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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Reassessing the Mali Coup

The entrance to the Malian capital, Bamako.

It is now three days since disaffected army officers rolled up to the Presidential Palace in Bamako and ousted President Amadou Toure. The key charges laid against Toure by the rebel administration is that they have not been properly equipped to fight the rebels, that their widows have not received financial support they are entitled to, and that the government's handling of the crisis in general is 'incompetent.' Soldiers have complained of a lack of arms and equipment in the past, and, compared with the hardware brought home by Tauregs who fell in with Gaddafi's oil-rich regime the average Malian squaddie isn't what you could call technologically superior.

However, accepting the rebel's narrative at face value overlooks the fact that the Taureg's armed insurrection abated, as many Taureg fighters chased petrodollars rather than continuing the war at home. It only intensified in January - that's hardly long enough for disattisfaction to boil over into revolutionary sentiment, especially as Mali's twenty-year-old democracy was showing no signs of failing. Elections were due, and Toure was not a candidate; finding a replacement would have been a simple affair. Mali was also due to receive $137million in US military aid, mainly focused on counter-terrorism activities (an issue inextricably linked with the Taureg rebels, who offer safe haven to al-Qaeda militants) which the coup has now jeopardised. Either the 'National Committee for the Redressment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State,' as the rebels are styling themselves under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo, didn't think this through in its entirety, or there is some other reason for their rashness.

What could that reason be? Well, first off, even quite considerably research into this Sanogo doesn't turn up anything that might give us a clue. He's a bog-standard African insurrectionist, a middle-ranking officer with some training at a US military college. He came out of nowhere, with no mentions of his name in the Malian news prior to the coup. He is a soldier, not a charismatic revolutionary leader, as any of his television performances will show you. However, there is something to be said about his supposed supporters: he claims to have received a message of support from one (and only one) opposition party, the tiny African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence. The party's president, by contrast, claims to have never heard of him, stating: 'I don't know him, I don't know anything about him.'

That said, the far-left, pan-African party, which opposes the privatisation of state industries and the influence of foreign multi-nationals, has a long history of being anti-establishment. With only four of the one hundred and forty-seven seats in parliament, it would never have won the election scheduled for April, and has long cast itself as an outsider - neither ruling nor opposition. It has previously debated whether to continue to participate in government, as some - including supporters of the Secretary-General - argued that it would be against the party's views. Most notably, in 2007 a local party activist was found dead - the party claimed assassination. Mistrust of government? Check. Revolutionary ideology? Check. Nothing to lose? Check. Refusing to denounce the coup, when every other party did so? Check. If the party itself is not involved in the putsch, its ideals might well be.

Socialistic pan-Africanism is a tried and tested recipe, that, if anything, will be the rebel's staying power - not arguments over army rations and equipment, which a simple election could have solved.

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