Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mali, a Notable Surprise in History

Author: Staff Writer

A Notable Surprise in History

A patient examination of what is taking place in Mali would bring most people to the careful analyses that something unprecedented and important is unfolding in this West African country. Some, like myself, would even go as far as to say that a norm-establishing event is currently taking place on the continent. Democracy in Africa, it would seem, now has the institutional resilience Africans and her well-wishers have always hoped for. And the recent turn of events in Mali represents this change. On the 21st of March, led by a cadre of junior officers, Malian soldiers unhappy with the government’s handling of the ethnic Tuareg rebellion, attacked several strategic locations in the capital Bamako, which included the palatial residence of President Amadou Toumani Toure. The president was forced to flee the country. Subsequently, the coup’s leaders have received unanimous international condemnation, including from the United Nations Security Council. And have agreed, due to harsh sanctions from Mali’s neighbours and the African Union (AU), to step down and hand over power to the speaker of the parliament.

Leader of the Mali Coup in March
Captain Sanogo
It is clear to students of international politics that, firstly, very few coup d’états are unsuccessful in Africa. Secondly, that most coups, in their execution, involve the death of a sizeable number of people. And, thirdly, that what follows a coup, in the attempt by the coup’s leaders to solidify their power and capitalize on their gains, involves the suppression of a nation’s people. All of these are reasons why coup d’etats often invoke, in its aftermath, a feeling of living under the cloud of war in the psychology of a nation. So when the leaders of Mali’s coup decided, after deft and calculated diplomatic pressure from the international community, especially from the AU, that they would return power to a constitutionally sanctioned national body, it was a notable surprising turn of events. But, it was also good news for Africa’s future and the long efforts to build democratic and constitutional norms in the continent’s politics.

For Africa’s history is littered with coup d’états that have authored mass misery on the lives of the continent’s peoples. Some of the continent’s fifty-four countries are currently still living under the tight grip of a successful coup. While others, like the Republic of Congo, have only recently moved beyond the immeasurable human misery of the long, drawn-out life span of a coup. Liberia is another example. It is a country whose recent bloody past shadows its currently stable socio-political order. In a coup d'état on April 12th, 1980, Samuel K. Doe, a member of the Krahn ethnic group, seized power from President William Tolbert, Jr., who was assassinated in his bed, with 13 of his closest aids publicly executed. Liberia spiralled down from there. As Doe amassed power for himself and members of his Krahn ethnic group, he alienated Liberia’s other ethnic factions. By 1989, Doe’s former ally, Charles Taylor, seized on this opportunity to rally non-Krahn support for his brutal campaign to take over power. Samuel Doe was publicly murdered in 1990, with his death by tortured taped.

Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor, on a bloodletting campaign for power, promised to resign from his war efforts only if Liberians voted him and his party into office. But not before Doe’s death had awaken deep ethnic hatreds that plunged the country into a civil war with roughly 220,00 Liberians paying with their lives. Taylor himself did not last long in his new position. By 2003, rebel factions had taken over most of the country, leaving Taylor surrounded in the capital Monrovia. By the time he managed an escape to Nigeria for asylum, Liberia’s civil war had displaced 200,000 Liberians, employed over 15,000 children as soldiers, and had left the country without a single functional civil institution. Liberia’s story, unfortunately, is not unique. It is a narrative that too often applies to so many countries in Africa. Today, however, Liberia boasts having the continent’s first democratically elected head of state—President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Events in Mali could still turn for the worse if the military junta should refuse to return to the barracks, or if power should fall into the hands of a few elites in parliament willing to create their own civilian authoritarian regime. Mali needs the international community, especially its West African neighbours, to keep up the diplomatic pressure in asking for it to return to a fully constitutionally mandated government as soon as possible. The country is in the balance, and where it goes from here could fundamentally change the political norms of the continent. A Mali successfully returned to a representative democratic government could be a norm-establishing development. The leading roles the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) and the AU have played thus far have been exemplary, proving that Africans have evolved geopolitical means of dealing with their political realities.

Your comments and feedback are much appreciated. To engage in further discussion with the author and editors of the blog on this topic and other related topics, follow us on twitter @SEADiaspora