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Mali: Civil Society Rises to Solve the Ongoing Conflict

As the partition of their country continues, Malians are still watching in disbelief, wondering whether it will stop. There has been media indifference coupled with confusion of Malian citizens as Sharia law is imposed without mercy in cities now in the hands of MUJWA (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and Ansar Dine rebels. Adding to this disarray, the frantic rhythm of the new nominations for government [fr].

N’Golo Diarra, Government Housing Minister at the time of the March 2012 coup, spoke in May 2012 of his concern at the silence of Malian intellectuals faced with these events which fractured the old certainties [fr] of this country. This concern was all the greater as Mali had been hailed as an example due to the resilience of its democracy over the past twenty years:

 I've seen several media outbursts, I've read several pitiful reactions in the press, I've also witnessed several intellectual gestures and contortions, but I've seen nothing of the calibre of “J’accuse… !”, the famous open letter that Zola addressed to the President of the French republic, Felix Faure, and which made the front page of newspaper Aurora on January 13, 1898. [….] It is quite frankly pretentious of me to want to find Zola in the intellectual desert of our country, which has been in total freefall for such a long time. That is more to try to awaken the good conscience of the poets, artists, leading lights or even just unselfish patriots so that they guide us on this tortuous and dangerous road that our country is following in a kind of stupor. […] Is it really beyond our powers, that we Malians, inheritors of the greatest political and social structures of the African middle ages, so proud of our figureheads and heros…have the lucidity to analyse our existential problems and to try and find appropriate solutions for them?

Declaration of Kassoum Tapo on a coalition for restoration of the republic and of democracy.

Declaration of Kassoum Tapo on a coalition for restoration of the republic and of democracy. Screen capture from video uploaded by FDRMali

This appeal has certainly not gone unheeded, judging by the vitality of organisations coming out of Malian society. One such organisation is the Coalition for Mali (CPM), created with the aim of participating in the recovery of the nation's integrity. The CPM has gone to meet local representatives of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, three regions under occupation, as well as representatives of the ruling powers in these regions.

Assane Koné reported the conclusions of Tiebilé Dramé [fr], CPM vice president, on website Ankamali.net:

Five months after the forced retreat of the state, all state services, NGOs and partners, there is a real need for the state in the occupied regions. The rulers there understand that they cannot replace the state by themselves. Each of them feels the urgent need to fill the gap which has been created and to satisfy people's basic needs. […] It was 150 days ago that the army and the civil service withdrew, leaving the people defenseless and at the mercy of various groups, some of which, notably in Gao and Timbuktu, perpetrated acts of violence and looting, violence which will always haunt memories. The Coalition representatives have observed an irrepressible need for the Malian homeland as well as observing that at the same time, people hardly miss the prefects, judges, gendarmes, police and all those who embody state services such as economic affairs, taxes, customs, water and forestry commissions etc.


Video of the meeting between CPM, Ansar Dine and the MNLA by AlQuarraTVFr [fr]

While the CPM are trying to find the way forward by dialogue, completely in line with respect for the Malian tradition of consensus and conciliation or “jekafo” [fr], other members of society are openly opposed to this move towards reconciliation at any price.

Sambi Touré, of Info-Matin, accused the CPM [fr] of advocating peace without respecting the fundamental values of the Malian nation:

Of course we want peace: but not at any price. We value a united, indivisible Mali, but not a fake unity and indivisibility; we value the republic, not a messy mix-up with the Sharia from the North and the free of the South; we value a democracy in which all citizens shall live under one sole body of law. Any other approach, for our patriotic temperament, would be not only a capitulation, but also a betrayal of democracy and of the republic, but above all, of the Malian nation.

On the right there are the armed militia of the Patriotic Resistance Front (one member of which, Ganda Izo lost the city of Douentza [fr]), who are determined but have little support, and on the left, the conciliatory Coalition for Mali. The ordinary people of Mali have also seen the birth of ethnic assocations which now considered more threatening in light of recent events. Consider the indigenous population of the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Mopti, members of the Zasya Lasaltsaray [fr] association who define their ties by “ZASYA”, the alliance of the descendents of three dynasties – the ZA, the Sony and the Askia – and by “LASALTARAY”, meaning authenticity, dignity, honour, nobility.

Dr Sadou Djibrila Maïga, Zasya Lasaltsaray coordinator, explained [fr]:

We, the indigenous people, form the majority the northerly regions of Mali. By creating this alliance, we wish to fight, to defend ourselves so that we are no longer the object of contempt for the Touareg and Arab minorities. No ethnic community has taken arms against the Touareg or Arabs.

Approaching the Malian crisis by “The question of Touareg and Arab minorities of Mali into historical and geostrategic perspective”, the Djoyoro Fa association brought an historic and sociological perspective [fr] different from the prevailing rigid outlook:

For many observers of the Touareg, notably the nationals from the mostly Touareg Kidal region, the Malian crisis, more than the inherent reasons for political and administrative mis-governance, is also the result of the break-up of internal mechanisms and settlement of conflicts at the heart of traditional Touareg societies. Once, structured around a well organised system of chiefdom, traditional Touareg societies managed internal tensions by consultation. […] The power of the spoken word permitting a democratic way of management and guaranteeing peace. Colonisation, careful to maintain administrative order at any price, hascreated coercive structures, set up to curb any semblance of trouble. Well trained Goumiers and Fellaghas controlled the territory perfectly under colonial administration, always with a presence in the great spaces of the north, and leaving no chance whatsoever for the slightest revolt to develop. When independence came, the new leaders of the country cared more about conquering political militants than concerning themselves with the social and economic equilibrium at the heart of Touareg society. Neither have they known how to take into account the inherent factors causing dissension. They have exacerbated antagonisms between the tribes, themselves and the administration. Misunderstandings have been aggravated, leading to mistrust and hostility in the face of which the sentiment of national belonging has been considerably weakened.

If there were to be one good thing to come out of this situation in Mali, it would be the political pressure of a people galvanised by the sight of its own nation now in danger.

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