Gregory Mann: The Mess In Mali

Roundup: Historians' Take

Gregory Mann is a professor of history at Columbia University, specializing in the history of francophone Africa, and of Mali in particular.

It would be hard to overstate the mess that's been made out of Mali over the last fortnight. A surprise coup, an accelerating rebellion that has split the country in two, and an economic embargo by the landlocked country's neighbors have battered what had been, until recently, a West African success story. Add to that a looming food crisis in the northeast, and you have quite a fine mess. But the world can't turn away: Mali is too important to write off the country's 20-year old democracy as a failed experiment.

The coup was not accidental, as some have argued, but it was definitely improvisational. On March 22, a mutiny in the country's main garrison turned into a coup d'état as soldiers and junior officers chased President Amadou Toumani Toure from his palace. The coup leaders, angered by a lack of military material and political will to suppress a rebellion in the country's vast Saharan region in the north, dubbed the junta a "National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State" (CNRDRE).

Its name aside, the junta aims to destroy, not to establish, democratic rule — the coup took place little more than a month before a scheduled presidential election, in which Toure was not a candidate. Since then, Mali's political parties, trade unions, and civil society organizations have with near unanimity formed a common front with one goal — to reject the junta and demand a return to civilian rule. Internationally, the regional group ECOWAS slapped harsh sanctions on the junta and threatened military intervention if the constitutional regime is not restored....

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