The crisis in Mali abates — the calm before a storm?
The folks running the show in Mali, the landlocked West African country that is near the top of most lists of the world’s poorest countries, picked Cheick Modibo Diarra, a rocket scientist and the head of one of the world’s richest companies, Microsoft, to serve as interim prime minister until things get back on track following a coup d’état by junior officers and the loss of nearly half the country to secessionist desert tribesmen and holy warriors out of shariaize the whole place. They must have figured that since all else seemed to be failing, they might as well try somebody with a serious résumé.
There were no reactions from France, the ex-colonial master and, according to rumors in Bamako, the instigator of the trouble that has led to this sorry pass, wherein anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 people have been turned into refugees, by the ICRC’s count and, with commerce and business at a standstill — or at least a what-next — shortages of essential goods and foodstuffs are becoming acute.
Dr. Diarra, 60, an astrophysicist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, educated at Paris’s Curie Institute and Washington’s Howard University, was the consensus choice of the putchists who overthrew the elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré on March 22 and the representatives of neighboring countries’ association, ECOWAS (Economic Union of West African States, CEDEAO by its French acronym) that responded to the coup with an embargo. The African Union, including all the members of ECOWAS, ostracizes regimes that come to power illegitimately. With a transition plan announced last week and the swearing-in of an interim president, speaker of the Assembly Dioncounda Traoré, ECOWAS is switching gears by lifting the embargo and offering to mobilize forces to restore governmental authority in the north. However, and evidently without consulting either the new highest officials of the Republic or the regional interested parties, the junta sent soldiers and policemen to arrest public figures close to deposed President Touré, still in hiding but reportedly safe and sound in the Senegalese embassy. Little damage was reported, as they were released the next day; possibly the junta simply wanted to send a signal to the political class that it expects respect.
The junta has warned that high ranking members of the fallen government might be charged on various counts, thus far unspecified but presumably related to the misappropriations of public funds and the collapse of military resistance in the north due to “treasonable” neglect of the security situation there.
Dr. Diarra, son-in-law to the former dictator General Moussa Traoré (no relation to Dioncounda Traoré), has been known most of his life for his research on the outer frontiers of science. He has been a UNESCO goodwill ambassador with the mission of promoting education and encouraging access to advanced technology. An American citizen (a dual national), he has been head of Microsoft-Africa since 2006, reportedly taking leave of absence last year to found a political party, Union for Development in Mali, and was a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for April 29 of this year, now postponed.
The overthrow in March of President Touré was widely perceived as a blow to Malian democracy, touted by the U.S. as a regional success since it was instituted in the early 1990s by Mr. Touré, who overthrew Moussa Traoré in a 1990 coup. Mr. Touré, popularly known as “President ATT,” ran for election in 2002 and was re-elected in 2007. The constitution places a two-term limit on the presidency and Mr. Touré had indicated clearly his intention to retire from public affairs.
The motives and goals of the officers who seized power under the command of Captain Amadou Sanogo last month remain unclear. Initially announcing their determination to repress the northern insurrection, or insurrections, and reconquer the territories north of the Niger river, they did not react to the routing of the reportedly ill-equipped garrisons defending the principal centers and, according to unverified local eyewitness reports, the ensuring pillaging and terrorizing of the local populations.
ECOWAS received support from France and the U.S. in its prompt ruling that the coup would not be tolerated. France expressed willingness to provide logistical assistance to a multilateral force to restore Mali’s territorial integrity.
Despite this diplomatic and political support, residents of Bamako have accused France since the beginning of the armed insurrection in January of supporting the rebels of the MNLA, the Azawad national liberation movement from the name of the region that Tuareg tribesmen consider their historic homeland.
It is not entirely clear how nomadic Berbers like the Tuareg should be able to precisely delineate the borders of a historical homeland, but it is not in dispute that the southwestern Sahara and its Sahelian shore, which runs through northern Mali, is inhabited largely by Tuareg tribesmen. It is inhabited as well by Songhai, Peuls, and Arab Moors who have indicated, politically and at times by the organizing of local militia, their opposition to secession during previous Tuareg revolts. These have been recurring occurrences since independence was given to French Soudan, renamed Mali in 1960 for its associations with the pre-colonial Malinke and Songhai empires.
