Why ECOWAS, AU must get it right in Mali
By Richard Mammah
The situation in Mali is not showing signs of being resolved and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS and the African Union, AU must get it right now.
Weeks after the military intervened in the country, after taking advantage of a stalemate in the polity that had been precipitated by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s poor handling of the electoral processes in the West African nation, that conflict is yet to be fully resolved. And it is not good for the country, the sub-region and the continent.
Part of the consternation of observers at the moment is that Mali in itself does not carry such exceptional weight that makes resolving the political issues of the nation an obtusely complicated deal. Indeed, the issues in question at the moment are seemingly straight-forward, particularly when they are handled from the elevated pedestal of a firm, even-handed and decisive framework of principles and objectives. But alas, this has not been done and the whole response package as can be seen now has seemingly been bungled from the onset, and without good and convincing explanations for this too.
First, ECOWAS dithered over taking out the fires when it was yet at the smoke phase. Showing excessive solidarity with the person of the embattled ousted president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, it demurred over calling him out completely on the electoral violations that had thrown the nation into turmoil.
In fairness to ECOWAS, its statutes disallow non-constitutional usurpation of the power processes in any of its territories. However, the same statutes also, not only task governments and election managers in the nations within the sub-region to ensure fidelity to election rules, the actual polls in themselves are ordinarily observed by ECOWAS. So what did ECOWAS do at that stage?
Even after the contentious results had been declared and the crowds milled into the streets, ECOWAS was still between and betwixt. And things continued to escalate until the military moved in.
As things stand now and despite all the public hot air, the nation, continent and world are seemingly at the military’s behest. The former President has taken himself out of the picture but the military is still trying to work around how best to proceed. And it is clearly not a good place to leave a country with a recent history of demoralised troops who have also for years been engaged in battling an Islamist insurgency. Summary: Fix Mali before it becomes a bigger problem in itself.
And even going beyond local conditions and its own internal borders, indeed, the broader fear now is that in failing to stridently address the issue and resolve it, ECOWAS and the African Union may be inadvertently opening the door for even more challenges of this nature in other parts of the continent going forward. This is more so when it is clearly apparent that the current global situation overall has continued to see an erosion in the projection of the finer values of democracy, the rule of law, constitutionalism and freedom. If the military gets away with being allowed to entrench its complete rule in Mali at the moment, this would feed into this negative trend that has already become a challenge for all lovers of liberty and the open society the world over.
One country that may be affected by this in the short term is Sudan which only a year ago was able to prise major concessions from its military power-mongers. Poor handling of Sudan could embolden the Sudanese military to return to what indeed was their original agenda: a military-dominated government.
Already feelers from Khartoum are that there is already considerable dissension between the military and the civilian components of the diarchichal government that is in place there. In recent negotiations over normalization of relations with Israel and peace with rebel groups, this has lately come to the fore. With a bit of push, the fear is that the military, which had long indicated that it wanted power on its own terms may be emboldened to do a Sani Abacha on the civilian partners in the diarchy.
But all hope is not lost in Mali and elsewhere if the right things are done in Mali today and most decisively too. In our view, what ECOWAS and the AU need to do at the moment now is to move a few chess pawns in the direction of taking better charge of the situation. One, the ECOWAS chief negotiator and Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan is generally a good man. But it is either he is appraised of the fact that something more decisive needs to be done and urgently too, or someone with sterner mettle may be needed in the front room of the talks going forward. Two, the chief negotiator, going forward, should be one who would be able to insist on the core fundamental issues: a civilian-led and civilian-dominated transitional government with a technocrat leader, a limited role for the military, and of course the drawing up of a timetable and programme to return the country to the path of complete, civil democratic rule within the shortest possible time.
Mali can still be fixed. Let’s do it. More so when, in fixing Mali, we may very well be making a strong and definite statement in favour of saving democracy and constitutionalism all over Africa, by extension.
Ousted Mali President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita