#6: A Revolution in Process (not a coup)

The situation in Mali as I understand it:

October 10, 2012, New York City

The Bottom Line

1. The criminals who are currently occupying the north of Mali must leave.

I have been a peace activist all my life but I see no alternative to a war in this case. The humanitarian crisis will only get worse until the criminals are gone. Europe and ECOWAS have refused to help Mali with ammunition and logistics that Mali requested insisting that they will only help with “boots on the ground”. This leaves Mali without options. The longer the regions are occupied, the harder it will be to dislodge the criminals. The occupation has already been in place for six months. The US position only calls for new elections and plays no part in this conversation.

The media and the international community only make the situation worse. The international community makes decisions about Mali without understanding the context of Malian culture or history. On the rare occasions when Mali is the topic of media reports and hearings, Malians are rarely, if ever, part of the discussion. Sadly, the Malian government does not have a effective campaign to oppose this dangerous mis-information.

At the opening of the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra officially asked for international intervention. Hopefully this will happen quickly. In the last week, since the request and as France prepares for military intervention, the US position has become less categoric.

2. Then Mali will be able to begin to build a country that is a true democracy as opposed to the corrupt illusion of democracy that existed before this crisis.

Link to a shorter version of this article on the Council on Foreign Relations blog.

632__650x650_composite-smThese images are from a Fashion Show by the renowned Groupe Bogolan Kasobane highlighting the beauty of the diversity of Malian culture. It was part of a conference organized by the Ministry of Culture in mid July. The cultural community from all over Mali came together to take stock of the importance of the diversity of Malian culture for national unity, social cohesion and peace.

I went to Mali in early July to see for myself

The reports in the Western media bore no relation to the Mali I know nor to my phone conversations with my Malian friends, colleagues, family. I also went to be in solidarity with my friends and colleagues who were tired, discouraged and ashamed that two-thirds of Mali is being occupied by criminals.

I wanted to talk to ordinary Malians who are not being consulted about the crisis and who are not being heard by the international media. But the range of interviews I imagined were impossible. People wanted to talk. The crisis was the only topic of conversation. Each evening people would gather to compare the rumors we had heard in town that day. But people didn’t want to be recorded. No one knows what will happen next. I recorded at public meetings and a few interviews with people I know.

During my time in Mali I experienced no physical danger even though articles in the NY Times and elsewhere made it sound like there was blood running in the streets of Bamako. Because of these articles my inbox filled up with worried emails asking if I was alright.

When I arrived in Bamako, I went to the neighborhood where I stay. Magnanbougou is like Brooklyn, a large, diverse, popular neighborhood across the river from downtown. It looked no different than the last time I was there in January 2011. My impression before I arrived was of insecurity and turmoil. The next day I asked a friend to drive me around downtown, just to make sure it was still there. We crossed the Niger River on the new 3rd bridge and made our way towards downtown. There were new buildings and shops but Bamako showed no signs of turmoil.

People were surprised and touched to see me. They said, “The others left but you came.” Life is the same as usual except there is a heaviness waiting to see what will happen. Everyone talks about what happened and what will/could/should happen. People have less money than usual since the economy is at a standstill. There is no tourism or consultants so hotels are closing. The artisans are really hurting. Salaries aren’t enough to support on person let alone the whole families and villages government workers somehow support and the ancillary jobs people do to get by don’t exist for the moment. Hard times.

A Revolution ( not a Coup d’Etat )

The western media, to the extent that it covers Mali at all, feeds us a steady diet of information about the refugee crisis and the horrors the barbarous crimes occurring regularly in the occupied territory. And indeed it is terrible.

But there is no attention to the crisis in the south which allowed the occupation of the north to come about and no attention to the current Malian transition government.

What happened on March 21st was NOT a coup d’etat but a revolution against the deep corruption that had become ever deeper over the entire 20 years of the so called Malian democracy.

What began as a mutiny by soldiers who were disgruntled by being sent to fight a war without munitions, arms or supplies ended up with the resignation of the President.

Mali is one the largest producers of cotton in Africa but there is little value added in Mali. For lack of equipment, thousands of rural women lack access to this means of income.
Mali is one the largest producers of cotton in Africa but there is little value added in Mali. For lack of equipment, thousands of rural women lack access to this means of income.

