Moving Mali forward
Mali was turned upside down last spring as armed groups overran the north and the military toppled the president. For some, crisis is a wake-up call, offering Malians a chance to create a new path.
Every year since 2001 the Festival au Desert has been held near Timbuktu, drawing musicians and listeners from around the world – until now. Next year’s event, according to its Website, is planned as a “Festival in Exile” held in stages in various other countries.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Mali: enchanted land, challenging times
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mali, long considered an island of stability in a turbulent region, was turned upside down last spring as armed groups overran the north and a military coup toppled the democratically elected president.
Yet for some, crisis is also a wake-up call, unmasking Mali’s flaws while offering its people a chance to correct them.
“We need to recover the north,” says Moussa Mara, an accountant and district mayor in Bamako. “But what’s really at stake is how Mali might use this opportunity to move to greater democracy, civic values, justice, and prosperity.”
An early sign
An attempt at overhauling Mali last occurred in 1991, when Army officers ousted the strongman president, Moussa Traoré, and started the country on a path toward democracy.
Free elections were instituted, and a decentralization plan meant to empower ordinary citizens subdivided regions into 703 small administrative “communes” with locally elected leaders.
International donors showered Mali with loans and development aid. Tourism grew, with desert jaunts and events such as the Festival au Desert among popular attractions.
From 2002, the United States poured around $60 million into training and equipping Mali’s Army to fight Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamist militants who have increasingly used the country’s northern hinterland as a base.
However, AQIM’s presence was also an early sign that, more generally, something was wrong in Mali.
'Everyone had something'
Behind an image of democracy, endemic corruption and slapdash governance paved the way toward crisis, writes Yacouba Kone, Mali country manager for the British charity Christian Aid in a September report.
Malian democracy failed to serve ordinary people, Mr. Kone writes. “Rather, it was the entrenchment of a narrow elite that based its power more on patronage and less on popular support, in a bid to control the central government and the economy – both licit and illicit.”
According to Mr. Mara, the cozy relationship between power and personal interest was reflected in a quiescent political establishment.