from Africa in Transition

Mali Half-way to a Solution?

April 16, 2012

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting

Regional Organizations

Food and Water Security

President Amadou Toure agreed to step down as president, clearing the way for the vice president to become chief of state. The military in turn agreed to the restoration of constitutional government. Accordingly, Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as president last week. The military has what it wanted in the first place: the removal of Toure from office. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has what it wanted: the reversal of a military coup.

But, the central issues remain the Tuareg insurrection in the north and the upcoming elections.

The original justification for the military coup against Toure was that he was ineffectual against the rebels. Rebellions in the Sahel are difficult for governments to repress; Algeria and Chad are but two examples. And, this time, the Tuaregs are exceptionally well armed, presumably with surplus weaponry from Libya.

ECOWAS leaders met last Thursday and effectively recommended the deployment of a regional force against the rebels should the negotiations led by Burkinabe president and mediator Blaise Compaore fail. Nevertheless, given the history of the Sahel, it is hard to envision a military solution to the Tuareg rebellion.

In addition to dealing with the North’s political troubles and looming humanitarian disaster caused by drought and food insecurity, new president Traore has been tasked with holding elections within forty days. Alex Thurston bleakly notes at Sahel Blog that this deadline has two outcomes, both undesirable: “either the interim government holds a severely flawed election that fails to include a number of areas in the country (potentially including, given the short timeline, some rural areas in southern Mali) or the government fails to meet the deadline.”

Junta leader Captain Sanogo has made it clear that after forty days the transition will end, which many read as a threat to return to power. There is also wide speculation that President Traore is not a natural leader and that he is not fit to oversee the reunification of Mali. In the meantime, he will be appointing cabinet members this week, including a new defense minister, whose appointment will prove critical for the future of Mali.

So, Mali is likely to continue to churn.