Despite Tuareg Rebellion, Mali Gives Assurances on Presidential Elections in April

The Tuareg rebellion that began last month in northern Mali has continued. Rebels belonging to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) attacked two towns over the weekend, and the Malian army “has launched an air-and-land offensive” to win back territory and defeat the MNLA. The fighting in northern Mali has sparked protests in the south, as military families shaken by news of losses marched in the capital Bamako and elsewhere. The emergence of these interlocking crises has fueled speculation that Mali’s presidential elections, scheduled for April 29 and seen as symbolizing the consolidation of Mali’s democratic credentials, could be delayed.

On Sunday, President Amadou Toumani Toure gave assurances that the elections will go forward as planned.

“We are already used to holding elections during war, and during Tuareg rebellions,” Toure said on national radio, referring to past polls during Tuareg uprisings in the 1990s. “Whatever the difficulty, you must have a president, elected legally and legitimately.”

Toure, or “ATT,” whom term limits prevent from running again, has not endorsed a candidate yet (see my quick post on some of the major candidates here, and read Think Africa Press’ thoughtful take on the election here).

ATT’s statement comes as no surprise. Malian politicians have several incentives not to delay the elections, even if the rebellion continues through April.

One incentive is that postponing elections could risk funding and support from external donors. Mali’s government badly wants to preserve external aid flows in order to deal with food insecurity and development – not to mention the rebellion itself. Sacrificing its image as a successful West African democracy could come at a high cost.

Another incentive is that a delay – and the corresponding administrative and legal confusion associated with whatever interim government took power – could exacerbate the political instability in Mali. Dioncounda Traore (French), President of the National Assembly and a major presidential candidate, has warned that if a delay occurs, “anything could happen, even a coup d’etat.”

A third incentive is, if portraits of ATT are to be believed, the president’s desire to leave a strong legacy. Such a legacy could be marred if rebellion is still raging when he steps down, but extending his mandate in an extra-constitutional fashion could do even more damage. ATT may feel that passing the baton to another politician this year would be better than risking the instability that might result from a delayed election.

None of these factors guarantee that the elections will be held on time. But with only two months to go, it certainly seems that the president and the political class in the south are firmly in favor of holding the vote as planned.

Malian Elections and French Educations

If one looks at the biographies of major candidates in Mali’s upcoming presidential elections (first round April 29), a simple pattern emerges: they all studied in France.

  • Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former prime minister and former president of the National Assembly, as well as runner-up in the 2007 presidential elections, attended secondary school and university in France, specializing in history, political science, and international relations.
  • Soumaila Cisse, a former cabinet minister and runner-up in the 2002 presidential elections, studied software engineering in Montpelier.
  • Dioncounda Traore, current president of the National Assembly, attended university in Nice as well as universities in the Soviet Union and Algeria.
  • Mobidbo Sidibe (.pdf), former prime minister, has a doctorate in criminology from Aix-en-Provence.

There are other candidates, but it is fairly likely that Mali’s next president will be one of these men, and therefore also fairly likely that Mali’s next president will be French-educated. (For what it is worth, former President Alpha Konare studied not in France but in Poland, while outgoing President Amadou Toumani Toure completed military training courses in the Soviet Union and France).

I would not go so far as to say that this trend represents a pernicious form of neo-colonialism, but I do think it’s notable that the formation of super-elites in Mali (and elsewhere in Francophone Africa) remains so closely tied to the former metropole.

Consolidating Malian Democracy

It’s not that Mali doesn’t have problems (especially poverty), but in many ways the country exemplifies the kinds of reforms Western governments ask African countries to make: Mali is a democracy that has peacefully transferred power from one president to another, and its current prime minister is a woman. So I hope that those same Western powers will listen to the prime minister’s appeal, made in New York recently, for financial and logistical support during the country’s 2012 presidential elections. Mali will also hold a referendum next year on proposed changes to the legal and political systems.

[Prime Minister Mariam Kaidama Sidibe] told the UN General Assembly in New York that next year’s referendum and elections would be the culmination of a lengthy consultative process launched by the country’s President, Amadou Toumani Toure.