Many Malians believe the democracy was a sham that brought the corrupt leaders lots of donor money. Whether Mali can overcome this corrupt system and establish a government that works for everyone rather than for the few families who have controlled everything for years will only be known once the occupied territories are regained.

The coup leader, Sanago, is portrayed in the western media as a mad man, an imbecile. He was not present at the Presidential Palace the day of the event. He agreed to become the leader of the mutiny but had no political experience and was not well advised. He made mistakes. But Sanogo is seen by many Malians as a savior since he delivered Mali from the corrupt leaders and awakened the nation to the previously unknown depths of the corruption including kickbacks from narco-trafficking and ransoms paid by European countries for hostages freed in Mali.

ECOWAS is seen with suspicion as defenders of the old corrupt regime since it is made up of president of West African countries who are no less corrupt than the deposed Malian regime. Their actions are seen as an effort to protect themselves and their own power from the revolution in process in Mali. Rather than consulting with existing institutions such as the Malian Constitutional Court and Malian civil society, ECOWAS immediately defined what had happened and imposed the terms of the way forward.

The corruption pervades the culture so that there is little work and little impetus to work. Money can’t be made by honest work. People become rich overnight without apparent effort or action.

The Malian Ministry of Defense had one of the largest budgets but when it came to fighting the war in the north, the soldier had no arms or munitions! Where did all that money go? People paid their way into military service, a government job, and became soldiers with ever reduced training. And the army was top heavy with 70 generals many without military experience.

A project comes. Everyone is to be paid a certain amount. Mali operates on a cash economy. The workers sign for their specified wages but receive only a small portion. The project leaders keep the rest.

Only one or two people are authorized to import rice, sugar and other necessities driving up prices for lack of competition. The cost of living in Mali is higher than in the neighboring countries and the salaries are lower because of the depth of the corruption. If a government worker buys a bicycle for their child, you know they are corrupt because there is no way this is possible on a government salary after paying for rent, food and other essentials. You see government workers building fancy houses and driving fancy cars all the time.

The education system has been broken for the entire period of the supposed democracy. The children of the people responsible for the Malian education system send their children to expensive schools abroad. Students in Malian schools pay bribes in order to pass their courses.

Many who work for the government do so on the basis of fraudulent diplomas or no diplomas at all. Many people bribe their way into government service and enter without taking the civil service exam.

Those who refuse the corruption, stagnate. People think its their fault. If only they search harder/ better. But now everyone knows it is not them. The system was stacked more then anyone could have imagined. But now, all that was hidden from view has come out.

Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra at the closing ceremony for the Cultural Week. To his right is the Minister of Culture, dressed in solidarity with the people of Timbuktu.
Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra at the closing ceremony for the Cultural Week. To his right is the Minister of Culture, dressed in solidarity with the people of Timbuktu.
The Government of National Unity

Cheick Modibo Diarra was named Prime Minister on April 6. The Government of National Unity enjoys the strong support of many Malians. To mark the first 100 days of his government, there was a 90 minute televised interview of the Prime Minister by four Malian journalists. Modibo, as he is called in Mali, answered questions completely and with candor outlining the accomplishments and challenges of his government. The members of the government were in the audience for the interview.

The accomplishments were the establishing of an international presence and attending all meeting to try to resolve the crisis. The government assured the current agricultural season by negotiating for affordable seeds, fertilizer and animal feed. Assuring access to food and other necessities by working with importers, merchants to make sure that there were sufficient stocks and that the prices didn’t rise. And the government assured the school year including schools for displaced children. Government workers have been paid. Mali has been living by within its own means without donor assistance.

And he spoke about the inevitable war. Malians are anxious for the territory to be recaptured. They are impatient for the criminals to be gone and with them the shame of the occupation so that the real work of reforming Mali can begin.

Many of those occupying the north of Mali are not Malians. Modibo said he was willing to negotiate with all Malians who were willing to abandon claims of dividing the country, ready to accept a civil rather than an Islamic state and ready for security to be provided by Mali only. He would negotiate all legitimate claims for investment and decentralization for everyone not only Tuaregs.

But logistics for war take time. For this war in the huge territory of the desert, food, lodgings, transport, military equipment must be assured. In the last two weeks, since the request to the United Nations, preparations for intervention seem to be accelerating.

Malian National Park in Bamako, funded by the Aga Khan Foundation
Malian National Park in Bamako, funded by the Aga Khan Foundation