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Mali: A President Assaulted, a Nation in Turmoil

[All links forward to French articles unless stated otherwise]

It seems a long time since Malian citizens were eagerly awaiting presidential elections, initially scheduled to be held in April 2012. In the meantime, outgoing President Amadou Toumani Touré was removed from office by a military junta, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo.

The military announced the dissolution of government institutions, suspended the Constitution, and formed the National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and Restoration of the State (CNRDR). On April 1, the Tuareg rebellion, consisting of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Salafist movement Ansar Dine, took control of three regions of northern Mali. On April 6, the MNLA declared the independence of Azawad.

These conflicts have displaced thousands of people fleeing the influence of MNLA and Ansar Dine, a population already struggling against a food crisis [en] caused by drought.

Escalating crisis

The crisis does not end there. Interim President Dioncounda Traoré, who has been appointed for one month and must attempt to resolve conflicts in the north, as well as protests in the south in support of the junta, was recently attacked in the presidential palace.

Interim President Dioncounda Traoré (Wikipedia License CC-3.0)

Interim President Dioncounda Traoré (Wikipedia License CC-3.0)

During one of their demonstrations on May 23, protesters broke into the palace, and injured the president. Malijet gives the details on how this attack occurred:

..Les manifestants ont pris la direction du palais de Koulouba sur des motos et des véhicules. [..]  Sans rencontrer la moindre résistance malgré la présence des forces de l’ordre, les arrivants escaladent les murs pour se retrouver jusqu’au sommet de l’imposant édifice. Une délégation des marcheurs conduite par Boubacar Boré [président de l'association Yélé Wolo Ton] sera reçue par le président Dioncounda Traoré à qui elle explique l’objet de la marche. Dioncounda Traoré leur assure qu’il a pris bonne note des griefs formulés contre lui et réitère sa volonté de ne jamais constituer un problème pour le pays. Boubacar Boré et ses compagnons prennent congé et rapportent le contenu de l’entretien aux manifestants dont une partie se disperse aussitôt. Mais, un autre groupe de manifestants était resté caché dans le jardin de la présidence. Ces irréductibles exigent la démission, séance tenante, de Dioncounda Traoré. La colère monte et ils défoncent les portes du secrétariat général de la présidence où le président a son bureau et investissent les bureaux. Il est alors un peu plus de 13 heures. Ils gagnent le premier étage où Dioncounda Traoré avait été évacué par quelques gardes de la salle d’audience pour une autre salle un peu plus éloignée. Les manifestants enragés balaient les quelques éléments de la Garde républicaine présents et forcent les deux portes de la salle. Ils font irruption dans la pièce. Quelques uns d’entre eux recommandent bien « ne le touchez pas » mais les plus nombreux se ruent sur le président sans défense, le frappent à coups de poing, de pied…

..The demonstrators headed to the palace of Koulouba on motorcycles and other vehicles. [...] Despite the presence of security forces, they encountered not even the slightest resistance, and they climbed the walls, reaching the top of the imposing building. A delegation of marchers led by Boubacar Boré [president of the Yérè Wolo Ton association, a federation of civil society groups that favored the coup] was received by President Dioncounda Traoré, to whom they explained the purpose of their march. Dioncounda Traoré assured them that he is quite aware of the grievances which have been raised against him, and he reiterated his wish never to become a problem to the country. Boubacar Boré and his companions took their leave, and reported the results of their meeting to the protesters, some of whom dispersed immediately. However, another group of protesters remained hidden in the garden of the palace. These hard-liners demanded the immediate resignation of Dioncounda Traoré. Anger flared, and they broke down the doors of the General Secretariat of the presidency, where the president has his office, and they invaded the offices. At that time, it was just past 1 pm. They reached the first floor, where Dioncounda Traoré had been evacuated by some guards from the meeting room, to a different room, a little further away. The enraged protesters swept aside those few soldiers of the Republican Guard who were present, and they forced open the two doors. They burst into the room. Some among them did recommend “Do not touch him”, but the majority of the group rushed at the defenseless president, striking him with their fists, and kicking him …

An amateur videographer recorded these events [now offline], and confirmed the above report.

Malijet explains how Traoré escaped the demonstrators:

Il [Un garde républicain] a alors le bon reflexe de coiffer Dioncounda Traoré du casque qui servait à le protéger lui même. Ce geste a certainement sauvé la vie du président car certains agresseurs étaient armés de marteaux et s’en sont servis. La suite est un peu plus confuse. Selon des informations que nous n’avons pas pu recouper, les forces de l’ordre sont finalement intervenues en nombre.

