Apr 10




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The ECOWAS “solution” to the Mali crisis, whereby President Amadou Toumani Toure has been made to resign and his place taken by the president of the National Assembly, Diouncounda Traore, is a typical fudge of the sort favoured by both ECOWAS and the African Union.Give the two organisations a straight-forward principle, and they will manage to bend it sideways and twist it back to front. Give them a clear victory and they will snatch defeat out of its jaws. The Mali problem was simplicity itself. A captain Amadou Sanogo, claiming to be dissatisfied with the way the Government of President Amadou Toumani Toure was prosecuting the war against the Tuaregs in Northern Mali, declared the President overthrown. And he tried to set up an administration to replace the deposed government. 

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get much support for his putsch. When he invited Mali’s political parties to a conference on the future of the country, they refused to turn up. More important, his murderous intentions towards the deposed President could not be carried out, as the.President was able to evade arrest and stay hidden away from his adversaries. 

Then Sanogo’s ambitions took a major tumble. The very anti-Tuareg war, which he claimed to have carried out the coup to intensify, overwhelmed him. The Tuaregs drove government troops out of Kidal and Gao, the two northern garrison towns of the Mali government, and then took the cultural centre of Timbuktu.

The capture of Timbuktu alone gave the Tuaregs a supreme bargaining counter, for the city is without doubt, the most important cultural heritage in Africa south of the Sahara, what with its libraries full of ancient documents, and its unsurpassed architecture, as characterised by its beautiful and quaint mosques.

But that was not the full extent of the weakness of Captain Sanogo. ECOWAS gave him an ultimatum to step down or face economic and political sanctions. At the same time, ECOWAS military chiefs met to plan how they could use force to intervene if necessary.

As soon as the ECOWAS sanctions took off, Capt Sanogo was finished, for Mali is a landlocked country and can’t survive if the ports of ECOWAS countries in the south – the Ivory Coast, Senegal and even Ghana, Togo and Benin – are closed to its imports.

But far worse, because Mali is a member of the CFA currency zone, once sanctions froze its accounts with the Central Bank of West Africa, Capt. Sanogo would not have been able to pay “his” army and public servants. 

As if it wasn’t enough to have all that to contend with, the Tuaregs delivered their blow to his solar plexus. After occupying the principal cities of the north, they announced that they were setting up a separate state in the north, called “Azawad”. Capt Sanogo now began to beg the outside world to come to his aid to reunite Mali. 

This was the time that ECOWAS should have ground Sanogo’s nose into the ground, “pour encourager les autres” (to set an example to others). West Africa is tired of military coups. Of the 15 ECOWAS countries, only Senegal has never experienced a coup, and even there, a minor civil war is in progress in the Casamance region. 

Through struggle and good luck, all the military regimes in West Africa have now given way to governments that can lay claim to some sort of civil legitimacy, though not all military influences have been completely eliminated from their administrations. 

For instance, Blaise Compaore’s Government in Burkina Faso is definitely military, even though Compaore now claims to be a civilian president. And Faure Gnassingbe’s set-up in Togo has a strong military flavour. 

So ECOWAS should not have flinched at all in dealing with the crumbling military administration led by Sanogo. Instead of which it appears the Burkina Faso Foreign Minister, who was made the principal ECOWAS negotiator with Sanogo, has come out with a deal that leaves Sanogo still a major player in the Mali political game.  

Of course, in terms of pragmatic politics, there is something to be said for President Amadou Tumani Toure resigning. He was, as has been noted, due to leave office on 29th April and there was nothing to be gained by him, personally, in clinging to the power that had been taken from him forcibly, until that date. 

But that is not the point. The point is that constitutional rule should have continued until 29 April, so that under the scheduled elections, the people of Mali could have elected a new government to replace Toure’s. 

True to his character, Toure himself didn’t resist the idea of resigning before his term ended. He invoked love of his country, and the various ways in which he has made that love manifest in the nation’s past. 

For instance, when the government of Moussa Traore began to brutalise the populace, it was Toure who overthrew him in 1991. But having overthrown Traore and become exceedingly popular, Toure had resisted calls to stay on in power, but had organised elections and handed over power to the winner, Alpha Konare. 

It was after Konare had served his constitutionally limited two terms that Toure agreed to lead a coalition of parties and offer himself for election. He was due to follow the constitution and fade into  glorious retirement, when the ambitious Sanogo put a spanner in the works. 

A man of that type need to be protected by ECOWAS. For there are too few men of principle in African politics. Anyway, he has made his sacrifice once again  and gone out of the scene. What ECOWAS should do now is to make certain that the new interim government to be set up by the National Assembly president, has no whiff of the military about it. 

Sanogo should not be allowed to become Minister of Defence, nor should it be his nominee who becomes Minister of Defence. 

For the interim administration needs to be able to negotiate with the authorities of the new state of Azawad without prejudice. 

Definitely, they will regard Sanogo and his group as “hard-liners” who do not favour a civilian resolution of the conflict, but a military one. 

Yet it has been proved in Africa that even the worst long-drawn-out military conflicts – such as the one between Sudan and Southern Sudan – can eventually be settled at the negotiating table. That is what ECOWAS should encourage in Mali, and through the Malian example, demonstrate its desirability  to the whole of West Africa. 

The AU, with its wishy-washy attitude to conflict, will follow where a regional organisation like ECOWAS leads. It cannot be stressed enough that in the 21st century, West Africa and indeed, the whole of Africa, should devote its energies to economic and social development, and not to military conflicts occasioned by coups carried out by ambitious, greedy soldiers.


ADDITIONAL READING ON MALI WHO’S WHO: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17582909 


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