Is Mali at risk of disintegration?

BY: Isaac Yeboah

Mali, Ghana and Guinea , were at the forefront of the struggle to  unify the continent in its onslaught against the vestiges of colonialism and economic oppression.
The Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union, fostered by Presidents Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita, was a force to reckon with the sub-region in the early 1960’s when majority of the countries had secured their independence from the colonial rulers and were poised to secure continental unity.

Today, the situation is different. Mali has been inundated by Islamic insurgents who are staking their claim for an Islamic country, as well as threats of autonomy by the Tuareg community in the north which dates back to the last two decades.

From 1990 onwards, strife in the north had become a focus of concern for Mali’s government. After the drought of the 1980’s ended, the Tuaregs who had migrated to Libya and Algeria began to return to Mali.

Fighting broke out between the settled African population and the nomadic Tuareg. At the same time, the region became involved in a general rebellion. The Tuareg demanded greater autonomy from the governments of Mali, Niger and Algeria, whose borders cross traditional Tuaregs territory.

In 1992, a peace agreement, the Bamako Agreement, was reached with the main Tuareg groups. Conflict between the army and smaller Tuareg groups continued into 1995.

In 1996, more than 2,000 Tuareg former rebels were integrated into the regular army. Thousands of Malian Tauregs were repatriated from Niger.

In addition to a troubled economy and the Tuareg rebellion, the then President of Mali, Alpha Konare, had to deal with the trials of former President Moussa Traore in 1993.

The economy of Mali had suffered a higher inflation, massive unemployment, redundancies in the few existing industries, drop in exports and increasing foreign debts.

It is instructive to state that, the harsh climate of Mali makes it impossible for the country to grow crops on a substantial basis to feed itself. The encroaching Sahara Desert has threatened the ability of the country to cultivate crops.

Indeed, as a result of this ominous development, Mali has become a net importer of food and a receiver food handout from the developed world.

In addition the poor nature of the economy resulted in mass unrests especially among the youth, who were on a consistent basis piling pressure on the government to give them non-existent jobs.

Like any other African country, the Malian situation could be attributed to poor leadership and unbridled corruption among the elite of the country, who had been siphoning scare and hard-earned resources of the country into their foreign accounts.

In 1998, Traore, his wife, Marian Cissoko, and his brother-in-law, Abraham Cissoko, went on trial for embezzlement. All three were sentenced to death in 1999 but the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

Furthermore, the practice of democracy in the country has been fractured on a number of occasions, threatening its survival. The constitutional court declared that the legislative poll held in 1997 were invalid because of fraud and the lack of organisation.

The opposition parties seized the opportunity and urged that the presidential election scheduled for May that year be postponed but the court refused. It boycotted the poll and Konare won the election for a second five year term.

The immediate factor of the Malian crisis had been the emergence of the Islamist group, which threatened the sovereignty of the country and that of the sub-region.

The group, which claimed it was affiliated to Al-Qaeda, had taken Mali by storm, annexing territories and major cities, including Timbuktu and Gao. 

It started implementing the Sharia Code of beheading and cutting limbs in areas under its jurisdiction, while it pressed on to overthrow the beleaguered Bamako Government.

It was a tragedy that the Malian Army, which should concentrate on defending the country from encroachment, had bogged itself in politics while the Islamists were running riot across the country and desecrating monuments dating back to the empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai.

But for the quick intervention of the International community led by France which without delay deployed forces using air power to dislodge the insurgents who were threatening the well -being of the country and holding the people to ransom, Mali would have witnessed disintegration.

The deployment of forces from France came at a huge cost and risk. Recently, the France government said it had so far, spent about £200 million on its operations in Mali, excluding the help that the international community had given to forces from the sub-region airlifted to the country.

The question is:  where did the Islamists come from and who supported them with money, arms and logistics?

Although some Islamist cells existed in Mali, their operations were dormant until the Arab Spring, which witnessed massive upheavals in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.  During the Libya uprising, a number of fighters were recruited by the Gaddafi government to fight on its behalf.

However, after the defeat of the government and the demise of Gaddafi, several of them fled the country with a large cache of arms and vehicles to Mali to augment the activities of the Islamist insurgents.

In addition, the Islamist networked its activities with others in the sub-region and North African countries and Somalia, who trained them in guerrilla warfare and the making of improvised bombs.

In addition, fighters from these areas also volunteered to fight with their compatriots in Mali. So, in effect, there are a number of different groups fighting in Mali.

Moreover, the crisis has further dislocated the Malian economy as it continues to shake investor confidence looking at the state of insecurity in the country. In this direction, the economy would witness further depreciation of its currency and its concomitant effect on inflation and the conditions of life of the people.

Although countries in the sub-region have pledged men and women, who have been deployed in Mali, the issue of funding has become a very important issue since countries which are expected to commit funds towards the operation are also undergoing difficult financial stress.

However, it would not be in the interest of the international community and countries in the sub-region to witness the resurgence of the Islamist in Mali and the region.

A stitch in time saves nine!

Written by Kweku Tsen/