Mali: Understanding a crisis that spans several layers
By Richard Mammah
The crisis in Mali at the moment spans several layers. And it is important to look at its many dimensions if proper understanding is to be applied towards addressing and resolving it.
First let us situate its basic coordinates. Mali is a West African state. It is also a Sahelian country. And then it equally has a significant component of its landmass lodged within or abutting the Sahara desert.
The country’s population is a little above 19 million and two-thirds of this number is under 25. Islam is the principal religion here and the preferred religious form is Conservative, partly influenced by its long relations with Arabia at one end.
There have been several military coups in Mali and the penultimate one was in 2012.
Mali is situated within the Francophone African bloc and uses the CFA (about being changed to Eco) as its currency.
The present crisis is in a sense about governance. President Ibrahim Keita who came into power in 2013 is in his second term. But there is a lot of anger over his governance methods as well as his seeming inability to address the big picture issues in the country.
Some of these big picture issues are poverty, unemployment, drought, ethnic rivalry and the expanding jihadist insurgency.
Part of the military’s anger in particular stems from this general disaffection with the Keita administration but it is also connected to low morale of the troops, unpaid salaries and allowances and poor motivation.
Beyond the military, the key fuel in the current crisis is the feeling in the streets that democracy has been emasculated. The parliamentary elections in January was the last nail on the coffin, seemingly. Hence, there have been protests and disturbances since then, which the military came in to ride upon at this time.
The ECOWAS response fits into a long established principle: zero tolerance for coups and unconstitutional intervention in the political affairs of nations.
But it is a half measure as within the region, the tendency is that it will likely recur again, if not in Mali but elsewhere.
For example, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea are presently embroiled in disputes over what the opposition in those countries have already risen up in arms to challenge, describing them as governance and electoral process failings that need to be redressed even now. But the ECOWAS heads of states, long weaned on a diet of ‘first past the post,’ no matter how controversial, remain moot on the complaints. Better response measures are required overall to deliver sound and qualitative governance to the people at the base.
And on a somewhat brighter, historical note, Mali is home to some two of the most notable centres of trade and learning in the region, Timbucktu and Djenne. But like the rest of a country and region that has seriously been despoiled over the years, it is yet hoping and waiting for better days. May they yet come.
Ousted President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita