The recent coup in the west African country of Mali continues to play out. On March 21st 2012 a rebel faction of the nation’s military took over the elected government over internal disputes in the region. The military faction, naming itself the Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, took control of the government, suspended the constitution, and seized television and radio stations. On April 8th president Amadou Toumani Toure, who quickly fled the country days before, officially resigned. (1) After condemnation from ECOWAS, the regional economic bloc, and crippling sanctions by Western powers, an interim government was put in place, with the military given prominent roles.
The given reasons for the coup were based around the rebellion of ethnic Tuareg groups in the north of the country. The military said that the government was not adequately supporting them in quelling the rebellion. Discontent had spread throughout the country earlier, such as in February 2012 with protests in Bamako, the nation’s capital, with barricades set up and tires burned.
The Tuaregs have taken advantage of the crisis and recently declared independence. (2)
The present crisis is tied to a long history of colonialism and neocolonialism. It is also a result of blowback from the recent overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya. The U.S. has been heavily involved in Mali lately, and further imperialist encroachment by the U.S. and France is very likely.
History of Mali, from colonialism to neocolonialism
Mali has long been encroached by western colonialism. It was colonized by France in the 19th century, and was once part of French Sudan. It met with resistance from Muslim empires during that time, which the Tuaregs heavily participated. Mali became independent in 1960, first as the short-lived Mali Federation with Senegal, and then as the Republic of Mali, and subsequently withdrew fully from the French Community that governed French colonies. The first president, Modibo Keita, was a socialist and pan-Africanist who had ties to Nkrumah and Sekou Toure of Guinea, and helped draft the charter of the Organization of African Unity.
The ruling party proclaimed its policies as “decolonization and the setting-up of structures of a socialist type.” Anti-imperialist scholar Samir Amin noted that Mali was very underdeveloped at the time of its independence, affecting its economic independence and creating a neocolonial situation that came in contradiction to its socialist ideals:
“The absence of any effective organization which would have allowed the masses some control over the state structures inevitably resulted in the total disorganization of the economic system, leading to a constant search for foreign aid under the pressure of an increasing foreign payments deficit, and finally to the capitulation and eventual overthrow of the regime.” (3)
Due to problems of establishing independent economic development the socialist goals of independence floundered, and a coup against Modibo Keita by the military happened in 1968.
The Tuareg Struggle and Libya
The Tuaregs are a Berber nomadic people that have long resided in the Saharan regions of West Africa. They gave fierce resistance to the European colonizers, having rebelled five different times since 1916. The supposed post-colonial era carved up their homeland into different nation-states that the people of Africa had no say in forming. Today they reside mainly in northern Mali and in the border regions of four other countries nearby, and have long been discriminated by the central governments of these nation states.
The ethnic Tuareg groups have been fighting a recent rebellion since January 2001. They have consolidated under the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (NMLA), named after what they call their traditional homeland. After they have seized at least three towns in the north of Mali, they stated they have no plans to attack the capitol in the south, simply wanting national independence.
The recent conflict the Tuareg’s have waged is related to the recent U.S. – NATO backed war against Libya and Gaddafi, whom the Tuaregs have had long relationships with. Many Tuareg’s have served in the Libyan army, others came to the country as migrant workers. After the puppet Transitional National Council took over the country and murdered Gaddafi, thousands of Tuareg soldiers returned to their homes, many in Mali. The former soldiers came back with weaponry they used, and gave their training to others in the fight in the homeland.
The turmoil of the recent coup and the connections of its participants points to increasing western imperialist encroachment into the affairs of Mali, especially by the United States and France.
The coup leader, Capt. Amadou Samoga, was previously trained in the U.S. through the International Military Education and Training program, IMET. (4) He attended an English language instructor course in Texas from 2004 to 2005, and later again in 2007. In 2008 he attended intelligence training in Arizona. In 2010 he attended infantry officer training in Georgia and Quantico, Virginia, and also attended a counter-terrorism conference in Georgia too. (5) (6)
The U.S. through AFRICOM has been steadily encroaching itself into West Africa, including Mali. The U.S., along with France, has in the past decade given substantial aid to Mali to purportedly fight Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Mainstream media has reported that some Tuaregs fighting not only want national liberation but to establish Sharia law. With terrorism used as an excuse for expansion of empire, these reports should be scrutinized. Mali has participated in the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, as well as Atlas Accord 12. The United States has given $138 million in assistance to Mali.
The coup has left an already unstable country even more instable. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their homes, many crossing over to neighboring countries. With West Africa one of the poorest regions in the world, the humanitarian crisis is likely to be severe. As with many crises, the masses will be the ones that suffer. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. This even though it is the 3rd highest gold producer in Africa, along with many other natural resources. Imperialists are likely to use this instability to get further control over these resources.
During the era of independence the idea of pan-Africanism was spread, intended to unite the continent to truly be free of imperialism and colonialism. Today with imperialism continually expanding in every area of Africa, it is necessary for the African peoples to build unity to resist. The coup in Mali is a result of imperialist blowback from their intervention in Libya. And the imperialists will take advantage of this situation in Mali, to the detriment of their people. The African continent is made up of many different peoples who have and are continuing to fight for their national existence. These struggles must be supported, while also campaigning for common struggles against the principal enemy, western imperialism. Once it is defeated the African people can build development for the benefit of their own people, not the parasitic West.
3. Amin, Samir. Neo-Colonialism in West Africa. 1973. Monthly Review Press. pp. 228-229.