The Mali situation as I understand it, April 19, 2012, New York City
This summary covers a period of 2 weeks. It begins to occur to me that this crisis will not be over soon. This summary is not as complete or linear as the first two. The situation remains confusing and the weariness and trauma of the last month weighs on me. But here it is.
I think it is important to understand that there are (at least) two inseparable fronts to the crisis.
1. There is the occupation of the north of Mali (the states of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu) with the monstrous humanitarian crisis it has brought with over 200,000 refugees and internally displaced people along with people trapped in their homes without food, medical supplies and other items of premier necessity as well as alarming sexual violence. The occupiers have begun to impose Sharia Law in the region. Mali as always been a secular state with a majority Islamic population.
2. In the south there is a struggle for return to constitutional law and a struggle to expose and dislodge deep seated corruption.
One of my fears is that the situation is Mali is merely the African tragedy du jour.
Coincidently or not, The New York Times has published 3 wonderful articles by Holland Cotter this week about Malian culture in a series called An Art Critic in Africa. It is wonderful to see them and to understand why we should care about Mali and its deep and beautiful culture.
Return to the 1992 Constitution
On Friday, April 5, the coup leaders announced a return to constitutional order in Mali. They announced that the 1992 constitution would be re-instated. An agreement between the junta and Ecowas was signed.
This was an attempt to clear the way for ECOWAS to lift the sanctions it had imposed on the military coup and for the international community to begin to intervene in the crisis especially the north which is under occupation.
MNLA Declares Independence
After what I have come to refer to as “collective heart attack weekend” when the northern groups took over 2/3 of the country, the northern rebels declared independence in the north on April 6. No part of the international community sees this declaration as legitimate. There is an attempt by the MNLA to separate itself from the more extreme groups who are also occupying the north as a way to garner legitimacy. They seem to me to be working in tandem.
In reality a minority group (MNLA) is seeking independence for an ethnic minority (Tuareg) that doesn’t want it, on a piece of land that it has never owned (or ruled) at any point of time in history, in the midst of much larger communities that were never consulted on the matter.
The MNLA pr campaign has insinuated that the French colonial powers were responsible, at the time of the independence of Mali, for drawing its map so as to include the lands occupied by the Tuaregs. This is an utterly uninformed or viciously incorrect affirmation.
The Mali Empire the building of Timbuktu into a city of learning began with the Mali Empire. Its successor, the Songhai Empire covered all the territories in present day Mali and much more. The Songhai and several other ethnic groups in Mali have occupied the north of Mali from times immemorial to present. The work of the Mali and Songhai empires in the 14th to the 16th centuries suffices to dispel any myth of French misdeeds in this matter – when French colonization only started in the late 1800s (i.e., 1880). The wars and atrocities are the actions of a very small and self-appointed minority.
I have posted a longer article about the crisis in the north here.
Interim President – Dioncounda Traore
The 1992 constitution of Mali stipulates that if an elected President can not perform their duties, an interim government will be put in place and have 40 days in which to organize an election.
The deposed President, Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) handed in his resignation on Sunday, April 8th. This seems odd to me since he is no less capable of performing his duties now than he has been for the last almost ten years he has been the president of Mali. On April 9th the constitutional Court accepted his resignation.
On Wednesday the interim president, Dioncounda Traore, the head of the National Assembly, was named as stipulated by the 1992 constitution as the order of succession. He was inaugurated on Thursday, April 12th. Dioncounda Traore speaks French, Russian, English, Spanish, Bambara and Soninke languages. A former teacher, the 70-year-old Traore was born in Kati, near Bamako, the Malian capital. He is married and has seven children. Traore studied mathematics in the former Soviet Union and Algeria, before being awarded a doctorate in France.
Election in 40 days?
In this case an election in 40 days seems impossible and undesirable. Since 2/3 of the country is currently occupied by a combination of 4-5 armed groups who may or may not be working together and who have declared the independence of the north from Mali, the Malian citizens in the north – the 3 northern regions ( Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu) would not be able to vote. An election held without their votes would legitimize the illegal occupation of the North and result in a government of the south only.
The first order of business seems to be to deal with the North. I fear the war that will be waged to recapture the North.
Negotiations between the junta and ECOWAS took place in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso since the President of Burkina Fase, Blaise Campore was named as the negotiator by ECOWAS.
It is unclear what will happen after the 40 days when the constitutionally mandated interim government’s term is over.
The junta continues to play an active role. When they issue statements, the ones in French (meant for the international community) differ greatly from their statements in Bamanankan (meant for local consumption ). In bamanankan, that say that they are stil in power and not going anywhere.
The next step was to name an interim Prime Minister who will establish the interim government . The Prime Minister is where the real power lies during the 40 day interim government.
Naming of Interim Prime Minister
On April 17, Cheik Modibo Diarra was named interim Prime Minister. He is an astrophysicist who worked on five NASA missions and became a US citizen. He also served as Microsoft’s Africa chairman until last December.
Marches in the Diaspora
There have been demonstrations for peace in Mali in New York, Washington, Paris and other cities where members of the Malian diaspora live.
UN condemns public rapes in northern Mali
On April 10, a senior U.N. official condemned public rapes and other sexual violence in northern Mali, large parts of which are under the control of Tuareg rebels.
“As unrest continues in northern Mali, an alarming number of acts of sexual violence have been reported,” the U.N.’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Margot Wallstrom, said Tuesday. “Allegations include abductions, public rapes and subjecting women and girls to acts of sexual violence in front of family members.”
Aid to the North
Nothing has been done to help the people trapped in the north without food, medicine or other basic necessities. The offices of the Red Cross and other aid organizations were looted and destroyed like everything else in the occupied cities. It has difficult to figure out how to get help to the people who need it. I have heard harrowing tales of Malians traveling to the occupied zones to bring their family and friends to safety in the south. The occupying groups have agreed to a humanitarian corridor but have forbidden goods form the US or France. Hopefully this corridor will begin to function soon.
The United Nations expressed alarm on Monday over the safety of ancient books and documents in the storied city of Timbuktu as reports said that rebels had pillaged and looted the Ahmad Baba Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Research, as well as other institutions. Many of the archives document Timbuktu’s golden era between the 12th and 15th centuries.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said on April 17th that Mali’s ousted leader Amadou Toumani Toure is being sheltered at Senegal’s embassy in Bamako. ATT’s whereabouts had been previously undisclosed.
Arrests of political leaders
Politicians have been in and out of jail since the coup. Early on, all the government ministers were arrested and held. They have since been released.
Since then, some have been arrested when large amounts of goods and money, presumably stolen from the Malian government have been found. A number of senior politicians and high-ranking officers in Mali’s security forces were arrested on Monday night, April 16 and Tuesday, April 17 by the junta. In a statement late Tuesday the junta said that it carried out the arrests “on the strength of specific information.” Ongoing police investigations will be handed over very soon so that judicial cases can be opened, the statement said. This seems to be the struggle against the massive corruption that led Mali to the current crisis.
A security official in Mali says 22 people have been arrested after stockpiles of weapons were found in various homes nearly a month after a military coup. He said that the weapons found did not belong to Mali’s military and that the country is facing “a new threat.”