Beyond the coup in Mali – Thisday

The coup in Mali holds lessons for African leaders

The African Union (AU) recently suspended Mali from the continental body following a military takeover of the country for a second time in less than a year. The AU has also called on the military to “urgently and unconditionally return to the barracks, and to refrain from further interference in the political processes in Mali”. Similarly, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at an emergency summit in Accra, Ghana last week also suspended Mali. But these measures are not likely to change anything in a country that has been in political turmoil for almost a decade.

Toppling a president and prime minister for the second time in nine months raises a number of questions about the challenges of political stability and order in today’s Africa as well as the relevance of both AU and ECOWAS. But the problem started nine years ago. Many will recall that in 2012, citizens of Mali introduced a new way of popular protest which seemed like taking the Arab Spring of the previous year to another level. While demonstrators in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, took to the streets and occupied landmark areas, the Malian protesters made straight to the Presidential Palace, went into the apartment of the then interim President Dioncounda Traore, and gave him the beating of his life.

That made-for-Nollywood episode was a fall-out of the shaky and contentious peace plan put together by ECOWAS leaders who emplaced a one-year transitional arrangement with Traore, the then parliament speaker in the ousted government, at the helm. The arrangement of course collapsed within weeks but not before granting the then coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, some cosmetic face -saving sweeteners – including a life pension, a house, transportation and security as well as immunity from prosecution. From that time, Mali has known no peace. In the past one year, there have been series of street protests fuelled by political in-fighting, poverty, pervasive corruption, and a religious insurgency that gains strength as the crisis in the country continues. The interference by France has only compounded the situation.

However, the main concern now is not only about the crisis in Mali but the implication for democracy in West Africa. In neighbouring Niger Republic, for instance, the military has also taken over after the soldiers stormed the Presidential Palace in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, just two days before President-elect Mohamed Bazoum was due to be sworn into office. It is therefore important to send a clear signal to adventurous military officers especially in countries around the Sahel that military rule is now an aberration. No matter how bad the situation may be in any of these countries, military apologists who are desirous of effecting change of any form should do so through democratic means.

In a democracy, there are rules enshrined in the constitution on how a government can be removed. What was witnessed in both Mali and Niger Republic are antithetical to those ideals. We therefore hope that AU and ECOWAS leaders will put necessary pressure on the junta in both countries for a return to democratic rule. Against the background that Chad is already under military rule following the killing of President Idris Deby, it would appear that democracy is becoming a frail plant in the West African climate. The only way to ensure that the virus of military rule does not spread is for West African leaders to put the interest of their people first in whatever they do. If they continue to abuse the power given to them through the ballot box, democracy will continue to be endangered in the sub-region and on the continent.

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