The African Union has suspended Mali following a military coup, while the US has warned that the coup could jeopardize up to $100 million in aid.
The AU’s Peace and Security Council “decided that Mali should be suspended… until effective restoration of constitutional order is achieved without delay,” said Paul Zolo, Nigeria’s envoy to Ethiopia and the AU. A joint delegation with the West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc will visit Bamako to press the renegade army officers to return to constitutional order.
The coup is “a major setback to Mali’s political development,” says Jennifer Cooke, head of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, especially since the country had earned an international reputation for robust democratic institutions and economic reforms.
The country’s experience was often cited by analysts and activists as a rebuttal of arguments that development must precede democracy and as proof of democracy’s universality.
As Stanford’s Larry Diamond observes in The Spirit of Democracy, “If democracy can emerge and persist for more than fifteen years in a destitute, landlocked, overwhelmingly Muslim country like Mali – in which the vast majority of adults are illiterate and live in absolute poverty and life expectancy is forty-eight years – then there would seem to be no intrinsic reason why democracy cannot develop in every poor country, and indeed every country.”
President Amadou Toumani Toure, known as the “Soldier of Democracy,” was preparing to leave office after elections later this month.
“It is quite surprising to have a military coup just before an election in which the president was stepping down,” said Gilles Yabi, an analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “I understand the mutineers have no clear plan on what to do with power now.”
The White House issued a statement condemning “the violence initiated by elements of the armed forces of Mali” and calling for “the immediate restoration of constitutional rule.” The United States stood by “the legitimately elected government” of Mr. Touré.
Humanitarian aid, which comprises more than half of the $137 million in annual U.S. assistance to Mali, is not threatened, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. But the remainder is military aid, which could be stopped if democracy isn’t restored.
The country may also lose some $100 million in aid granted by the Millennium Challenge Corporation which requires recipient states to “demonstrate a clear commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens,” said MCC Chief Executive Daniel W. Yohannes:
Mali was granted nearly $461 million over five years to help reduce poverty and support economic growth, focusing investments on its international airport and irrigation from the Niger River. The grant is due to end in September, but the U.S. agency said it was halting its operations to decide whether to continue. Roughly 70% of the money has been spent so far, according to the MCC website.
“Analysts cited the coup as an example of how Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow could yield unexpected political mutations, destabilizing parts of the vast Sahara region,” the New York Times reports.
Malian democracy is a casualty of the regional fallout following the ouster of the Libyan dictator who used members of the country’s Tuareg ethnic minority as mercenaries. The well-armed fighters have now returned to their desert home in northern Mali in a powerful position to demand independence for the mineral-rich region.
“The Tuareg have been making demands for ages,” says Mathurin Houngnikpo, who studies civil-military relations at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. “This is the first time they have posed such a dangerous military threat.”
The coup threatens to plunge Mali back into the darkness of dictatorship?, writes the Guardian’s Andy Morgan:
If the NMLA [Tuareg rebels National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad] succeeds in its declared aim of winning independence, Mali faces the prospect of losing over half its territory along with the immense oil and mineral wealth that lie under the desert sands. Sanogo and his demoralised fellow soldiers have plunged a once proud African democracy back into the darkness of military dictatorship in order to try and avoid that nightmare scenario. It’s a gamble of historic proportions
“A wider concern is what effect the coup may have on neighboring countries,” NPR reports:
Witney Schneidman, a special advisor to the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institute, notes that the governments in the neighboring countries of Senegal, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire are “all fragile.”
The coup is an ignominious end to the career of one of the few leaders in sub-Saharan Africa to initiate democratic development after seizing power and to leave office voluntarily.
“My ambition is to write a new page in our country’s history … to make our country a model of good governance in a peaceful climate, a Mali able to give as much as it receives,” Toure said in a newspaper interview in 2002:
Toure, 63, a former paratrooper popularly known by his initials “ATT”, had himself seized power through arms in 1991, overthrowing military ruler Moussa Traore after the latter’s security forces killed more than 100 pro-democracy demonstrators. But he quickly earned domestic and international acclaim by organizing polls the following year and a democratic handover to an elected civilian president in the Sahelian country, Africa’s third largest gold miner and a major regional cotton grower.
Swapping his paratrooper’s red beret and fatigues for flowing civilian robes and a Muslim bonnet, he returned to Mali’s presidency through the ballot box in 2002 and was re-elected for his second and final five-year term in 2007. Already hailed as a respected African statesman and peacemaker following his 1992 democratic handover, he was called upon in 1997 to broker a reconciliation between mutinous and loyalist troops in the Central African Republic.
Al Qaeda-affiliated factions are a growing concern in West Africa;: they are thought to be hiding in the empty deserts of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria. The allegedly Al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram, in northern Nigeria, is a militant Islamist group avowedly against Western cultural influences and the southern Christian government. While I was there a few weeks ago, two European hostages were killed by a possible splinter cell of Boko Haram during a failed attempt by Nigerian and Britain troops to free them. ….
But the Malian coup may have backfired. The soldiers claim that their reasons for mutiny lie in their desire to quell the rebellion in the vast, anarchic north. But as the soldiers try to complete their takeover and stamp out remaining support for the President, Tuareg rebels are advancing southward, taking over posts vacated by the coup-occupied army.