing-in ceremony will be held on Friday, September 25.”
A native of San, in the Segou Region, Bah N'daw, is a member of the Maninka ethnic group, which has pleasant parenthood relations with the Senoufo, also present in Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire. Hegraduated from the 7th class of the Interarms Military School (EMIA) in Koulikoro, about 70 kilometers from Bamako. A former Air Force pilot, N’daw who turned 70 yearslast August, pursued advanced training in the former Soviet Union and at the War School in Paris, France.
A former aide-de-camp to former president Moussa Traore, Bah N’daw is known for his integrity, competence and strong attachment to laws and regulations. According to several Malian sources, this trait explains “his multiple resignations every time he has been confronted with a problem of conscience,” notably when he officiated alongside former President Moussa Traore, who was feared by all at the time, or when he was Minister of Defense under Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK).
He had been appointed to the post to replace Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, who was forced to leave office after the Malian army debacle in May 2014 in Kidal (a city now controlled by former Tuareg rebels). The debacle occurred during a visibly ill-prepared visit by former Prime Minister Moussa Mara. According to several sources, his departure from the Ministry of Defense stems from a dispute over the implementation of certain measures contained in the peace agreement negotiated in Algiers and signed in Bamako in 2015 between the Malian government and former rebel groups. N'daw, who is said to be deeply hostile to several provisions of the agreement, has reportedly flatly refused to integrate former Tuareg rebels who had previously served in the regular armed forces before joining the rebellion in 2012.
After weeks of discussions with Mali's various political, civil, religious and foreign partners, the junta organized the “Days of National Consultations” on September 10-12, after which an 18-month transition was decided and a profile of the transition president was drawn. According to the final document, adopted during these three days of heated arguments, it was decided that the President of the transition should be of Malian nationality, aged 35 to 70, be deemed to be of integrity, of good character and never has been criminally convicted. What many Malians believe is the case for the retired former high-ranking officer, who has been decorated several times during his long military career, including Officer of the National Order, medalist of Military Merit and holder of a Medal of National Merit. According to the conclusions of the consultations, all future members of the transitional government must obey the same criteria, including the Prime Minister.
While it is highly likely that the appointment of Bah N'daw as president of the transition will be accepted by Malians, especially since this designation is the work of a college comprising eminent personalities such as the very influential Imam Mahmoud Dicko and the Archbishop of Bamako, there remains a decisive course that the junta must pass for this decision: the validation by the Economic Community of West African States (Cedeao). Mandated by the international community to achieve a return to normal constitutional life, it had taken a series of sanctions against Mali, including the total closure of air and land borders and the suspension of certain financial and commercial transactions with Bamako.
After many unsuccessful attempts to force the military to reinstate the ousted president, the regional organization had finally conditioned the lifting of sanctions imposed on the appointment of civilians as President and Prime Minister of the transition. A mini-summit, held last week in Accra, Ghana, to which the junta leader had personally invited, had reiterated such demands. After another visit expected next week by the Cedeao mediator in charge of the Malian crisis, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Malians will know whether the choice of a retired military as head of state of the transition is good or bad news for all.