Mali is proving to be the Sod’s law of Africa. Whilst officials bicker over who will oversee a country in transition, and protests teetering on the violent flare in Bamako over the controversial accord reached by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the rebel takeover of northern Mali is all but complete. As if the crisis in Mali could not get any worse, Tuareg separatists and al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine fighters have now joined forces, announcing on 26 May 2012, that they have planted their flag in a land they call Azawad, a northern region roughly the size of France. The latest rebel consolidation is only one step closer to Mali being completely broken in half, as the armed groups now have total military domination over a region which hosts one of the world’s most iconic cities, the historical trading town of Timbuktu. As the geographical fissure in Mali becomes more pronounced, however, Malians themselves seem to be more preoccupied by the ECOWAS-backed transition agreement. On 20 May 2012, such anger came to a head when violent demonstrations erupted in the capital eventually spilling over into the palace grounds of interim president Dioncounda Traoré. Amid the chaos, thousands of Malians stormed the palace, beating Traoré unconscious, whilst voicing their support for Captain Sanogo, the officer who led the military coup on 22 March 2012. The rampage forced Captain Sanogo into the spotlight once more, as he called on the “Malian people to contain themselves and respect all efforts taken towards an end of the crisis and a peaceful transition”. The incident led many in the international community to wonder, why aren’t the Malian people satisfied with the arrangement, particularly as the country needs unity now more than ever?
Unrest in the Capital
To outside observers, the violent siege in the Bamako palace came as a bit of a shock. Despite a potentially fruitful arrangement reached by the ECOWAS, which would extend the mandate Traoré by one year whilst the interim government oversees future elections, the locals in Mali saw the move as nothing more than a political stunt. To begin with, Malians were by and large outraged over ECOWAS’ interference into Malian affairs, and simultaneously, they were angered at the international body’s perceived ineptitude. As part of the deal, ECOWAS said that it would send 3,000 troops to maintain security and assist in the elimination of the rebel threat to the north. However, as of 28 May 2012, ECOWAS has still not made good on its promise. The agreement also calls for the interim government to take back the country’s northern regions from Tuareg fighters and Islamist separatists, a decree which will prove easier said than done, as Malian forces are completely understaffed and lack the necessary weapons to compete against the joint Ansar Dine and Tuareg effort. In February 2012, The Inkerman Group frighteningly indicated that at least 1000 Tuareg militants were thought to be in “possession of as much weaponry as that of the Malian army”. The weapons apparently gave confidence to the rebels who started attacking military bases, whilst hoisting their colours in northern towns as they cry “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great”. This development brought fear to Malians, who are now understandably of the belief that ECOWAS deal will do nothing to address these security concerns. Additionally, many citizens believe that the cornerstone of the deal, which would see Traoré’s extension, is a terrible solution for Mali, particularly as for many citizens, Traoré is simply another member of the political class, a group which most feel is responsible for the country’s problems. Furthermore, demonstrators indicated that they are angered that, as a result of the deal, Sanogo was formally recognised as a former head of state, meaning that he is now entitled to a mansion and life-long salary. Thus, Malians have expressed their outrage, calling for the two one-time April 2012 election front-runners, Traoré and Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarrato, to step aside, and instead make room for the lesser of all evils: that of Capitan Sanogo, the leader of the coup d’état. Although Sanogo’s official declaration as a former leader has been met with anger, for the most part Sanogo is a hero, he having brought the attention of the rebel troubles, not only the now ousted government of President Amadou Toumani Touré, but to the wider international community.
The Way Ahead
Whilst Malians debate over who should lead the conflict-ridden country, an ECOWAS-backed interim government is arguably Mali’s best scenario. This is a trying time for Mali, and any sense of stability is considered a positive, particularly as the country’s security situation has worsened largely as a result of the fallout from the 2011 Libyan uprising, as Tuareg rebels, many of whom fought in Gaddafi’s forces, have consolidated their power after returning home. Although many Malians revere Sanogo, his coup d’état has undoubtedly worsened the very situation he and his men were fighting against. Whilst Malians became overwhelmed by the merry-go-round of leaders seeking to run the country, residents of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao claimed that Islamists, who helped Tuareg rebels seize northern towns, started imposing Sharia law, ransacking bars serving alcohol, and banning Western music and clothes. The rebels seized other key northern towns in a lightning advance over the past few months, whilst the official Malian army fled its positions in northern districts, leading to a power vacuum which the Tuaregs, and ultimately the Ansar Dine fighters, capitalised upon. Going forward, whilst Traore continues to undergo medical treatment in France, the interim government would be advised to take a hard-line approach by ending the political bickering, and by ensuring that the country, or what’s left of it, is able to hold tight until the proposed 2013 elections.