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>> The Financial Times


The Financial Times - April 3, 2012

Mali was held up until last month’s coup as an African country consolidating democratic rule, expanding its economy and providing a bulwark against the migration of Islamic extremism across the Sahara from north Africa.

Recent events have turned that thesis on its head. A rebellion sparked by the return of ethnic Tuareg fighters, engaged for nearly two decades in the Libyan armed forces and set loose with a fresh supply of heavy weapons pillaged from the armoury of their deceased patron, Col Muammer Gaddafi, has split the country. Despite all the training and support the Malian army has received from the west, it was ill-equipped to resist the onslaught.

Demoralised junior officers in the Malian army have mutinied, overthrowing the elected government in protest at poor conditions and corruption among their superiors. While the deposed government of Amadou Amani Touré had much to answer for, it was on the way out. The coup disrupted an election process that would have delivered a fresh government by July, and left the army in disarray.

This is just the scenario US-led support to the state was meant to avert. Mali is a vast, porous and ethnically heterogenous territory. If terrorists, drug smugglers and ethnic nationalists are not to take advantage, it is imperative that constitutional order is restored quickly and the election process put back on track. The rebellion is sweeping down from the impoverished desert territory it hopes to establish as a separate state. The garrison town of Gao, and Timbuktu, the ancient Saharan trading outpost and centre of Islamic learning, are both poised to fall.

Not only Mali’s future is at stake if this crisis is not nipped in the bud, but business confidence and stability throughout west Africa. Regional states have been firm in their response and the junta is already on the back foot, pledging to stand down within a week. It should be pushed all the way to the door. Soldiers have no role to play in overseeing elections or negotiations with the rebels.

But this crisis is not only the responsibility of regional states. The world has been generous under a UN umbrella in pledging assistance towards the establishment of a democratic Libya. This is important. But so is maintaining Mali’s 20-year old democracy and preserving peace in Libya’s southern neighbours Niger and Chad, both of which have been jeopardised by last year’s western backed overthrow of Col Gaddafi. It is vital to contain the aftershocks.


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