Things still look rather grim in Mali, though the situation is in constant flux. It might be useful to look at the situation from different vantage points:
The people of Mali
It is probably no surprise that in coups and wars much is done in the names of various peoples, but at least in the short-term, the peoples of Mali seem poised to suffer. While County and Peterson find that some in Mali may welcome the coup as an opportunity to introduce democratic reform, as Bonicelli suggests at Foreign Policy, the lessons for the impatient citizens in Mali might be the wrong one. Coups should not be normalized as a way to bring about democratic change.
Also unfortunate for the Mali people, and perhaps most immediately threatening, is a looming famine crisis.
And violence + famine = refugees here. The largest group outside of Mali is apparently in Mauritania (48,033) but at least 100,000 are internally displaced and others have fled to Burkina Faso, Niger, and elsewhere in West Africa. (IRIN)
The Azawad State
The rebels want their own state and even have a name for it (see Thurston’s comments at Sahel Blog). But what does it take to create a new state? What is required for secession to count? Lesley Warner’s take is that the Azawad rebels have “not been able to check the necessary boxes for international support” (h/t Sahel Blog). Indeed, ultimately statehood does rely on international recognition. So far, they seem quite far from getting it.
Over at Wronging Rights, they add a little more depth, citing the only document we have on what a state is, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.
The Government of Mali
The coup leaders did step down. But the new interim President, Dioncounda Traore, does not seem to want to keep things calm. As has been wildly reported, he is threatening “total war” on the rebels in the north.
West Africa has a strong tradition of tending to its own political crises, via African mediators and its own unique regional organization, ECOWAS. All of this is happening here. President Compaoré (Burkina Faso), opened talks on Saturday between Mali’s politicians and military. Notably absent: the Tuaregs.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS’ Mediation and Security Council recommended a regional force be deployed should mediation by President Compaoré fail. However, that force is not intended to deal with the coup so much as it is to deal with the rebels in the northern part of Mali. This is an important sign that the Azawad state lacks the regional allies it would need.
The International Community
The French are clear about their interests. Sarkozy:
…we must do everything to prevent the establishment of a terrorist or Islamic state in the heart of the Sahel. (Reuters)
Gregory Mann notes that in Paris, however, there are lots of views on the streets about the events in Mali (“Bamako-sur-Seine”).
Also, UNESCO is worried about the cultural treasures of Timbuktu.
And so things continue to move. I shouldn’t try to predict but… my best bet is that we will see a gradual return to constitutional rule in the southern part of the country followed by a slow and torturous attempt to regain control of the north. ECOWAS will play a key role in this and a year from now we will barely hear anything more about it. But I really hope I am wrong about the torturous bit. I would much prefer that this become an opportunity for national dialog about how to better serve the needs of the Tuareg populations in the north.