Following the March 22 military coup in Mali, regional pressure on the military government prompted the launch of an ostensibly civilian interim government in April. That government, headed by former head of the National Assembly Dioncounda Traore, was supposed to organize new elections and pave the way for a permanent civilian government. But the transition has been dogged by problems, especially the war against rebels in northern Mali and the persistent political influence of military coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo.
Now the transition’s 40-day term is set to expire (either on May 20 or May 22, depending on what legal interpretation prevails – see Whitehouse’s linked piece below), and confusion has grown: Sanogo wants to hold a convention to choose a new interim leader, but Traore wants to remain in power for twelve months. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a major source of external pressure on Mali, prefers the latter option. Mali-based journalist Martin Vogl says this is “not [a] good sign.” Dr. Bruce Whitehouse, meanwhile, sees a pervasive distrust of politicians at work in Mali; in some quarters an anti-politician feeling seems to boost support for the junta and its “extra-institutional approaches” to politics.
Where does the confusion in Mali leave ECOWAS? The regional bloc says it is ready to take various steps: reimposing sanctions and even ordering a military intervention. ECOWAS’ threats should be taken seriously; the organization has acted more decisively during Mali’s crisis than many, including me, had expected. ECOWAS is already moving to send peacekeepers to Guinea-Bissau, site of another recent coup.
Is an intervention in Mali feasible? I have heard it would not be without external support. ECOWAS countries, including regional giant Nigeria, might not have the financial or military resources to mount such an operation. External support, however, may be forthcoming:
Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, says ECOWAS is just waiting for authorization from the United Nations to order the intervention.
“A strategic plan has been drawn up, and if the ECOWAS force has to be deployed, we need a go-ahead from the UN Security Council,” Mr. Ouedraogo said.
The US is ready to support an ECOWAS intervention with logistics and military planners, says US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
“The US fully supports Ecowas’s mediation efforts to help Mali return to democratic rule,” Mr. Carson said in a conference call with reporters. “We have been willing to provide logisticians and planners” to an ECOWAS operation, if the Malian military does not cede power, Carson added. “But the mission and role must be defined before we make any kind of commitment.”
I do not expect we will see large numbers of American or French troops on the ground in Mali. But the possibility of a Western-backed (“backing,” in this case, seems to mean financial and logistical support) ECOWAS intervention in Mali is certainly on the table.