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Coup d’état in Mali

Published on March 30, 2012 by: in: Politics

Soldiers seized the presidential palace in Bamako – the capital of Mali. One of few stable countries in Africa collapsed regardless of the Arab Spring and the mass media.

Similarly to other coups d’état in Africa, military trucks parked nearby the headquarter of the public broadcaster on 21st March at 5 p.m. Television signal disappeared after a while. Seven hours later it began to be transmitted again. Citizens could read a short message which announced an address. There were cheerful people, traditional Malian music and dancing women in the background. Everything was based on archival data. It seems that someone must have edited the message in hurry.

The situation had been dubious for a long time. The authorities denied rumors of coup d’état on Twitter. They just informed about the rebellion of soldiers. But no one put an end to gunfights. The rebels seized the presidential palace immediately. They also killed a number of defenders. Amadou Toumani Touré ran away. He was supposed to finish his second term in a month. If the situation had not changed, he would have handed power to a successor chosen in democratic elections.

photo: Jakub Zgierski

photo: Jakub Zgierski

The rebellious soldiers declared that the government had been overthrown at 4.30 a.m. The coup leaders formed the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (Le Comité National pour le Redressement de la Démocratie et la Restauration de l’Etat). The rebels have been aware that it seems trustworthy. Soldiers and Amadou Toumani Touré introduced democracy as a result of coup d’état in the early 1990s.

The rebels and the victim of demonstrators

It was March 1991 when pro-democratic rallies took place in Mali. Soldiers shot at demonstrators. Hundreds of people died in Bamako then. Lieutenant Amadou Toumani Touré attacked the presidential palace with his soldiers. They arrested the dictator. The provisional government introduced democracy. These soldiers kept their promise. Touré – the courageous leader of the rebels – ran for president. He lost. Alpha Oumar Konaré won the elections. Amadou Toumani Touré did not become a president until 2002 when Konaré had already finished his second term.

The abovementioned story has recently served as an example of positive changes in Africa. The Malians could be proud of peaceful elections, stable government and democratic system. Nobody has predicted that everything will change soon. But the democratic lieutenant became the victim of demonstrators who referred to his previous success. Why? The answer to this question can be found far from the capital of Mali, on the Sahara desert, which just seems to be no-man’s land.

The state did not care about nomads

There is just one long and asphalt road in Mali. In order to see the source of current instability, one must go northwards and visit the Malian wilderness where just off-road vehicles are useful. Kel Tamasheq lives nearby Timbuktu. The French named them the Tuareg. These people believe that the Sahara desert consists of many regions. Some of them are sandy and other are stony. Some regions abound in water while other are completely dry. This is the motherland of the Tuareg.

The French conquered many valuable deserts in the 19th century. They formed a multinational country, i.e. South Sudan. This state gained independence in 1960 and authorities declared it Mali. The government strived to unite numerous tribes by inventing a snappy slogan which promoted common nationality, common goal and common faith. The Bambara, the Bozo, the Fulani and the Songhai consented to such unification although they maintained cultural autonomy.

But the Tuareg refused. They started to demonstrate when Mali gained independence. Local authorities suppressed this rebel. The tribe was excluded from society, displaced and deprived of rights as a result of the protests. The state did not care about nomads.

The Flame of Peace

The Tuareg rebelled once again in the early 1990s. They were demonstrating at the time when democracy was introduced. The state negotiated with the tribe. Authorities offered them the representation in the government as well as the liquidation of displacement camps on the south. The Tuareg collected all weapons and set them on fire. This is how the Flame of Peace appeared suddenly on the outskirts of Timbuktu. There is a monument which commemorates the momentous event.

But some Tuareg people were dissatisfied with such state of affairs. They did not believe in good intentions of the government in Bamako. It was caused by poverty, hunger, the lack of access to education as well as the lack of any representation in the government. The tribe often fought with Malian soldiers.

Trouble spot

The Tuareg tipped the scale in their favor last year. Jobless and armed soldiers came to Sahara desert, which is the land of smugglers, kidnappers and the so-called al-Qaeda of Muslim Maghreb. It helped Tuareg people to establish a determined, numerous and well-equipped army. The soldiers started to inspire terror in the north.

Fights with Malian soldiers broke out again in the middle of this January. These led to humanitarian crisis in the whole region. Civil population (mainly Tuareg people) travelled across the desert to Mauritania. They had no accommodation and food. What is more, ill-equipped and hungry Malian soldiers suffered defeat on unknown ground.

Riots in the capital city and Kati launched at the beginning of February. Who demonstrated? Mothers and families of Malian soldiers, who died in the north without any help of the government that could not cope with Tuareg rebels. But the riots grew harder to control. The Tuareg living in Bamako as well as white people working in embassies and non-governmental organizations began to be discriminated on the grounds of race. 21st March was a turning point – the minister of national defence came to the military camp in Kati in order to calm down the soldiers who were preparing for the demonstration. But soldiers abused the minister and threw stones at him. Someone even shot into the air. The minister was taken captive, which may be understood as the beginning of the rebel. Other troops, e.g. in Bamako and Gao, followed the example of Kati. Mali collapsed next day.

What happened then?

State borders are closed. The rebels looted the presidential palace and stole home electronics. The president of Mali hides probably in the military camp of loyal and reputable parachute troops. Tuareg rebels announced that the uproar in the capital city will help them to take control of another towns on the north.

It is hard to be an optimist. The only thing I can do now is waiting for some news on Mali. I am looking forward to it and I hope that Mali will be associated with diverse society, music, calmness and happiness rather than war and destruction. I was on Festival au Désert in January. This is an annual concert taking place on the sandy outskirts of Timbuktu. It is worth remembering that Mali is famous for its music, which seems to be a uniting factor there. Have you ever heard about Tinariwen, Toumani Diabaté, Amadou & Mariam, Rokia Traoré, Salif Keita or Ali Farka Touré? No? So you should listen to some of their songs.

Translation: Aleksandra Kozłowska

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About Jakub Zgierski

Graduate of the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw, specialist in social communication, coach and consultant. His company pansa.org cooperates with non-governmental organizations and public institutions. Lecturer and author of publications for non-governmental organizations.

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