Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has approved a new government, the third since he took power less than two years ago, before the launch of new peace talks this month with separatists in the north of the country.
Mali is still recovering from a period of heavy turbulence following an incursion by al Qaeda-linked Islamists in 2012 into the desert north. The incursion prompted a French military intervention in the following year.
Despite Keita’s pledges to create a strong, united Mali, Islamist militants continue to carry out sporadic attacks in the north — a region also claimed by mostly armed Tuareg separatist groups.
In his decree, issued late on Saturday, Keita appointed Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, who served in Keita’s first government, as defence minister. It also named Mamadou Igor Diarra as economy and finance minister.
There was no change at the key foreign affairs and mines ministries.
The decree came after Keita last Thursday named Modiba Keita, who is not a relation of the president, as Mali’s prime minister. He replaced Moussa Mara, a former presidential candidate in 2013.
Last year, Modiba Keita headed the government delegation in negotiations with the northern separatists. His main challenge now will be the peace talks with the separatists, set for later this month in Algiers.
The troubled northern region, named Azawad by the native Tuaregs, has risen up four times against the central Bamako government in the last five decades, seeking independence or a form of self-rule.
The new government list includes a second Tuareg member, Mohamed Ag Erlaf, as environment minister.
Political analysts say the decision to replace ministers may be motivated by public pressure for greater accountability after two financial deals that a report by Mali’s auditor-general called “a perfect illustration of poor financial governance and mismanagement of public funds”.
The auditor-general scrutinised the role of the defence and economy ministries in the deals – the purchase of a $40 million presidential jet and a loan to buy military supplies.
Concerns over financial mismanagement prompted the International Monetary Fund to temporarily suspend an aid package to Mali, undermining investor confidence in the country’s recovery from the turmoil of 2012-13.