Council on Foreign Relations Blog: A Revolution

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A Revolution Not a Coup d’État

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
October 22, 2012


This is a guest post by Janet Goldner, a Senior Fulbright Scholar who has worked in Mali for the past fifteen years. She works on a variety of grassroots, cultural, and women’s empowerment projects. She visited Mali again in July and August 2012. Her perspective, different from the more conventional discussion of the Mali crisis, reflects a wide range of indigenous contacts.

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 of the barbarous crimes occurring regularly in the occupied northern territory. And indeed it is terrible.

But there is little attention to the crisis in the south that allowed the occupation of the north to occur. The current Government of National Unity, headed by Interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra is rarely covered in the western press. On the rare occasions when Mali is the topic of governmental hearings, Malians are rarely, if ever, included in the deliberations.

What happened on March 21, 2012, was not a coup d’état. What began as an unplanned mutiny by soldiers disgruntled at being sent to fight a war without munitions, supplies, or support, culminated with the resignation of President Amadou Toumani Touré. Neither planned nor violent, this event was the beginning of a still incomplete revolution against deep-seated corruption spanning the entire twenty years of the so called Malian democracy.

This mutiny occurred six weeks before planned elections. Many Malians did not believe that the elections could dislodge the ruling kleptocracy. Now, elections must wait until the north is liberated. Then Malians can try to build a true democracy as opposed to the corrupt illusion of democracy that existed before this crisis. Malians want real change and will respond vigorously if the old order tries to turn back the clock.

The coup leader, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, is often portrayed by commentors as a mad man, an imbecile. But, he was not present at the Presidential Palace the day of the mutiny, only later did he agree to become the leader of the mutiny. He has no political experience and was not well advised. He made mistakes. In contrast, Sanogo is seen by many Malians as a savior because he delivered Mali from the corrupt leaders and awoke the nation to previously unknown depths of the corruption, including kickbacks from narcotics trafficking and ransoms paid by European countries for hostages held in Mali.

ECOWAS is viewed with suspicion as defending of the old corrupt regime since it is led by presidents of west African countries who are no less corrupt than the old Malian regime. Their actions are seen as an effort to protect their own hold on power from the revolutionary aspirations in play in Mali.

It is important to listen to ordinary Malians who have not had a voice in the international media’s narrative of the ongoing crisis nor have they been consulted by the international community.