‘Toure, is not running for re-election, so as to consolidate democracy, good governance and the rule of law,’ Ms. Sidibe said.

Consolidation, I think, is the perfect word to describe Mali’s goal for next year. After two terms under President Alpha Konare (1992-2002) and now two terms under Toure (or ATT, as he is nicknamed), the next election will almost certainly see a second peaceful transfer of power, which some political scientists say is the sign of a full-fledged democracy. ATT is not only not contesting, but has so far abstained from endorsing any particular candidate, so the election is quite open. With the proper support, the 2012 elections should be quite a success.

Northern Mali, Development, Politics, Tourism, and AQIM

Mali is often seen, by analysts as well as its neighbors, as something of an outlier within the Sahel in terms of its government’s approach to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In February 2010, Mali effectively swapped hostages with AQIM, angering Algeria and Mauritania, who withdrew their ambassadors for a time (Algeria and Mauritania favor attempts to neutralize AQIM through force). Mali does not reject the use of force: it has attended regional counterterrorism summits, and recently participated in Mauritania’s campaign to clear militants out of the Wagadou Forest in the Mauritania-Mali border zone. In addition to force, however, Mali is moving forward with an initiative to address underdevelopment and marginalization, problems the government believes help drive AQIM.

Mali has launched a 32 billion CFA franc [$69 million] programme to try and restore the government’s authority in its desert north where a mix of rebels and criminals have fomented insecurity through kidnappings, smuggling and uprisings.

The government is hoping to develop the north, which is potentially rich in resources and was once frequented by foreign tourists but remains impoverished and awash with gunmen, including groups linked to al Qaeda.

Having lost some $110 million in revenues from tourism over the last two years, President Amadou Toumani Toure said the government would hit back by redeploying some administrative offices and providing infrastructure and development.

As Jeune Afrique (French) details, the development program (Programme spécial pour la paix, la sécurité et le développement au Nord-Mali, “Special Program for Peace, Security, and Development in North Mali” or PSPSDN) was part of the national security strategy Mali adopted in 2009. So the program is not an ad hoc attempt to throw money at a problem, but is rather a plan carefully devised by the president and his advisers.

Toure, for his part, speaks of a “security-development binomial,” in which force is a necessary but not sufficient element in ending terrorism. Only an enduring commitment to development, Toure believes, will address the root causes of violence. To that end the government will construct new garrisons in the north, but also new health centers, food banks, schools, and more. The program will last until the end of Toure’s mandate next summer. It has funding from the World Bank, the EU, the US, and various other donor countries and agencies.

I think this program could prove helpful not just to counterterrorism aims, but to the people of northern Mali. I do not believe in the equations “terrorism=poverty+Islam” or “development+counterterrorism=peace,” but the approach Mali’s leaders are taking strikes me as more sophisticated than that – at the very least, they have a multi-faceted development approach.

One area that may not fall under the rubric of the northern development program, however, is ideological struggle. Recent reports from Magharebia have highlighted a new video from AQIM, which “prominently features fighters from Mali and Mauritania” and a new preaching campaign by AQIM along the Mauritanian-Malian border. Development efforts alone, even if they have an ideological valence, may not be enough to compete effectively on the ideological plane. Terrorist recruitment is a complex phenomenon, and whether people in northern Mali are receptive to AQIM’s outreach will depend on a host of factors, but it would seem worth the regime’s while to partner with local Muslim scholars or take other steps to spread a counter-theology.

Malian journalists and politicians are already turning their gazes toward the 2012 elections but Toure, even though he is term limited from running again, is not an irrelevant “lame duck.” A year’s time may prove short, given the ambitions of the northern development program, but there is still time to make a substantial difference. If the program works, it will have implications for Mali’s future and for other countries trying to control, help, and influence remote territories.

Readers who want more background on northern Mali can check out this dated, though still informative, USAID report (.pdf) from 2004.

