Reconciliation in Mali Part 2

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday June 30 2013

A UN peacekeeping force, known as Minusma, consisting of 12,600 troops, will be deployed in Mali from 1 July 2013. The stated aim is to provide security for a presidential election due on 28 July 2013. Britain’s UN ambassador said there was “unanimous agreement” that UN peacekeepers should take over from the African Union. The pretext for the previous intervention in Mali was the attempt of the Jihadist group, Asnar Dine, affiliated with the larger Al Qaeda adjunct AQIM, to move out of traditional Tuareg territory in the northern desert to spread Sharia law to south Mali.

The presidential and parliamentary elections planned for July are intended to stabilise Mali, which has been disrupted by a military coup and Islamist rebellion.  “We will organise the elections throughout the national territory in order to reunite the minds of Malians, reunite their hearts, and to enable Mali to remain one and indivisible,” said Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.

The first suicide attacks in Mali’s history recently took place in Gao, followed by fierce fighting in the northern town. Algalas ag Moutkel, who had been in prison for stealing a mattress, told the BBC how an Islamist group cut off his hand with a knife. Gao’s mayor, Sadou Harouna Dial, said that twelve others had hands and legs amputated with knives.

Mali shifted from autocracy to democracy providing a model for post-colonial Africa. In 1991, massive protests touched off a coup that ended the 23-year reign of General Moussa Traoré. The coup’s leader, Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré, presided over a transition that brought a new constitution and multiparty elections. Every five years since then Mali has held elections that have been considered free and fair. Mali was a place of tourists and the non-political Tourés – musician Ali Farke and his son Vieux.

What went wrong?

Laurent Bigot, a French foreign ministry official, described Mali as a ‘sham democracy’. As a legitimately elected civilian president, Amadou Toumani Touré maintained a veneer of progress. Cynics say this was just to keep the aid money flowing. His government at first boosted the number of children enrolled at school but never invested adequately in the education system. He pushed sweeping legislation through with little debate. In 2009, after the Assembly passed a progressive bill to reform Mali’s 1962 laws governing women’s rights and families by 117 votes to 5, Islamic groups stirred up opposition. The law was never enacted. Touré’s “rule by consensus” became a euphemism for suppression.

President Touré was toppled just before he was about to leave office anyway, in what Bruce Whitehouse calls an “accidental coup” by rank-and-file soldiers who did not seem to know what they wanted. The coup caused a vacuum as politicians fled. A lieutenant in camouflage fatigues had appeared on state television to announce the suspension of the constitution. A poll conducted a month after the coup showed that two-thirds of Bamako residents backed the junta and its leader, the army captain Amadou Sanogo who had trained at Fort Benning, Georgia and the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Sanogo claimed the coup was necessary because Touré’s government was failing to deal with Tuareg unrest. The army did worse, losing control of the regional capitals of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu within ten days of Sanogo assuming office. Reuters described the coup as “a spectacular own-goal.”
The Tuareg Rebellion was allegedly armed and financed by France for the purpose of splitting the north of Mali along Algeria’s border, from the rest of the country. Global Research claims that anonymous US military experts say that US and NATO Special Forces actually trained the same “terrorist” bands now justifying a neo-colonial US-backed invasion of Mali by France.

Historian Stephen Ellis has argued that the increasing fragility of African states is “an early sign of a wider problem with the system of international governance” built after World War Two. Western powers are discovering that there are limits to their ability to reform state systems. It may be that the way to help these societies sort out their conflicts is to let them do it on their own.

France did not give up its Empire as easily as the British. French troops have intervened in Africa 50 times since 1960 to defend France’s extensive  economic interests. Investigative journalist Michel Collon has written extensively about war strategies and media coverage of military conflicts, and believes that the US and France both regard the continent as merely a  supplier of raw materials. Africa has 40% of all minerals crucial to international economic growth. France and the US have  military bases as well as using  local armies. Mali is poor because of its colonisation by France and the current plundering by French companies. The real goal of a French presence is not to combat the Islamists but to secure the resources. Despite the presence of Minusma, France will maintain at least 1,000 troops in the country for anti-terrorism operations.

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