Africa Notes: ECOWAS acts in aftermath of coups

Regional cooperation in West Africa is such a unique thing. Where else do you see cooperation on economic matters appear to be so much more difficult that you switch to cooperating on security? Wasn’t the EU built on precisely the opposite logic?

BBC News – Ecowas to send troops after Mali, Guinea-Bissau coups.

Anyway, BBC (and others) are reporting what we have known would likely happen: ECOWAS is sending troops to deal with the aftermath of coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Doing this in Mali makes a lot of sense to me. The situation is such a mess (political struggles over both regime transition and secession). And we can hope, based on its past, that Mali could return to a peaceful and democratic path once these issues get sorted. Not that this will be easy!

But I wonder if Guinea-Bissau might be a harder case. On the one hand, G-B’s problems are a little more straightforward: this is “just” a coup. But on the other hand, the prospects for a peaceful and democratic path are really pretty bad here. No president has ever finished their term in office. And, as Lesley Anne Warner notes, G-B is indeed quite coup-prone. The country has had twice as many coup incidents (10, including failed and alleged plots) as any other country in Africa since 2000. And that doesn’t even include the assassination of President Vieira in 2009! Reuters has a nice timeline of just a few of the events in their violent past.

All of that leads me to wonder: how will ECOWAS gauge success here? What is the exit strategy? Or are West African leaders trying to send some sort of hard signal to the elites in G-B that business-as-usual (coups every few years) cannot be tolerated? I just don’t quite know at this point.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether Africa has gone “coup-crazy” this year, Jay Ulfelder has a nice analysis that shows that, statistically, we are still within the norm (Dart-Throwing Chimp).

Africa Notes: Mali Update

Update: Just saw this link to a nice timeline of the conflict in northern Mali since 1891 on IRIN. (h/t Sahel Blog).

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
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…
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.

Africa Notes: Now that Timbuktu has been taken, will more of us pay attention?

The crisis continues to unfold in Mali. And maybe the coup leaders are seeing that EVERYTHING is going against them.On Saturday the pledged a quick power handover.

  • First, the coup leaders are increasingly unpopular in West Africa.
  • Uncertainty is the word Camilla Toulmin used to described the situation.
  • The view from the West
    • The UK tells its citizens to leave.
    • Walter Russell Mead continues in his Afro-pessimist vein in describing the situation. As he says, the Financial Times described Mali as “one of west Africa’s most stable countries”. So, he tells us, “This casts serious doubt on the mainstream press, NGO and foreign policy establishment line on Africa.”
  • Meanwhile, the average Malian is in for some major problems.
    • As Baz Lecocq notes, the hot season is starting in Mali and food is going to be a big issue. What is more, he suggests, the Malian army is not prepared to handle the heat of the hot season in the extreme parts of the country the rebels currently hold.
    • Oxfam has this press release on food shortages (here) (via Sahel Blog)
  • And the Mali army is losing more and more ground to the rebels. I am certain by now they must realize that former President Toure likely did not have any more resources to give them before the coup. Perhaps that was why he already was willing to step down on his own.
    • So they lost the northern town of Kidal.
    • And rebels reportedly entered and then took Gao. (and here)
    • And then on Sunday (today) they apparently surrounded Timbuktu and then planted their flag there.. Which is probably the only city most Americans have heard of. So we might finally start to see greater press attention.

    If you examine this map of Mali (via Wars in the World), you can quickly see how rebel advances place them in control of a large swath of territory. Indeed, draw a line between Gao and Timbuktu, extend it, and you will see about half the country in rebel hands. Of course, it is the less-populated, poorer half. But it is very significant.

Noted: More reactions on the Mali Coup

First, an interesting point that is often not stressed enough in the news reports on the coup: President Toure wasn’t even running in the April presidential elections. He already planned to step down. So why be impatient?

Indeed, Gregory Mann seems appropriately skeptical of the coup leaders’ lofty goals for fighting corruption and promoting democracy (Africa is a Country). Brian Peterson finds a lesson in all of this: African leaders should take grievances seriously (African Arguments). I actually was unaware of the “war widow” protests in January that he mentions.

Meanwhile, our understanding of the potential routes forward continues to develop. First, the immediate consequences of the coup are still being sorted out. The US has joined other states in suspending aid to Mali (Reuters). Meanwhile, Tuareg rebels are reportedly advancing further into Mali (The New Yorker). Thinking more about the long term, Alex Thurston usefully considers whether past West African coups have lessons for Mali (Sahel Blog). I think his fourth point, “coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups”, might be prescient.

Africa Notes: The Mali Coup

The recent coup in Mali is an important setback for Sahelian democracy. And the situation there is still fluid, as reports of a counter-coup (which may just be a rumor)surfaced today.

Here are some of the themes that are emerging:

Coup Causes

1. The North Africa Spring. As I hinted last week, we can trace back the recent coup–at least partly–to the events of the North Africa spring. The military officers who took over stated very explicitly that one of their reasons for their actions. Meanwhile, Afro-pessimist Walter Russell Mead has already used this as an opportunity to critique NATO intervention in Libya.

2. The military’s specific discontent with the government. Over at Baobab at The Economist, they mention the events most proximate to the coup:

The spark for the mutiny came during a visit to Bamako’s main barracks by Mali’s defence minister. For weeks, discontent has been building as ethnic Tuareg rebels—flush with heavy weaponry stolen from Libya, and better organised than at any time in the past—have launched a series of attacks, sacking beleaguered garrisons and inflicting heavy casualties on the demoralised Malian army.
When the minister failed to assuage soldiers’ concerns that the government had a grip on the insurgency, troops fired angrily into the air. Hours later they swept into Bamako, stormed the state broadcaster’s offices and laid siege to the presidential palace. A thousand miles to the northeast, junior soldiers placed their superiors under lock and key.

3. Was this an accident? Think Africa Press has questioned whether any of this might even be “accidental”. (h/t SahelBlog).

4. General dissatisfaction with the President. Some in Mali doubted the President’s commitment to overseeing free and fair elections this April and he is alleged to be involved in cocaine trafficking and a number of corrupt business deals. (Sources: Tesfay)

Coup Consequences

1. Mali is losing aid money. TheWorld Bank and African Development Fund suspended funds. The EU was next. The US has only issued threats about withdrawing aid thus far. Mali, of course, has been a key strategic partner in American efforts to counter Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Also, while (now former) President Toure was an important part of that alliance, there are reports that one or more of the leaders of the coup received American training.

2. Delay in national elections. The elections were due next month but now no one knows when they may take place. ECOWAS has suggested they go on with the elections as planned, but that is way too optimistic. While the coup leaders say they will restore democracy, Mali historian Gregory Mann, at least, thinks that the coup was “not intended to secure democracy, but to prevent it”. (Sources: Tesfay, Gregory Mann, Reuters).
        [The Africa Report has a nice rundown on who the possible candidates for the election were prior to the coup.]

3. Greater “terrorism” risks. That is the phrase some have used. But as Townsend argues at African Arguments, it is likely that this coup will make it harder, not easier, to solve Mali’s “Tuareg Problem” (Sources: Tesfay, Townsend)

4. Greater risks for (especially) foreign enterprises. Tesfay at Executive Analysis argues that mining taxes and even expropriation might be a risk for a number of businesses operating in Mali.

5. Worse military-society relations. Not only was the public stunned by the military’s actions, but the military also apparently were involved in looting in the aftermath of the coup.

However, there are some optimists out there. Over at The Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten notes research showing that “since the end of the Cold War most coups are quickly followed by competitive elections and a restoration of democracy.”

We’ll see.