Even If Mali Passes Its New Family Code, Muslim Organizations Have Already Benefited Politically

In the summer of 2009, the parliament of Mali passed a revision of the family code. Powerful Muslim leaders and organizations were angered by sections of the new code which would have established 18 years as the minimum age for marriage, made secular authorities the only persons capable of performing legal marriages, and expanded women’s property and inheritance rights. Mass protests, including a rally in Bamako that reportedly attracted as many as 50,000 people, soon convinced President Amadou Toumani Toure to shelve the law. Debate flared up again over the code in the spring of 2010, including among Muslim leaders.

In October 2010, the code was once more ready to go before parliament. A group in the National Assembly, in consultation with the High Islamic Council of Mali (one of the groups that had objected previously), made modifications which the Council accepted, but which civil society groups denounced. No code, apparently, will achieve consensus in Malian society.

Fast forward to summer 2011, and the code may be moving toward passage. One Malian paper (Fr) says that on June 23rd, the National Assembly delayed consideration of the code until the next session. Lawmakers feared that going ahead with a version that is still deeply contested would provoke a backlash.

But another Malian paper (Fr) now reports that the code will be considered in an extraordinary session of parliament this month, and is expected to pass. One of the biggest changes it contains is the legalization of “religious marriage,” and a definition of a marriage that makes it a “public” rather than a “secular” act. I have not been able to find information on whether other contested provisions were also changed, but presumably Muslim leaders got much of what they wanted in talks.
Even if the bill passes (as it did in 2009, recall), that may not be the end of the story. With so much tension and anger surrounding the code, and with President Toure heading for retirement in less than a year, there may not be the political will to implement the law – which could prove logistically difficult no matter how much popular support the new code receives.
Where the situation stands now, the Muslim organizations that opposed the code have won two political triumphs: the incorporation of their concerns into the legislation itself, and a formal recognition of their political stature, as demonstrated by their prominent role in negotiations over the newest version of the code. The 2012 presidential race in Mali, which is already shaping up, has not been primarily driven so far by issues relating to Islam. Yet Muslim leaders in the country clearly have an impact when they take a stand on social issues – arguably, they wield a limited veto power.
The family code issue partly reflects the strength of the “Muslim public sphere,” namely the proliferation of formal Muslim associations since Mali’s democratic transition in 1991-1992. Muslim organizations’ successes with regard to the family code may increase their confidence and outspokenness in the political realm going forward.

Africa News Roundup: Qadhafi and Africa, Abuja Bombing Aftermath, Mali Elections, Abyei, and More

A few links for your Saturday:

Reuters argues that

Moves by countries including Senegal, Mauritania, Liberia, Chad and Gambia to distance themselves from [Libyan ruler Colonel Moammar] Gaddafi are partly a gamble that NATO-backed rebels will finally succeed in ending his four decades of authoritarian and quixotic rule. But they also show Gaddafi’s waning role in a region where foreign investor appetite, trade ties with Asia and a domestic yearning for democracy are all eclipsing the lure of Libyan petrodollars and weakening the old-boy networks they propped up.

Following the bombing in Abuja, Nigeria on Thursday, which was claimed by Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan visited the bombing site yesterday and urged calm, promising that security forces will resolve the issue. Vanguard looks at how the Maitatsine riots of the 1980s may have presaged the emergence of groups like Boko Haram.

One story to watch is the 2012 elections in Mali, a democratic success story in sub-Saharan Africa. President Amadou Toumani Toure, who has reached the end of his two term limit, intends to retire from politics, leaving the field of contenders wide open (French).

Another story to watch is the situation in Abyei. Despite an agreement earlier this week between North and South Sudan that would remove Northern troops from the disputed border region, shelling continued yesterday. As a reminder, South Sudan’s independence is now only 21 days away.

In Niger this week, “Troops scoured…[the] northern desert for Al-Qaeda militants who clashed with troops at the weekend after arriving from Libya loaded with explosives.”

What are you reading today?

Sahelian Leaders Look to a Post-Qadhafi Libya

During his long rule Colonel Moammar Qadhafi has exercised substantial influence over Africa. The Colonel has aided client regimes, helped bring rulers to power or ruin, and intervened in conflicts as participant or peacemaker. As this map shows, his influence has been particularly pronounced in Sahelian countries like Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The civil war in Libya has dramatically affected the Sahel: Niger and other countries are absorbing thousands of refugees, Sahelians are being accused of serving as pro-Qadhafi mercenaries, Libyan weapons have reportedly traveled south, and money flows have been disrupted or altered. Perhaps reflecting the interlinked fates of Libya and the Sahel, the latter has been well represented in the African Union’s peace efforts, providing two of the five members of the AU’s committee on Libya (they are President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, who chairs the committee, and President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali). This AU group, at least initially, tried to broker a peace that would have allowed Qadhafi to remain in power.

Given all that, it is significant to see several Sahelian leaders begin to speak about – and act to bring about – a post-Qadhafi Libya. Senegal appears to have led the trend, with President Abdoulaye Wade establishing relations with the Libyan rebels in mid-May. Last week, Wade met with rebel leaders in Benghazi and said that Qadhafi should step down. Gambia also recognizes the rebels. Wade’s call for a transition was seconded last week by Mauritania’s Abdel Aziz, who said that Qadhafi’s “departure has become necessary.” With this, Abdel Aziz seemed to speak for the African Union as a whole. Another Sahelian leader, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, soon added his voice to the chorus. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki met on the sidelines of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Zambia last week, and afterwards Clinton announced that “the Chadian government does not support Gadhafi.”

To say there is an emerging Sahelian consensus against Qadhafi would be going too far. I have not seen a statement from Mali’s Toure calling for Qadhafi’s resignation, nor to my knowledge has newly elected Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gone beyond calling for a solution to the crisis (without stating a preference on who rules Libya). President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, according to one source, has continued to proclaim solidarity with Qadhafi. And further east, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has not demanded Qadhafi’s ouster either. So if the baseline position among Sahelian leaders three or four months ago was support for Qadhafi, or neutrality, many of them have not moved. But the movement that has occurred in the region has been toward breaking with the Colonel.

AFP has discussed the Senegalese and Mauritanian statements in the context of a larger African shift away from Qadhafi. Attention to the Sahelian context is also important, though, as Qadhafi’s departure could affect the Sahel more than any other region in Africa. The calculated risks that Wade, Abdel Aziz, and Deby are taking indicate that the political landscape in the Sahel has already shifted even though Qadhafi still clings to power. These decisions also suggest some confidence on the part of Sahelian leaders that siding with Qadhafi’s foes is a better bet than staying neutral, or continuing to support the Colonel on the chance that he might weather the storm. If and when Qadhafi does go, the relationships forged in this time of crisis, both between the Sahelian countries and the rebels as well as among the Sahelian countries themselves, will influence the direction of regional relations in the future.

Mali: French Embassy Attack Undercuts Confidence on Security Progress

Yesterday, Mali made news twice for stories related to terrorism: first, for Malian Tourism Minister Ndiaye Bah’s statement that “security issues are contained in northern Mali”; and second, for a bomb attack on the French embassy in Bamako. The juxtaposition of the Malian government’s confidence with this incident suggests that it is too early to say whether Mali is making progress on security.

Bah’s remarks in context:

Mali’s Festival in the Desert, starting on Thursday in Timbuktu, will show that the threat from al-Qaeda in the region has been contained, the tourism minister said on Wednesday.

“We will be at the festival with a few thousand people, including many tourists, to show that security issues are contained in northern Mali. The tourists come from everywhere, even Australia,” Tourism Minister Ndiaye Bah told AFP.

Yesterday’s bombing, in which “a Tunisian man who claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member exploded a gas cylinder in front of the French embassy,” belies the idea that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been contained. Even if the bomber proves a mere wannabe, the attack offers AQIM an opportunity to claim another blow directed at the Malian government.

The contradiction between Bah’s confidence and the embassy bombing is clear, but I should point out that Bah’s perspective is not the only one Malian government officials offer regarding AQIM. At least two other perspectives are evident. One is that other countries’ problems are causing Mali’s terrorism problems:

Mali does not deny that an estimated 200 to 300 fighters from [AQIM] have found a perch in their desert, although most are believed to be Mauritanians and Algerians. But Mali often depicts the terrorists as a problem generated elsewhere.

