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Africa, General, Governance, Leadership, Mali

A Tale of Two Countries: Democratic and Stable Senegal and Coup-Torn Mali

Cape Times (Cape Town), April 2

President Abdoulaye Wade finally acknowledged that his long years of political relevance were concluded, and chose wisely not to contest his overwhelming defeat in Sunday’s run off election for Senegal’s presidency. Macky Sall is a worthy winner whose patient victory (without too many threatening histrionics beforehand) maintains Senegal’s democratic legacy. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union doubtless breathed a great sigh of relief; there need be no repeat of the necessary intervention in Cote d’Ivoire after Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to surrender the presidency. Doubtless, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo delivered a clear message on the subject when he visited Wade in February, and we should all thank him for being persuasive.

The Senegalese electorate’s clear rejection of Wade’s attempt to breach the country’s constitutional two-term presidential limit firmly affirmed its democratic preferences. Other African wannabe despots, particularly aging ones, should take note. Likewise, in this case long years constituted a handicap. Whether Wade is 95 or older, the voters of Senegal decided that he had tried their patience for long enough. In effect, they also voted against Wade’s attempt to anoint his son as a successor.

Although Wade entered office in 2000 as a long-time reformer and was re-elected with ease in 2007, absolute power – as so often happens in Africa – corrupted absolutely. He imposed grand edifices on his nation, drove around Dakar and Senegal in noisy long motorcades, and generally invited invidious comparison to his predecessors, especially President and poet Léopold Senghor.

The peaceful and promising democratic transition in Senegal contrasts immediately with next door Mali’s surprising descent this week from two decades of democratic rule (since the last coup) into a military-inspired morass. Now that Senegal’s transfer of power is what it always should be, ECOWAS and the AU have to focus not only on a very old-fashioned junior-officer coup d’etat in neighboring Mali, but on reducing the power of a Tuareg rebellion in Mali’s far north.

Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and the other coup perpetrators of the Orwellian self-styled National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State say they were motivated by the Malian army’s inability to defeat, or even to contain, the much less numerous Tuareg insurgents. They blamed President Amadou Toumani Touré and his government for that failure, and on their government’s inability or unwillingness to provide modern equipment and arms sufficient to retaliate effectively against the Tuareg.
Those are understandable, even reasonable complaints – but insufficient justification for a military uprising against Touré just weeks ahead of a national election in which he was not a candidate. (He would have completed two elected terms in office.) What many press reports have so far not noted is that one of the key reasons why the Malian military has been so under-supplied and unready (despite U. S. training assistance) is rampant corruption – the scourge of so much of Africa. Officials in Touré’s regime and high-level army officers are accused of profiteering, skimming accounts supposedly devoted to strengthening the army in its battle zone. Thus the mutinous soldiers could in their minds rightly blame Touré and his associates for sapping Mali’s military might unforgivably.

Between Touareg warriors and civilians and Malian Africans (the majority Mande-speaking) there is mutual contempt. The Tuareg, about 10 percent of the country’s total population, have long resented being ruled by people they regard as inferior; the Malian majority has for decades looked down upon the very un-African-behaving and -looking Tuareg.

Intervention in the Malian case by ECOWAS and the AU cannot simply be limited to sending the mutinous soldiers back to their barracks and supervising next month’s scheduled national elections. It must also include a willingness to broker complicated negotiations with the the Tuareg rebels. If the Tuareg refuse AU and ECOWAS entreaties to negotiate, perhaps ECOWAS and the AU can consider a more forceful intervention.

ECOMOG, on behalf of ECOWAS, helped measurably to limit the spread of warfare in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s. Either ECOMOG or another African peacekeeping force, possibly with French and American assistance, could be readied for peacekeeping action if bringing the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) to the table is rejected. (Azawad means Tuareg.) The MNLA controls several northern Malian towns, much desert, and now has the offensive initiative thanks to Libyan arms and Libyan-experienced legions. (Tuareg warriors served the late Muammar Qaddafi for years.)
The MNLA seeks autonomy for a Tuareg homeland, or at least greater respect and political relevance for the Tuareg in Mali. Unlike neighboring Niger, where Tuareg play a sizable political role and several of its own people are important in the national government, official Mali has always denigrated their Tuareg fellow citizens. Thus, there are many good reasons for Tuareg discontent which need urgently to be addressed by a new government of Mali — with AU and ECOWAS assistance.

Creating peace in northern Mali will not be easy. But the Malian military is now in disarray and the path back to democracy and stability in southern, agricultural, tourist- sensitive Mali depends on joint action to embrace and, if that fails, to act forcefully against the Tuareg usurpers. Reassuring the regular Malian officers of such outside support ought to help ease them back into the barracks with honor. Then Mali could begin again to resemble Senegal, politically.

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