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September 24, 2012

Mali Crisis Persists Six Months After Coup

by Anne Look

Mali remains mired in uncertainty six months after a military coup derailed what was a relatively stable, but some say faltering, democracy and paved the way for al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants to seize the northern half of the country.  
 
It has been six months since an army mutiny spiraled into a military coup in the early hours of March 22.
 
Some in Mali cheered the coup as the shock treatment the country needed - a purging of an unpopular leadership that many said was corrupt, and chance to get back on track.
 
But the reality has been much different. Many Malians say life is getting worse, not better.
 
Shop owner Djiri Tambadou says it was at least calm before, but now they do not what is going to happen. Life is difficult, he says. Since the coup his small grocery has been attacked three times by robbers driving SUVs and business is bad. He says the country is still far from a solution, so long as the military exerts control and the politicians are dishonest.

Mali was largely dependent on the international aid foreign powers largely cut off in the days following the coup. The crisis has hit the economy, in particular small and medium-sized businesses.

The International Crisis Group, in a report released Monday, warns economic pressures, including the expected lifting of food subsidies, could spark social unrest.

Crisis Group West Africa Director Gilles Yabi says it is impossible to predict the political consequences of such a popular uprising. He says given the current leadership crisis, it is impossible to say who the population would hold responsible for socio-economic problems.
 
The interim civilian government has been faltering. It was put in place in April following heavy-handed mediation by West African regional bloc ECOWAS aimed at sidelining the coup leaders and restoring some constitutional order.
 
The interim government was then expanded into a "government of national unity" in August in the hopes of garnering broader-based popular support.
 
But analysts say Bamako still lacks a clear leader. The country is instead being run by an uneasy triumvirate of interim President Diouncounda Traore, ex-junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, and interim Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra.

The president of the National Civil Society Council of Mali, Boureima Allaye Toure, says the country is "spinning in circles."
 
Toure says the interim government has swelled from 24 ministers to 31. He says this is not about resolving the crisis. It is about political maneuvering and everyone getting his or her piece of the pie. He says the government is not communicating with the people about its actions. He says they had to learn about Mali's request to ECOWAS for military assistance from the international press. So long as Mali does not have one widely accepted leader making decisions and talking to the people, he says the situation will continue to deteriorate.

The International Crisis Group says the political tug of war, as well as divisions within the ex-junta and the military in general, could provoke another military coup.

When the March 22 coup occurred, Mali was just weeks away from a presidential election that would have marked the end of the now-ousted president's second and final term in office.
 
The interim civilian government now has the task of organizing elections.  But how to do that when two-thirds of Mali's national territory has fallen into the hands of al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants since the coup?
 
The idea of voting without the north, which even before the crisis was home to just a tenth of the population, is not popular among Malians.
 
Bamako security guard Mamadou Diarra says they can not have credible elections until the country is reunited and at peace. He says Mali is one country, so it would not be fair to hold elections in one part and not another.
 
Analysts say the fight to retake the north, even with international support, could be long and still perhaps a long-way off.  In the meantime, there are concerns extended political limbo in the capital could lead to further instability.