“We are hostages to a situation that does not concern us,” news reports quoted President Amadou Toumani Touré as saying.

The Tunisian origin of the bomber could reinforce this narrative.

The second perspective is that Mali needs more help from the West:

As part of its broader efforts to counter extremism in northern Mali, the United States also underwrote a series of radio soap operas whose plot twists emphasized the dangers of extremism.Beyond that, Washington provides basic military training, sometimes even more basic than envisioned. An exercise on what to do when the driver of a vehicle is shot dead revealed a startling truth — most Malian soldiers did not know how to drive. Lessons were instituted. But Malian officials want more.

“How many people in the north listen to the radio? That is never going to be strong enough to change their views on A.Q.M.I. or religious fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Baby, a presidential adviser working on fixing the northern problem, using the initials of the French name for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “We need to deal with development, with the lack of resources.”

Behind the scenes, President Toure himself has acknowledged the inroads AQIM has made in the north. The public statements and leaked discussions, then, indicate that Malian officials are actively debating how to handle AQIM, and that some officials are more optimistic than others about anti-terrorism efforts.

Where does Mali go from here? What lessons, if any, does this attack offer? Madmen with guns and grievances are a perennial problem for many societies today, and it may turn out that this Tunisian was simply a lunatic. In that case, the only way to foil such attacks is through vigilance and a degree of luck. But should it turn out that he truly is part of AQIM, Malian officials and authorities throughout the Sahel will likely be asking themselves how much progress has really been made against AQIM.

Mali Family Code Redux

Last August, Muslim associations lead massive protests against a proposed family law code in Mali. When we left the story, pressure from these Muslim groups had persuaded President Amadou Toumani Toure to table the code, an outcome that left many Muslim groups content and many parliamentarians relieved.

Djenne, Mali

Now the family code is back:

[Mali's top Islamic] council is proposing amending articles on inheritance, marriage, adoption and family responsibilities…

Parliament is treading more carefully this time in trying to pass a new family law…Two lawmakers, one of whom is a religious leader, are to reconcile the proposed amendments, the code under draft and the existing law, which they will present to parliament for approval in April.

Political analyst and University of Bamako professor, Badra Alou Macalou, told IRIN that lawmakers were hoping to reach a consensus on the contested articles. “The president of the assembly… was clear in saying that the legislators will never adopt a code that will affect again the social climate. I think that in April if the code is not voted [on] and adopted unanimously, it will simply be shelved.”

IRIN also obtained quotes from Malians concerned about the amendments or, alternatively, skeptical that any code would do much to affect the lives of ordinary people.

Struggles over family law have a history in West Africa: Nigeria faced stormy debates on the constitutional status of shari’a law in 1960 and 1977-8 before twelve Northern states ultimately imposed broad shari’a law in 1999-2001. In any country, debates over law and religion can call secularism into question. But in Francophone countries like Senegal and Mali where postcolonial states embraced French-style laïcité, a stricter secularism than the Anglo-American model, the challenge takes on a different character.

For Senegal, Islamic leaders’ (ultimately unsuccessful) opposition to a 1972 family code caused one of the first major confrontations between religious communities and the secular state. Renewed debate over the place of Islam in Senegalese law in 2003 called laïcité into question to the extent that President Abdoulaye Wade had to state publicly that he would not revise the 1972 code because incorporating Islamic courts into the system might damage Senegal’s democracy (Gellar, Democracy in Senegal, 164).

With this background in mind, I am very curious to watch how the debate unfolds in Mali. Since Mali’s democratic transition in 1991-2, Muslim associations have been a major part of civil society in Mali, but this debate around the law seems to be their largest political mobilization to date. The Muslim associations protesting the law won the battle the first time around, and in my view did so within the confines of fair-and-square democratic mobilization. If they win again, and the code is either amended or tabled, will that represent a maintainance of the status quo, or a foreshadowing of greater Muslim involvement in politics? And if they lose, and a code is passed over their objections, will that represent a triumphant laïcité?