Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The West's Contribution to Mali's Tragedy

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The West's Contribution to Mali's Tragedy

Article excerpt

The war in Mali is not simply a result of the perfidy of Islamist extremists or another case of a dysfunctional or "failed" African state, though these are certainly contributing factors. The ongoing war in this impoverished, land-locked former French colony is first and foremost yet another example of the phenomenon known as "blowback," where an initially successful Western military intervention eventually results in unanticipated tragic consequences.

The 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya was justified initially as a humanitarian effort in response to severe repression by the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. However, the Western military effort went well beyond the U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilian lives, as the French, British and U.S. air forces--along with ground support by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships--essentially allied themselves with the rebel armies. The African Union, while highly critical of Gadhafi's repression, condemned the intervention, fearing that the resulting chaos would result in Libya's vast storehouse of arms fueling local and regional conflicts elsewhere in Africa and destabilizing the region.

This is exactly what has transpired.

Whereas the nonviolent revolution against the neighboring Tunisian dictatorship resulted in a positive contagion of unarmed pro-democracy civil insurrections, the violent intervention in Libya resulted in a negative contagion of armed rebellions.

This is particularly tragic since Mali was, until recently, seen as one of the more hopeful political stories in Africa.

In 1991, more than two decades prior to similar pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Malians engaged in a massive nonviolent resistance campaign that brought down the dictatorship of Moussa Traore. A broad mobilization of trade unionists, peasants, students, teachers and others created a mass pro-democracy movement throughout the country. Despite the absence of Facebook or the Internet, virtually no international media coverage, and the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters, this popular civil insurrection succeeded not only in ousting a repressive and corrupt regime, but ushered in more than two decades of democratic rule.

Despite corruption, poverty and a weak infrastructure, Mali was widely considered to be one of the most democratic countries in West Africa, with regular competitive elections. Independent radio stations and newspapers emerged and the country experienced lively and open political debate, giving Mali some of the highest rankings in Africa in terms of civil liberties and political rights.

History has shown that dictatorships overthrown through largely nonviolent civil insurrections are far more likely to evolve into stable democracies than dictatorships ousted through armed revolution or foreign intervention. Mali appeared to be a prime example of this phenomenon.

Indeed, soon after the March Revolution of 1991, the Malian government negotiated a peace agreement with armed rebels from the Tuareg minority in the north of the country, in which they agreed to end their rebellion in return for a degree of autonomy. In March 1996, there was a massive ceremonial burning of the rebels' surrendered weapons in the capital of Bamako

By 2012, the Malian government, led by President Amadou Toumani Toure, was becoming increasingly unpopular, falling to address and even exacerbating structural inequalities reinforced by neoliberal edicts from international financial institutions and increasingly corrupt and self-serving political leaders, local business elites and the civil service. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.