EINE NATION IN AUFRUHR – Discussion with two international respected scientists

Mali: A nation in turmoil

RadioNational, Australien
Sunday 19 August 2012 12:05PM
Gregory Mann
Associate Professor of History at Columbia University.
Mamadou Diawara
Professor of Anthropology at the University of Frankfurt

HIER finden Sie die deutsche Übersetzung des Transcripts von Tanja-Aminata Ba. Herzlichen Dank!

Hier ein weiterer Essay von Gregory Mann in MALI-INFORMATIONEN:
HOFFNUNG FÜR DIE MALISCHE DEMOKRATIE – Hope for Mali’s democracy (Analysis from one step’s remove) – Un espoir pour la démocratie au Mali

HideJournalist (archival): After hours of confusion in Mali’s capital, the rebels took over the airwaves to declare they’d seized the government. Calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State, they appeared on state television.

Rebel (translated): We are putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Touré. We promise to hand back power to a democratically elected president as soon as Mali is reunified and its integrity is no longer threatened.

Journalist (archival): The group is angry about the government’s handling of unrest in Mali’s north. They say the military is too under-resourced to win the battle against ethnic Tuaregs.

Annabelle Quince: For over 20 years, the West African nation of Mali was held up as a beacon of democracy on the African continent. That all came to an end this year, when the democratically elected president was overthrown in a military coup. Hello, I’m Annabelle Quince and today on Rear Vision, here on RN, Radio Australia and via the web, we try to understand what’s happened to Mali’s democracy and who are these Tuareg rebels who have taken control of two-thirds of the country?

But first, exactly where is Mali? Gregory Mann is associate professor of history at Colombia University and the author of Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century.

Gregory Mann: Mali’s a huge country and its right smack in the middle of West Africa. It’s completely landlocked. The Niger River cuts across it; it flows north to about Timbuktu and then it turns south and flows out the other end of the country to the southeast. Most of Mali is fairly dry but in the south, generally speaking south of the river, and in the west there’s agriculture, rain-fed agriculture, a lot of livestock, a lot of pastoralism. But when you get north of Timbuktu, then you’ve essentially got the Sahara Desert, the beginning of the Sahara Desert, which extends very far to the border of Niger and Algeria.

Mamadou Diawara: Mali is a very diverse country. You have at least 15 ethnic groups and these ethnic groups have a very old tradition of cohabitation and cooperation.

Annabelle Quince: Mamadou Diawara is professor of anthropology at the University of Frankfurt and the author of Historical Memory in Africa.

Mamadou Diawara: Mali was indeed, as you mentioned, under colonial rule, French colonial rule. This started in 1880 and lasted until 1960. That means 80 years. And this colonial rule had a heavy impact on all domains of life and all domains of economy, all domains of society. That means that until nowadays, for example, schools are run in French and the main economy is also dealing with France as a country. France is heavily involved in all issues related to Mali.

Gregory Mann: Well, it had a lot of impact. Probably the most important thing here is that at the end of the colonial period in 1960 the French decided to continue to amalgamate Northern Mali, Saharan Mali, with the south and that many of the political leaders of the north, the Sahara, did not want to be part of a southern political entity; they didn’t want to be governed by people from the south.

And the people of the south had an idea that people from the north were very different from them; there was a strong cultural, even racial difference between the two groups. And they saw them as quite alien, partly because the people of the north, of the desert itself in the Sahara, are actually nomads and that nomadism was considered quite strange to the sedentary farmers of the south and also to some extent to the pastoralists of the south.

Mamadou Diawara: Once independent, what Mali did was first trying to get away from France as a colonial power. And this was indeed extremely difficult because France was not that keen to leave out Mali, because the forces, the political forces in Mali at that time were rather—according to France—they were rather turned to the left. So they were leftist movements, and for France these were rather oriented towards socialist countries.

And therefore there was a sort of confrontation between France and Mali after independence and before also. This party called RDA got also after 1960 a tendency to get more and more in the leftist corner, and in ‘68 it developed itself in a sort of revolutionary regime which was put down by a military coup in 1968.