He [a Republican Guard] had the good instinct to cover Dioncounda Traoré's head with a helmet, which he had been using to protect himself. This action undoubtedly saved the life of the president, because some attackers were armed with hammers, and were brandishing them. What happened next is somewhat uncertain. According to reports which we could not confirm, the security forces finally intervened in larger numbers.
The presidential palace after the assault on the president. Photo by Dex Traoré on Twitter (CC license)

The presidential palace after the assault on the president. Photo by Dex Traoré on Twitter (CC license)

How can Mali resolve the crisis?

While President Traoré was evacuated to France to treat his injuries, the Committee of Malian Patriotic Organizations (COPAM, a pro-junta group) announced their wish that coup leader Captain Sanogo take charge of the transition. A ceremony in the M. Keita Stadium assembled supporters of the coup, with the intention of inaugurating Sanogo as President.

A former Malian minister believes that the country can find its way out of crisis by respecting its own diversity:

Le Mali d’aujourd’hui est une nation qui doit assumer et s’enrichir de sa pluralité. Le fait d’avoir voulu, depuis l’indépendance, enfermer cette nation plurielle dans les carcans jacobins d’un État-Nation d’origine coloniale est la cause principale de l’indifférence des populations ou du rejet des institutions et de l’administration étatique. Nos ascendants ont fait cohabiter bamanan, foula, songhoi, soninkés, boua, tamasheq, etc.. dans les mêmes familles, les mêmes royaumes et les mêmes empires. Pourquoi ne pouvons-nous pas en faire autant aujourd’hui ? L’unité de la nation n’est pas antinomique du respect de sa diversité. Il faut les conjuguer au lieu de les opposer. Mettons alors en place des institutions et des procédures administratives qui comprennent et qui savent gérer cette question.

Mali today is a nation which must accept, and enrich itself through, its diversity. The fact of having wanted, since independence, to lock up this diverse nation in the Jacobin shackles of a colonial Nation-State, is the main cause of people's indifference towards, or rejection of, the institutions and administration of the state. Our ancestors, the Bambara, Fula, Songhai, Soninke, Boua, Amazigh, etc., lived together in the same families, same kingdoms, and same empires. Why can we not do the same today? National unity is not antithetical to respect for our diversity. It is necessary for them to join together, rather than opposing one another. So let's establish administrative procedures and institutions which understand this, and which will know how to solve this question.

Malians living abroad have also reacted to the situation in their country.

Gilles Olakounlé Yabi, director of the West African Project of the International Crisis Group, believes that the crisis will, alas, continue:

Il n’y a malheureusement plus de solution miracle à une crise qui est partie pour durer. La condition nécessaire mais pas suffisante à la mise en place d’un cadre politique et sécuritaire permettant un retour progressif de l’Etat au nord est la clarification de la situation à Bamako (capitale du Mali). Il faut soutenir le gouvernement civil incarné par le Premier ministre Modibo Diarra et le président intérimaire Dioncounda Traoré, quoiqu’on pense des qualités et des défauts de ces personnalités, maintenir la pression sur les meneurs de la junte et leurs soutiens politiques tout en veillant à ne pas fragiliser davantage l’armée malienne. Remettre sur pied l’Etat, c’est redonner de la crédibilité et de l’autorité aux autorités civiles mais c’est aussi aider à restructurer l’appareil militaire. Mais on perd actuellement beaucoup de temps à Bamako dans de vaines querelles pendant que les groupes armés s’installent confortablement et durablement au nord, et imposent leur loi aux populations civiles.

Unfortunately, there can no longer be a miraculous solution to this crisis, which is here to stay. The necessary, but not sufficient, condition for establishing a political and security framework that would permit a gradual resurgence of the State in the north, is the clarification of the situation in Bamako (capital of Mali). We must support the civil government embodied by Prime Minister Modibo Diarra and Interim President Dioncounda Traoré. And whatever one thinks about the strengths and weaknesses of these figures, to maintain the pressure on the leaders of the junta and their political supporters, while being careful not to further weaken the Malian army. To rebuild the State requires restoring credibility and authority to civilian officials, and also to help restructure the military. But a lot of time is being wasted in Bamako by useless quarreling, while in the meantime, armed groups are establishing themselves comfortably and sustainably in the north, and imposing their laws on the civil population.

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