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[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): ANALYSIS: Mali coup shakes cocktail of instability in Sahel

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2012 20:44:18 +0100

ANALYSIS: Mali coup shakes cocktail of instability in Sahel

Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:13pm GMT

By David Lewis

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Spillover from the overthrow of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi
last year has been stirring a toxic cocktail of rebels, weapons, refugees,
drought, smugglers and violent Islamic militants in Africa's turbulent Sahel

Now this backwash of instability from one field of the Arab Spring has now
claimed its first government south of the Sahara - with this week's coup in
Mali, where renegade low-ranking officers in the West African state toppled
President Amadou Toumani Toure.

They overthrew him early on Thursday because they said his government had
not adequately supported the Malian army's fight against an advancing
Tuareg-led rebellion in the north that was swelled by arms and former
pro-Gaddafi fighters from Libya.

"It was a cascade effect," said Yvan Guichaoua, a lecturer in African
politics at the University of East Anglia, speaking to Reuters from the
Malian capital Bamako where the mutinous soldiers have been stealing
vehicles and looting petrol stations and businesses. But despite frequent
bouts of gunfire, there appears to have been relatively little bloodshed so

Mali, Africa's third largest gold miner and a major local cotton grower, was
viewed on the continent and in the wider world as a relatively stable
democratic state in a permanently restless region dogged for decades by
coups and mutinies.

It was an ally of regional and Western governments in their efforts to stop
attacks and kidnappings by al Qaeda-associated Islamic militants from
spreading southwards down through the Sahara. Such violence is already
causing bloodshed in Africa's top oil producer Nigeria, in the form of the
Boko Haram sect.

"It's clearly unfortunate for Mali ... This is plunging one of the most
stable countries in West Africa into instability," Gilles Yabi, the
Dakar-based West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group
think tank, told Reuters.

"Disputes should not be resolved by arms. It's a bad sign for other
countries which are in the process of consolidating their democracies," said
Nadia Nata, political governance officer at the Open Society Initiative for
West Africa (OSIWA).

The United States had been providing counter-terrorism training to Mali's
army. One of the coup leaders, Captain Amadou Sanogo, president of the newly
formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of
the State (CNRDR), said he received training from U.S. Marines and

But the overnight coup, carried out apparently by mid-level and junior
officers, will put an end to such support for the moment. The World Bank,
the African Development Bank and European Commission have all suspended aid
funding to Mali.


The coup leaders of the CNRDR have promised to hand power back to a
democratically-elected president "as soon as the country is reunified".

But the Tuareg rebels in the north, whose recent battlefield humiliations of
the Malian army triggered the putsch in Bamako, are already pushing south,
taking advantage of the confusion.

The coup chiefs' seeming inability to control the soldiers under their
command, to judge by the pillaging and wild shooting in the streets, bodes
ill for the immediate future.

"There is no clear agenda ... what will happen next is very unclear,' said

ICG's Yabi said: "This is giving an impression of chaos".

The uncertainty was compounded on Friday when the African Union said it was
told President Toure was still in Mali, safe and protected by loyalists, not
far from Bamako.

Amnesty International said coup leaders had arrested several members of
Toure's government. It demanded their release.

Despite Toure's public image as a steadfast "Soldier of Democracy", analysts
said Western backers like France and the United States had been less than
happy recently with his government's efforts in countering the threat of al
Qaeda and its allies in Mali's vast and remote desert north.

"There was the view that he was using the counter-terrorism argument as a
prop for himself in office," Guichaoua said, and he cited concerns too about
corruption in the Malian government.

Toure, who had initially won his democratic credentials by quickly handing
over power to civilian rule after seizing it in a 1991 coup, was planning to
leave office following elections in April, after serving two consecutive
elected terms.

But analysts said that with swathes of the north effectively outside
government control, and with thousands displaced by the spreading insurgency
there, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to hold credible
elections next month.

Suspicions existed that some members of Toure's administration secretly
tolerated rebel and al Qaeda networks in the north to be able to benefit
from lucrative drug smuggling and other illegal businesses that thrive in
the desert area.


The Tuareg-led rebels now thrusting south have said they want to set up an
independent area across the northern region.

Bourema Dicko, a member of parliament in charge of the defence and security
commission in Mali's parliament, told Reuters before the coup the rebels had
no real clear political agenda. "They just want to be able to smuggle
weapons and drugs through the north. They don't really want security," he

However, one diplomat gave a more nuanced view of the latest Tuareg
insurgency, saying that while the desert rebels sought a homeland,
pragmatism meant that they had to work with Islamists and smuggling cartels
in the lawless north.

"This is a hybrid operation - liberation and sharia law. Deals will be done.
Palms will be greased," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, said.

Guichaoua said there was still hope that the coup leaders might prove
capable of forging some kind consensus with the country's political forces,
perhaps even agreeing a peace with the northern rebels, to be able to hold
credible elections.

But as Bamako residents watched soldiers, some seemingly drunk, roaming the
streets and looting, many wondered just what kind of new rule they were in

"They said the reason for the coup was the problem in the north. So let them
tell us what solutions they have for the problem in the north. Let them tell
us the way they want to run the country," said Bamako resident Fouseyni

OSIWA's Nata said the coup could exacerbate already worsening security and
criminality in the wider Sahel.

"This opens (a) Pandora's box," she said.

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


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