A coup erupted in Mali, a landlocked West African country, on March 22. The presidential palace, a number of the country’s state institutions, and the premises of the national broadcaster were seized by a mutinous group led by Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, and at the moment, authority in Mali announcedly rests with an improvised “National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State” (CNRDR), the government is disbanded, and the constitution – put on hold. The putchists are also known to have placed several Mali ministers and the majority of candidates who registered to run in the upcoming April 29 elections under arrest.
Commentators worldwide immediately linked the developments to the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. A statement released on the day of the coup by Russia’s foreign ministry said the junta’s objective was to reign in the situation in the region where the government forces were clashing with separatists, and Russian deputy minister of foreign affairs M. Bogdanov described the Mali coup as “a deplorable consequence of the Libyan crisis”. True, Tuareg separatists who recently returned from Libya have been attacking cities in the northern part of Mali since January, 2012. The group of 1,000-1,500 rebels under the command of former Libyan colonel Ag Mohamed Najem – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) – gained control over chunks of the Mali territory in the north and declared them independent. Residents of the areas over which the insurgency was spilling flew en masse to Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and the southern Mali, while the country’s army was evidently unable to put up serious resistance and permanently rolled back under separatist strikes. Watchers tend to see the debacle and the fact that control over up to a half of the Mali territory slipped away from the hands of the government as the root causes behind the coup.
The Tuareg insurgency is a recurrent problem in Mali. The first uprising of considerable proportions broke out in the early 1960s, the epoch of Mali’s transition to independence. A new round followed in 1992, when the toppling of the heavy-handed head of state Moussa Traoré made Tuaregs feel that the opportunity to push for independence reopened. At the time, fighting and bloodshed spread from the Sahara to the areas adjacent to large cities and, notably, the types of weaponry available to separatists were not limited to firearms but reportedly included artillery and anti-tank missiles. These days, the separatists armed with the weapons they had drawn from the arsenals of the routed Libyan army likely represent an even more ominous force. In the 1990s, the Mali government failed to quell the separatist insurgency and had to pen a deal with the Azawad Front, part of which was a pledge to boost the development of the Tuareg regions of Mali.
The group responsible for the coup cites the conflict in the north of Mali as the reason why it reached out for power, but the explanation does not necessarily withstand scrutiny. I warned about the vulnerability of Mali early this March, attributing it to the influence of outside forces eager to take advantage of Mali’s difficult situation rather than to the country’s domestic problems. At the moment, the global media are extensively covering the internal mechanics behind the crisis in Mali but either overlook the external context or seem to believe that it can be reduced to the inflow of weapons from Libya. The reality, it must be noted, is that the weaponry is an instrument and not in itself an external factor.
The media uniformly stress that Mali is among the world’s poorest countries, which is basically true considering that it ranks 127th in the global GDP listing and 168th (of 179) in terms of the index of human development. The ratings, however, should not overshadow the strategic importance and the economic potential of the territory of Mali. It borders seven other countries – Algeria, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Senegal – and sits on considerable natural reserves of gold, uranium, bauxites, iron, manganese, tin, and copper. According to fresh reports, the northern part of Mali is found to be rich in oil and, importantly, contains a usable underground water ecosystem. It is worth bearing in mind that over the past few years, the UN International Law Commission was preoccupied with the theme of shared natural resources, with the focus on trans-boundary aquifers instead of traditional staples like energy or precious metals, and even drafted an international convention on the subject. The point is that in the case of Mali external players – who had no reasons to throw their support behind the separatists as long as those laid claims to desert lands holding no economic promise – may be attracted by the recently discovered key natural resources. The political approach was manifest in Sudan, which eventually had to say goodbye to its part containing oil reserves. If the analogy is viable, in the foreseeable future we will hear about the independence of “North Mali” (or even about some kind of “North Sudan”, considering that Mali used to be a piece of a country known as Western Sudan till 1960).
Currently the picture of the coup in Mali is in many regards obscure. For example, it is surprising that the presidential palace was taken so easily by the putchists – the impression I got during my visit to the country was that the residence strategically located atop the Kuluba mountain had to be fairly immune to attack. Its ousted host Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) managed to seize the palace in the 1991 coup which led to the displacement of Moussa Traoré, the man who ruled Mali for a quarter of a century, and could be expected to have taken every precaution in the light of his own experience. Chances are the palace was abandoned by the time it was invaded, and indeed the available footage shows no signs of fighting. Shall we conclude that ATT knew what was brewing and for some reason gave up resistance? In an interesting coincidence, the alleged storming took place on March 22 and ATT had been propelled to power by the public unrest which flared on March 22, 1991. The group currently in control asserts that ATT is in its custody but his being alive cannot be independently verified. Another suspicious circumstance is that an African Union (AU) delegation headed by AU Commission chief Jean Ping and South African diplomacy chief Maite Nkoana Mashabane visited the palace on the eve of the coup to discuss aid to Mali, with South Africa pledging to contribute around Euro 7m to the settlement of the conflict which raged in the country’s northern part. As I wrote previously, the West made it a habit to block whatever attempts the AU makes at defusing crises. The combination of circumstances invites the hypothesis that the coup came as a preemptive strike supposed to derail the settlement in Mali.
Finally, it should be taken into account that the coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo was enrolled in the US Government’s anti-terrorist team and was trained in the US in the framework of a special program. In a curious contrast, toppled Mali leader Amadou Toumani Touré was educated in the USSR.
The Mali coup was promptly condemned by the leaders of the countries from the world’s top league, and at present the membership of Mali in various international bodies is suspended along with the programs of aid to the country. A bizarre overtone does appear to be common to the invectives – neither of the statements issued in connection with the Mali coup calls for Amadou Toumani Touré’s immediate return to power. Instead, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged “those responsible to refrain from any actions that could increase violence and further destabilize the country”, French foreign minister Alain Juppe said that “It is essential to restore the country’s constitutional order, political stability and security conditions while avoiding all violence”, and EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs announced that he “decided to suspend temporarily European Commission’s development operations in the country until the situation clarifies”. The only mentionings of Amadou Toumani Touré concern the importance of guaranteeing his personal safety, with absolutely nothing beyond. The call for restoring the constitutional order in Mali is open to interpretation: the options that can be read into it include an overhaul of the country’s constitution, new elections (potentially without the involvement of the registered candidates who are currently under arrest), etc. In contrast, France and the international community unequivocally demanded to install a specific person – Alassane Ouattara – instead of Laurent Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire in late 2011 and wasted no time on abstract talk about the constitutional order in the country. The message is clear in both cases, and this time it is that the obviously undivided international community will not press for the restoration of the legitimate authority of Amadou Toumani Touré in Mali.
The Mali coup marks another step towards the global redistribution of territories and natural resources masterminded by trans-national and trans-territorial players. Africa, therefore, is entering a long and difficult epoch of collapsing statehoods.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation