Malaise in Mali

Since its popular revolution in 1991 and adoption of a democratic constitution in 1992, Mali has long been considered a success story.  Despite West Africa’s endemic instability, Mali has been holding free elections and has experienced economic growth over the past twenty years.  However, in light of a recent coup, many are now questioning Mali’s status as a successful experiment in democracy.  On March 21st, Malian troops, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, deposed the freely elected president Amadou Toumani Touré.  The coup came one month before the nation’s scheduled elections and has delayed the process indefinitely, leaving Mali struggling to settle upon an interim ruler.  The coup led by Sanogo was a response to the failure of the Malian army to defeat the Tuareg separatist group located in northern Mali.

Captain Sanogo, leader of military coup

The coup is, in part, a result of foreign intervention in Libya earlier in 2011.  The Qaddafi regime, while decidedly cruel, was able to exert a degree of control over the Tuareg peoples.  Indeed, Qaddafi and the Algerian government successfully mediated a series of conflicts between Tuareg rebels and the government of Mali.  Following NATO’s intervention in Libya and the defeat of Qaddafi an influx of trained and armed Tuareg people entered Mali from Libya.  Shortly after their arrival, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began to gain traction, defeating the Malian army.  The group has declared its independence from Mali amidst the ensuing post-coup confusion.

Map of Mali detailing Azawad area

The recent political unrest in Mali has had particular import for ongoing development in projects in Mali.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded quickly to the situation, adopting a variety of sanctions against Mali.  Most notable among these sanctions are the closing of Mali’s landlocked borders, the freezing of Malian assets, and the denial of financial assistance in the form of development funds.  The actions taken by ECOWAS were mirrored by other development organizations.  The African Development Bank and World Bank temporarily suspended their development projects in Mali and the U.S., United Nations, and African Union all also condemned the coup.

More recently, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has followed suit. In 2006, the MCC signed a $461 million compact with Mali aimed at developing Mali’s irrigation capabilities and improving the Bamako-Sénou International Airport.  These two projects would expand Mali’s agricultural output and further integrate it into regional and international economies, with projected benefits nearing $400 million.  The MCC terminated its contract on May 4th, citing the coup as a violation of the MCC’s selection criteria, specifically those of “democratic governance and the rule of law.”  In terminating the compact both the irrigation and airport projects will go uncompleted.  Indeed, even though the five-year contract is nearly completed, the Malian government is yet to reach many of its objectives.  Furthermore, the MCC has not yet administered nearly $100 million of Mali’s Millennium Challenge Account, making Mali’s ability to complete the projects independently seem unrealistic.  Thus, the recent political instabilities have proven detrimental to Mali’s ability to grow its economy.

Under intense pressure from the international community, particularly ECOWAS, Sanogo and the junta agreed to abide by Article 36 of the Malian Constitution, recognizing President of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traoré, as the temporary president and starting the election process.  In response to this concession on the part of Sanogo, ECOWAS lifted the sanctions it had imposed on Mali.

The return to democracy from the Sanogo-led junta has not, however, progressed smoothly.  While ECOWAS is agitating for Traoré to remain president, Sanogo is calling for a national convention to choose a new president to rule until the unscheduled elections.  An ECOWAS official statement claims the junta’s behavior is “clearly designed to disrupt the political transition,” and states it may move to reinstate its recently lifted sanctions.

In short, aid flows to Mali are dependent upon its ability to reestablish a democratic government and failure to do so may lead to further sanctions. Whether these sanctions will positively effect Mali’s democratic efforts is still to be seen.


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