Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mali Democracy Fumbles but US Still Plays Ball Model for Africa?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mali Democracy Fumbles but US Still Plays Ball Model for Africa?

Article excerpt

When former Secretary of State Warren Christopher staged his long-delayed visit to Africa last October, many diplomatic eyebrows were raised as to why the small African state of Mali was on the list.

Angola and South Africa, for instance, were strategic. Ethiopia is the seat of the Organization of African Unity. Tanzania is a regional player in Central Africa. But why Mali?

The answer from Washington was that the West African country was a model in terms of its free press, fairly free elections, respect for human rights, and economic development. It had its flaws, but its economic growth of more than 5 percent and elections were deemed promising compared with the coups and warlords of nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. "{It is} an oasis of freedom, a champion of democracy, and a close partner of the United States," Mr. Christopher said at the time. But many analysts question that judgment. They ask whether Mali's hesitant moves toward democracy warrant the $35 million it received in development assistance from the US. The skeptics say Mali reflects the general fragility of democratic experiments in Africa and that the aid has not trickled down to most of its 8 million citizens. Washington could have chosen a more appropriate partner, they say. "The Americans are crazy or hypocritical sometimes. They look for a success where it is not," says Norman Aphane, a political analyst at the Africa Institute, an independent think tank in Pretoria, South Africa. "They are trying to promote Mali as in the democracy league. But Mali is politically and economically a basket case. "I really don't know what the Americans are doing there in Mali. There is nothing except for a few mines. If they want to promote democracy there, they should open more businesses and open their eyes." Critics such as Mr. Aphane are disturbed by flawed elections this spring and the arrest last month of 10 opposition figures after a policeman was lynched under still uncertain circumstances. "Despite five years of fairly good governance, the ground of democracy in this country is pretty shallow," says one Western diplomat. "However, democratization is a work in progress, and this one is still working at progressing. …

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