The promises of the Malian coup sound all too reminiscent. The plotters have claimed their actions are based on the incompetency of the present Malian government to address the insecurity in the northern region of the country. In their address to the nation, the coup plotters claimed that their objective was “not in any way aimed to confiscate power”, but “to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity is established”. But most African nations that have experienced military regimes know too well how these promises are rarely kept. The coup plotters have suspended the Malian constitution and dissolved all democratic institutions in Mali, yet the group refers to themselves as the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State. Is the military in Mali telling its people that it decides how democracy is practiced in Mali? We thought that democracy is about expanding frontiers of freedom and that no one can draw the line and say this is democracy… period.
In all this mayhem, the most disturbing aspects of these acts act are that: 1) Mali is the longest serving democracy in the West African region and 2) the country was just set to hold an election next Month when the present president, Amadou Toumani Toure, would likely have handed over power to the next elected president of the country. The coup plotters have claimed to address the issue of the insecurity in the northern region in the country; however, we do not see the new military regime achieving that without the impunity and violation of human right that characterize so many military regimes. The plotters claim seems to suggest that the president doesn’t know how to govern the country as far as the security question in the north goes. In other words, it’s not for the people to determine who can govern Mail but the military. Of course, it is too soon to assume that the coup plotters already have control over the country judging by the ranks of the officers who executed the coup. The actions by these officers are a threat to the Malian armed forces as many senior army officers will have to look for new employment should the coup succeed. This will definitely lead to a conflict that might escalate to warring factions within the military in Mali and it is the Malians who will bear much of the impact, both on their security and development.
Thus, Mali is faced with two bad options: one, having their democratic institutions violated by a small group of persons who, if they succeed, will have their human rights and basic human needs in jeopardy which has generally been the characteristic of military regimes or, two, ambushed into a violent confrontation within its armed forces that will be fought on the streets of Mali in the midst of ordinary citizens having the most impact on women and children. Either outcome will significantly impact the development in Mali, though Mali is still one of the poorest countries in the world; development has been significant in the region primarily due to the democratic institutions in the country.
Should Mali escape this quagmire this situation highlights the need for African countries to enact better laws to ensure civilian control of the military. There is the need to change people’s mindsets that the army is the major force in Africa and somehow they can just intervene into the internal workings of the legislative bodies.
Afis Alao and Denis Bogere are graduate students in the Dept. of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance at UMass Boston.