I wrote the below a good while ago – but have been sitting on it. Not sure why today I choose to publish, but it is so.
And my friends have returned home to Mali, including Sali (who’s husband and kids are in rebel controlled Gao). Other friends report relatives fleeing the north to avoid the rebels, and this seems to be a pattern, with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people throughout the country (the NYTimes had a decent photo essay this past weekend documenting this – check the photos associated with this article
I continue to worry about the situation there, especially as gas supplies draw down in the north – affecting the generators used to bring water up from many wells…
And no one really seems to be able to grab the situation and improve it….
I pray for peace.
What’s going on in Mali?
So there are some crazy things going on in Mali now – a coup, a civil war / rebellion / uprising / reclamation (depending on your POV).
And although there are many people writing about it (most of them smarter than I, and most of them with greater access and information than I), I am compelled to write about it, to put my own thoughts in order, and to let those who I know get a bit of filtered information about what is happening.
Here are the facts as I know:
* Captain Amadou Sanogo led a coup on March 21, 2012 and has assumed power in Bamako.
* Several armed groups have overtaken large areas of northern Mali, including Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and other smaller cities.
Beyond that, everything is gray…
How did this all happen? What does it all mean?
First off, Mali – although calm – is at the center of a few storms. Since 2001, the USA has had military advisors working with the Malian military up north to “control” the spread of “Al-Qaeda” Islamists. Since 2001, various Islamist forces have been working to spread their influence across the Sahel, including in northern Mali. Who came first? And who eggs who on? Not quite sure. In the past 10+ years, the South American drug cartels have started to firmly grab power and control in West Africa. They are using West Africa as a way-point in their transit of drugs to Europe. Does this influence extend to Malian politicians? Does it extend to “Islamist” groups in the north of Mali?
Mali has been a “democracy” for 20 years. Based on some reading (of Bamako Bruce, and other Mali-philes), and my own experience, this democracy has essentially been a “every four years” kind of democracy. People vote for politicians, and then the politicians run the country (for their own end). Without a powerful press, without a literate populace, and without an active and politically engaged populace, politicians have been free to make deals that ensure their personal prosperity (with the assumed corrallary that this is done at the expense of the rest of the population). When people complain (for example university students), they are easily pacified through government jobs or other small favors. This means that institutions are weak, people understand that they largely have no power, and may explain the perceived indifference by Malians when the coup occured.
Mali has been host to countless refugees over the years – from Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Sierra Leone, Guinea, and many other hotspots. After the coup, some of these same countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal) “sealed” their borders with Mali – a step which has infuriated some Malians as they sense a failure by a neighbor to assist a brother in need.
Now the personal – one of our friends, a dance teacher who is in the USA for a couple months as a guest of Brown university lives in Gao. She has been speaking with her husband and family there, and they are safe and ok. Seydou’s brother is in the army and is not in Bamako (read – he could be up north), and Seydou maintains that he is fine. Seydou’s brother in law is/was a Minister in the Malian government, and is apparently fine (and his home & family in Bamako are also ok).
It’s been interesting to watch what people are posting on FB – those friends who have worked with musicians from the north (Tuareg) are sympathetic and enthusiastic about the turn of events in “Azawad”, which is fascinating to me – I’m not sure how this will ultimately benefit either the north or the rest of Mali.
The money quote (from Gregory Mann’s article in Foreign Policy) may be this:
“At the moment, the political game in Mali resembles two games of three-dimensional chess being played simultaneously. The first game is in the capital, where Sanogo is in over his head and seems to have no real plan for what to do next. That political game is currently at a stalemate, but a variety of opponents are looking to maneuver Sanogo into checkmate. In the second game, the Malian Sahara represents both the board and the prize — and neither the Malian military nor its rivals knows what the rules are. But the game is on.”
I’ll try and update this with some other articles and bits of info, there is some good stuff I’ve read that I haven’t linked to yet.
Who are the groups in the north:
* MNLA: Tuareg separatist movement with a “secular nationalist bent”
* Ansar Dine, an Islamist group led by Iyad ag Ghali, a Tuareg who led a major rebellion in the 1990s, and who recently served in Libya fighting for Qadaffi.
* al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – half-opportunistic, half-islamist – almost entirely non-“Malian” (to take the pre-coup land boundaries as definition of Malian-ness)
If you want to read some good articles, check these out:
For more reading, check out this great blog (by a guy I know who came through Brown – the Malian nexus in the northeast):