Critics of President Touré accused him when the armed rebellion began in January — or resumed, given that a truce had been signed in 2009 — of taking a soft line toward the Tuareg, numbers of whom had served in the ranks of Moammar Gaddafi’s army and returned home laden with up-to-date weapons. France is suspected of cutting a deal with them to desert the Libyan strongman’s service, in which some had been for years and even decades, while others were recruited to reinforce his side when France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy instigated hostilities against his regime in 2011. Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, whose day job is mayor of Bordeaux, repeatedly denied this theory, according to which the French and their British and American allies got the upper hand against Gaddafi by promising the Tuareg unhindered passage out of Libya and tacit support for their territorial claims, by pointing to the long history of Tuareg restiveness in Mali (as well as in other parts of the Sahel, notably neighboring Niger) and to France’s firm record of support for the principle of inviolability of post-colonial borders.
The United States supports this principle as well, as does, of course, ECOWAS and the African Union and indeed just about every official national and multi-national institution in the official international community otherwise known as the United Nations. However, the same institutions, as well as the IMF, supported the partition of Sudan and the breakaway of Eritrea from Ethiopia, but observers point out that these modifications to the post-colonial border arrangements were duly negotiated by the interested parties, usually with honest brokers overseeing the deal-making — as occurred in the case of Sudan under the presidency of George W. Bush. Sudan and the young South Sudan are presently engaged in violent hostilities evidently caused by an unresolved dispute over the oil revenues from territory astride both nations, which were supposed to be equitably shared.
The Tuareg revolt is viewed with a mix of revulsion and trepidation by many, if not most, sub-Niger Malians, Bambara-speaking Malinke and related tribal groups. They resent the refusal of the “whites” of the north (the Tuareg are in fact rather dark, and they often are referred to with some contempt as “blue men,” but this just goes to show that color, as we Americans well know, is in the head not on the skin, even if, objectively, it often is that too) to fit into their tolerantly diverse society, which is not entirely fair since many do fit, intermarry, serve in the army, run small businesses, etcetera. Indeed, the no-longer-wildly-popular President ATT is rumored to have Tuareg family connections.
The case certainly can be made that the Berber peoples of the Sahara, including the Tuareg, who are notoriously clannish — sort of like the Irish, if Mr. Tyrrell will permit me to say so — do not “fit” well with the sub-Saharans. This is evident not only in Mali but in Mauritania, for example. But Mauritania, no less than Mali itself, also disproves the rule, or racial cliché. Since the consolidation of constitutional rule following a series of coups (which to some degree could be called a game of violent musical chairs among separate but related Moor tribes), there is a marked amelioration of relations between the peoples north and south of the Senegal River. Another example of the value of strong political underpinnings in the overcoming of sectional and tribal mistrust within a nation are the careers of Willie Morris and Tom Wicker in that Yankee bastion, New York City.
But then, America is exceptional. What is disheartening about the crisis in Mali is that for 20 years it has been a model of constitutionalism in a region noted for arbitrary politics, where security resides in the family and the clan rather than the law. The Tuareg secession was formally proclaimed in the first week of April by a spokesman for the MNLA, but it was immediately contradicted by the Ansar Dine movement, a Tuareg-based Islamist fighting force which, according to reports, controls some of the population centers in the north, possibly more than the MNLA — no one can say for certain. The Ansar Dine (“defenders of the faith”) claim to be interested not in creating a new state but in imposing Sharia throughout Mali. They may or may not be in league with the AQIM irregulars (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Even the most knowledgeable specialists in the region evidently are unable or unwilling at present to sort out who is really who and who has the upper hand in the north of Mali. However, Berber sources familiar with Tuareg politics believe the MNLA is resolutely anti-Islamist and could conceivably serve as a pro-Western “aircraft carrier” in the Sahara if it wins an independent, or even autonomous, space that it can call its own.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?