Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mali Coup aftershock of African Revolutions

Analysis: Mali coup shakes cocktail of instability in Sahel
David Lewis Reuters
7:09 a.m. CDT, March 24, 2012,0,1371622.story

BAMAKO, March 23 (Reuters) - Spillover from the overthrow of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year has been stirring a toxic cocktail of rebels, weapons, refugees, drought, smugglers and violent Islamic militants in Africa's turbulent Sahel region.

Now this backwash of instability from one field of the Arab Spring has now claimed its first government south of the Sahara - with this week's coup in Mali, where renegade low-ranking officers in the West African state toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure.

They overthrew him early on Thursday because they said his government had not adequately supported the Malian army's fight against an advancing Tuareg-led rebellion in the north that was swelled by arms and former pro-Gaddafi fighters from Libya.

"It was a cascade effect," said Yvan Guichaoua, a lecturer in African politics at the University of East Anglia, speaking to Reuters from the Malian capital Bamako where the mutinous soldiers have been stealing vehicles and looting petrol stations and businesses. But despite frequent bouts of gunfire, there appears to have been relatively little bloodshed so far.

Mali, Africa's third largest gold miner and a major local cotton grower, was viewed on the continent and in the wider world as a relatively stable democratic state in a permanently restless region dogged for decades by coups and mutinies.

It was an ally of regional and Western governments in their efforts to stop attacks and kidnappings by al Qaeda-associated Islamic militants from spreading southwards down through the Sahara. Such violence is already causing bloodshed in Africa's top oil producer Nigeria, in the form of the Boko Haram sect.

"It's clearly unfortunate for Mali ... This is plunging one of the most stable countries in West Africa into instability," Gilles Yabi, the Dakar-based West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters.

"Disputes should not be resolved by arms. It's a bad sign for other countries which are in the process of consolidating their democracies," said Nadia Nata, political governance officer at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

The United States had been providing counter-terrorism training to Mali's army. One of the coup leaders, Captain Amadou Sanogo, president of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), said he received training from U.S. Marines and intelligence.

But the overnight coup, carried out apparently by mid-level and junior officers, will put an end to such support for the moment. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and European Commission have all suspended aid funding to Mali.


The coup leaders of the CNRDR have promised to hand power back to a democratically-elected president "as soon as the country is reunified".

But the Tuareg rebels in the north, whose recent battlefield humiliations of the Malian army triggered the putsch in Bamako, are already pushing south, taking advantage of the confusion.

The coup chiefs' seeming inability to control the soldiers under their command, to judge by the pillaging and wild shooting in the streets, bodes ill for the immediate future.

"There is no clear agenda ... what will happen next is very unclear,' said Guichaoua.

ICG's Yabi said: "This is giving an impression of chaos".

The uncertainty was compounded on Friday when the African Union said it was told President Toure was still in Mali, safe and protected by loyalists, not far from Bamako.

Amnesty International said coup leaders had arrested several members of Toure's government. It demanded their release.

Despite Toure's public image as a steadfast "Soldier of Democracy", analysts said Western backers like France and the United States had been less than happy recently with his government's efforts in countering the threat of al Qaeda and its allies in Mali's vast and remote desert north.

Tuareg Rebels Threaten Unstable Mali

Tuareg rebels continue to push south in Mali, as mutinous soldiers struggle to maintain control of the capital two days after they seized power in a coup that has created more problems than it solved.

Mali's future looks more uncertain than ever.

President Amadou Toumane Toure has not been seen or heard from publicly since Thursday. Rumors are flying of a countercoup in the works. Northern strongholds are bracing for a fight as ethnic Tuareg separatists push South.

Bamako residents say mutineering soldiers have looted the presidential palace, gas stations and shops.

Coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, says he is calling for an end to vandalism and pillaging but denies that his forces are involved. He says people posing as army and police are trying to undermine support for the coup. He says the military is united behind the coup. He says their priority is to maintain Mali's territorial integrity.

The coup was spearheaded by rank-and-file army soldiers and junior officers. Captain Sonogo addressed the nation flanked by members of several military units, though the coup does not appear to have garnered broad military support, particularly among high-ranking officers.

President Toure, a former paratrooper and coup leader himself, is believed to be safe and protected by his loyalist soldiers at a paratrooper camp outside the capital.

Soldiers took power Thursday after staging a mutiny against what coup leaders say was the government's mishandling of the two-month old Tuareg rebellion in the North.

Outgunned and lacking basic supplies, including food, the army has suffered crushing defeats and numerous casualties there as it faced Tuareg separatists, many of them former pro-Moammar Ghadafi fighters who returned to Mali heavily-armed from the conflict in Libya.

The rebel Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA, says it has met little resistance as it closes on the regional capital of Kidal.

President of the District Council of Kidal, Mahamadou Belco Maiga, says the city is surrounded but they will defend themselves with all their means. He is asking the state to give them weapons.

The chaos of the past 48 hours has left holes in northern defenses.

Director of the Michael S. Ansara Africa Center in Washington, J. Peter Pham, says in staging what appears to have been a hasty and unplanned coup, soldiers made their situation worse.

"They certainly did the one thing that was sure to get them the reverse of what they wanted because now France, the U.S., the European Union have all cut them off from military assistance," he said. "Until such time as the coup is reversed which does not look likely or until they hold the elections as they promise, we are talking months if not a year before military assistance is resumed in which time the Tuaregs will dig in, in the areas that they control in the North."

Tuareg rebellions have waxed and waned in Mali since independence in 1960. Rebels now say they want an independent homeland in the North, called Azawad.

Hama Ag Mahmoud, of MNLA's political wing, says their demands are the same. He says they want the Azawad but will not advance further than that. He says they do not want problems with this new regime or the old one. He says they are willing to negotiate with an established president supported by Mali's political class and international power, like the European Union, the United States or France.

A storm of international condemnation has rained down on the coup leaders. The African Union suspended Mali. The EU and World Bank both suspended development aid to the West African nation. The United States warned Friday it could suspend its non-humanitarian assistance to Mali if democracy is not restored.

Mali was one of West Africa's few established democracies. It was set to hold a presidential election on April 29. President Toure was not seeking another term, having served his legal limit of two mandates.

Presidential candidate, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, says constitutional order should be re-established immediately. He says the elections must take place on the original date.

Coup leaders say Bamako will return to business as usual Tuesday. They say they are creating a government of national unity to organize elections.

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