Gregory Mann: The coup in 1968 had a lot of different causes, most importantly there was kind of economic stagnation and the government seemed to have lost its way. The people on the far left wanted it to be even more autonomous and radical. The army had been somewhat humiliated by the creation of party militias that in some cases were better armed and better equipped than the regular army was. And even the elite troops of the army were being made to do things like grow potatoes in their own collective fields, and they felt that this was an insult to a professional army, which was quite a proud professional army at the time.

And they felt the country was simply adrift, and so they seized power. At that time, the government had basically lost its way—I think most historians are agreed on that—and they fell rather quickly. And that brought in 23 years of military rule until 1991.

Annabelle Quince: And what… when you say military rule, was it very repressive, or what kind of rule was it?

Gregory Mann: It was a repressive regime. People who were in prison were often sent precisely into the Saharan Desert, there was no freedom of speech, there was a lot of settling of scores among the militaries themselves: parts of the officer corps were trying to push away their rivals, their former allies. And it was a repressive regime right through 1991, when a kind of student movement combined with a women’s movement put a great deal of pressure on the government in the capital, Bamako, but also in towns across the country.

At that time there was already rebellion in the north and the government seemed to have no real solution either to the rebellion in the north or to the social movements in the south. The army called out its troops into the street; President Moussa Traoré called out his soldiers into the street in Bamako. They killed a large number of civilians, but then one of the paratrooper officers decided that this was not the way to go and they overthrew… they staged a coup and overthrew Moussa Traoré.

Annabelle Quince: The 1991 democratic uprising removed the military dictatorship and established a democracy and political freedom in Mali.

Mamadou Diawara: This moment was central to Mali, and not only to Mali, to African countries, because it was one of the first democratisations took place. It does mean at that time a thriving of political freedom, a thriving of press. It did mean also multiple political parties: Mali is called ‘the country of a hundred political parties’. And you have more than a hundred newspapers and you have more than 250 radio stations. So it was a fantastic time: 20 years, during 20 years was a time where democracy really thrived. And we tried to rule hard this democracy. We had also institutions, parliaments, governments and so on and so forth.

Gregory Mann: Certainly there was a lot of freedom of speech, actually, in Mali over the last 20 years. I myself was often struck, even amazed, by how vitriolic the speeches could be on the radio, the kinds of insults that would be offered to the president or to politicians, to the various ministers, to the ruling elite. There was an active press for many years, which wasn’t always necessarily extremely accurate, but was definitely politically engaged and had a large kind of margin of manoeuvre.

Annabelle Quince: Despite the political freedoms, Mali’s democratic government didn’t always provide the political leadership that many in Mali wanted and needed.

Journalist (archival): Empires rise and fall in Mali… Wadyan Ongoybe has received nothing from his rulers: colonialists, military dictators, now democrats. It’s his land that’s kept him from hunger, but land has also brought Wadyan Ongoybe bitterness. Fields he once owned are claimed by another village and the government has refused to intervene.

Gregory Mann: I think Malian democracy at the same time, though, took on a lot of the negative characteristics of democracy in other places, like the United States and elsewhere, where a kind of ‘get along to go along’ mentality starts to become deeply rooted, where the real issues of contestation are kind of papered over. ATT, the president of Mali through 2012, was a real master of this: he did everything to avoid any kind of real conflict and was accommodating to a fault, perhaps, in not having any real kind of ideological direction or any real sense of where he wanted to bring the country.

Annabelle Quince: The overthrow of the military dictatorship in 1991 had coincided with an uprising of Tuareg in the north, who were seeking greater political autonomy. The unrest and violence that resulted led to many of northern nomads fleeing to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

Journalist (archival): Refugee camps are seldom cheerful places, but surely few are as remote, as bleak and as ignored by the outside world as this one. The refugees are desert nomads from the huge West African country of Mali. Four years ago they fled from their homes around Timbuktu to Batacanou in the southeast corner of neighbouring Mauritania.

Gregory Mann: The coup that happened in 1991 had as its backdrop, or part of its backdrop, a rebellion that was already going on in the north, in which Tuareg fighters and politicians were seeking greater autonomy for the northern part of the country. And they wanted to have a greater degree of local kind of self-governance in the Sahara. That conflict was largely resolved by 1996, but only temporarily, and it flared up again in 2006.

Annabelle Quince: The 1996 peace deal between the new democratic government of Mali and the Tuareg rebels promised the repatriation of Tuareg communities forced into resettlement camps, and the opportunity for Tuaregs to join the central government in Bamako.

Journalist (archival): Two days ago, the little talked of West African nation of Mali went to the polls to elect its parliament. This is only the second time since they gained independence from the French that Malians have actually been allowed to vote. For most of the last 30 years, Mali has been ruled by a military dictatorship. The people who suffered most under that regime were the country’s nomads living in the Sahara. Five years ago, the nomads of Mali rebelled against the junta and now with a democratic government in office, tens of thousands of refugees are coming home.

Gregory Mann: The peace deal was seen as a great success. It was something that outside powers, like the United States, who were interested in Mali, wanted to see happen. It was something that Alpha Oumar Konaré, who was the president at the time, wanted to see happen. What it seemed to actually do was to initiate a process by which parts of the Sahara would have greater autonomy, as the Tuareg had sought, but also in which a large number of the Tuareg elite, the leaders of Tuareg families and lineages, were more or less co-opted into the government, offered positions as ministers or other kind of governmental positions and ambassadorships here and there. But also Tuareg fighters were integrated into—Tuareg rebel fighters were integrated into—the Malian army and into the gendarmerie, into the customs forces.

And there was an attempt for greater integration, the building of some infrastructure in the north, but also greater local autonomy. So even the region of Kidal—Kidal being the kind of metropolis of the Malian Sahara if it has one—anyway, the sort of central town of Malian Sahara, Kidal, became a region on its own terms, much like a state in the United States

And so that was a temporary success in so far as, as I say, a good part of the Tuareg elite was actually co-opted into the government and some of the issues around which they’d been able to mobilise a rebellion were essentially… not entirely extinguished, but at least dampened down by the peace deal.

Mamadou Diawara: Tensions between these two parts of the country, it’s not a simple line north south. Because in the north you have many ethnical groups, at least ten, who are living over there and who are not all concerned by these rebellions. The problem with this part of the country is that it is highly… it’s very dry, and people living there are also concerned with heavy constraints, economical constraints. And this democratisation and the decentralisation of the ‘90s was a kind of solution to this striving of this part of the country for autonomy or being able to run its own business.

And this was, this decentralisation has been operating in all the country, in all Mali, and the problem was that in the ‘90s you have the second rebellion, as I mentioned to you, and the second rebellion has been served with this decentralisation as a way of giving to each region its own autonomy to deal with its own problems.

But the point is that in 2012, there is a whole new dimension in these issues, because we are dealing with a country confronted with the collateral damages of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya.

Journalist (archival): The conflict has been going on and off for decades, but recently there’s been an escalation. Many Tauregs went to fight in the recent Libyan conflict on Colonel Gaddafi’s side and brought weapons home with them. Now that they have more firepower, the conflict has reignited.

Gregory Mann: The things that have changed most importantly are probably three. The first would be, from about six or more years ago, a rather spectacular set of hostage-taking events in the Sahara in which European governments began to pay very large ransoms for the liberation of their citizens. The hostage taking created a whole kind of industry, a whole kind of economy, around hostage taking in the north, and it became very unstable, became a very dangerous place for those carrying European passports to be found. And most of those kidnappings happened in Niger, they happened in Mauritania; they didn’t happen in Mali itself until about 2010.

The other big change is that although smuggling across the Sahara has been a lucrative form of business for a very long time, in the past it involved mostly cigarettes or people: human smuggling, human trafficking, migrants who want to go across the Mediterranean, work in Europe. But over the last few years, drug smuggling has been increasingly important, particularly cocaine coming in from Latin America. This has been a big problem in Kinibisau, in Guinea, and now it’s become an important problem in Mali. And so you’re talking about very large sums of money floating around.

The other big element in the equation is the rebellion in Libya and the NATO intervention which eventually broke the back of Muammar Gaddafi. And one effect of that was the return of a large number of Tuareg fighters in arms from Libya. And these were people; these were men who’d been part of the Libyan military for a very long time—in some cases for decades—who had gone to Libya mostly in the 1970s, often to work or to serve in the security forces of Gaddafi.

They included high-ranking officers in the Libyan army, some of whom had taken Libyan citizenship, and when they saw the writing on the wall, they left Libya, they passed through either Algeria or Niger, depending on which source one believes, but they arrived at Mali and the Malian government did not strip them of their arms, did not put them into some kind of residence, and instead they were able to launch a rebellion that some of them had been planning for some time, which was aimed at asserting the autonomy of the north from the south.

Annabelle Quince: You’re with Rear Vision on Radio National, Radio Australia and via the web. I’m Annabelle Quince and today we’re tracing the history of the West African nation of Mali.

As the Tuareg independence movement—the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or the NMLA—began taking over towns in the north of Mali, the Malian army staged a coup in the south.

Mark Colvin, PM (archival): Drunken soldiers have looted Mali’s presidential palace just hours after they took power. The coup deposed a president, who was just one month away from stepping down. The mutineers say they’re overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an insurgency in the country’s north.

Gregory Mann: Malian politics over the last several years has been characterised by a kind of drift, a lack of direction, a sense of growing corruption, of extreme and extremely visible social and economic inequality. People have been quite tired of the rule of ATT, the president who was overthrown. They didn’t believe that the forthcoming… the presidential elections that were scheduled for this Spring, they didn’t believe that those would go off correctly; there’s a lot of dispute around the election list, the typical kind of tensions that emerge before an election.

People were by and large fed up with the way in which the country was going, and that’s why ATT had no great support at the time of the coup d’état. On the other hand, the cause of the coup is somewhat controversial. Some analysts think of it as accidental; I tend to think of it as improvisational.

It was certainly pushed by a set of grievances by the junior officers—lieutenants and the captains, but also some colonels—in the Malian army, who realised that the central government was not going to support them in their fight in the north, that the Tuareg rebellion was not being met by an active resistance. Instead they were consistently being given the orders to retreat and at the moments when they were told to stand and fight, they were outgunned, they were outmanoeuvred, they had huge logistical problems that characterised… obviously fighting in the Sahara is not an easy place to wage a military campaign. And they felt they weren’t being supported at all in the south.

And notably in early this year there was an important military defeat in a town called Aguelhok in the north, in which, after the defeat, Malian soldiers were apparently… had their throats slit either by the fighters of Ansar Dine or by the fighters of the MNLA. This is very controversial and many people deny that it happened, but it’s certainly the Malian soldiers in the south believe this had happened, and Malians generally believe that this happened and that they hold responsible for this atrocity not only the MNLA and their Islamist allies, but also the government in the south. And so there was a great deal of frustration with the government in the south, particularly among the military and particularly among the ranks of the junior officers of the military. And all of that sparked the coup, essentially.

Annabelle Quince: By the end of March, the Tuareg rebels, with the help of their allies, controlled almost two-thirds of the north of Mali.

Ginny Stein, ABC News (archival): Tuareg rebels announced a ceasefire, saying they now had control of enough of the north of the country to form their own state. Mali’s military justified its takeover of power, saying the civilian government had been too soft on the rebels. But since the coup, rebels have been able to advance virtually unopposed.

Gregory Mann: The way that the MNLA was able to essentially assert it’s… or advance its bid towards independence of what the northern territory that they call the Azawad was by making an alliance with better armed and better trained or more experienced fighters, who did not share the same goals that they did. And this was an alliance of convenience that was able to hold long enough to chase the Malian army from the Sahara with the help of the coup d’état in Bamako. And it was an alliance that was able to hold long enough for the Islamists to sort of establish another set of alliances with al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and with a local terrorist group, known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad, in West Africa.

Among those Tuaregs separatists of the MNLA, the leadership is predominantly secular, they espouse a form of progressive politics, they have talked about gender equality, which is more prevalent in Tuareg society than in many of its neighbouring societies, and they don’t have an interest in kind of an Islamist government, they don’t have an interest in certainly the kind of crude vigilante version of sharia of some of the Islamists who have taken power in the Sahara.

The MNLA has been very strong in terms of PR, they’ve been very strong in terms of diplomacy, they appear to be much less strong militarily on the ground. None of this was very clear until the last few weeks, when the Islamists, particularly the Ansar Dine of Iyad Ag Ghaly actually ran the MNLA out of the towns that they were hoping to control, in Gao and Timbuktu.

Annabelle Quince: With the defeat of the government forces, the alliance between the Tuareg rebels and their Islamist allies fell apart, leaving the Islamists in control of much of northern Mali.

Ashley Hall, The World Today (archival): West African countries are urging Mali’s leaders to end the country’s political instability and unite against Al-Qaeda militants occupying the north of the country. Islamic militants now control almost two-thirds of Mali, including the historic city of Timbuktu, where they’ve destroyed shrines and terrorised the population as they attempt to impose sharia law.

Mamadou Diawara: In the beginning, as I mentioned to you, the guys coming from Libya were the ones who were the loudest, but now they have been thrown out from Timbuktu and from the cities and they are now marginalised. And now you have rather the MUJAO in Gao and you have these Salafis—or the group of Salafis, the AQIM people—that are now in the northern parts, so in Timbuktu and in Kidal. So the relationships is far, far, far away from harmony. Everybody is fighting for its own interests.


Ginny Stein, The World Today (archival): Every day, several thousand people flee Mali to makeshift camps that have sprung up in remote regions. Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Guinea each have their own problems. They’re now being asked to house tens of thousands of refugees. While Niger has shown it is possible to respond to a crisis, it now has another to deal with: an exodus unlike any other experienced in West Africa, driven not just by war or drought, but by Ansar Dine, a puritanical al-Qaeda-linked movement whose name means ‘defenders of the faith’.

Mamadou Diawara: Two-thirds of the country is occupied by the rebels—two-thirds of the country. And these two-thirds of the country is not only constituted by the so-called Tuaregs; there are many other ethnic groups concerned by this. So the consequence of this invasion is a disaster, a humanitarian disaster. The UNHCR is counting middle of July around 250,000 Malian refugees in countries like Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger, and in Mali itself you have around 170,000 to 200,000 within Mali. So you have more than 450,000 people who leave their belongings, they leave their homes, and they are now transformed into refugees.

Gregory Mann: There’s been a great deal of talk about the possibility of outside intervention in the north. What’s happening in the north is dangerous not only for the people who live in the north—the Tuareg, the Sonrai, the Peul and others—it’s also dangerous for all of Mali’s neighbours. It’s very dangerous for Niger—the president of Niger’s been extremely outspoken about his desire to see this conflict resolved. It’s dangerous for Mauritania, it’s dangerous for Algeria, it’s dangerous for Nigeria—and so all the neighbours feel themselves threatened.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is the principal terrorist organisation in the north, has said openly that its primary enemy is actually France and so France also feels directly implicated in what is happening in the Sahara—well, in fact France is implicated in more ways than one, but France feels directly targeted and menaced by what is going on in the Sahara.

So there’s been a great deal of talk about intervention; nobody seems eager to rush in. The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, of which Mali’s a part, has agreed to send an intervention force. The Malian government has yet to accept any idea of an outside intervention, including by its neighbours, much less by troops from outside of the African continent.

At the same time, it’s very unclear how the conflict can be resolved without a military intervention. The Malian army is clearly incapable of fighting. It is demoralised. The junior officers arrested a lot of the senior officers, thereby decapitating… cutting off their own command. They do not seem to have the will to fight. There’s a great deal of resentment in Mali now about the fact that the army seems to have returned to its barracks and is sitting quietly while people in the north are being terrorised by criminals and gangsters. So it’s a very tense situation in the south as well, as people expect something to eventually happen. They expect some kind of military reconquest, but it’s to see how the Malian army alone can take that on.

Annabelle Quince: Gregory Mann, associate professor of history at Columbia University. And my other guest today was Mamadou Diawara, professor of anthropology at the University of Frankfurt. The sound engineer is Jennifer Parsonage. I’m Annabelle Quince and this is Rear Vision on RN. Thanks as always for joining us.
© 2012 RadioNational abc.net.au

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