EVERY morning a bus caked in dust pulls into Bamako bringing the latest rumours of war. Looking dazed and dehydrated after 24 hours on the road, Mohammad Maiga explains how Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants have turned his native Gao, northern Mali’s most populous town, into a ghost town. “Everyone is leaving,” says Mr Maiga. “There’s no food, no supplies.” Blackouts last all day. Banks and offices have been pillaged by rampant rebels.
Mr Maiga says he saw a truck of National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebels abduct three young women on the street in front of his house the day before he fled. “They had no choice,” he explains. “The rebels had weapons.” His claim is impossible to verify but it is one of many alleged instances of murder, robbery and rape laid at the rebels’ door. The UN has called for international action to halt the worsening crisis. Aid agencies reckon that over 200,000 people have been displaced though no one knows the exact numbers.
The clearest winners so far from Mali’s chaos are a trio of jihadist groups—Ansar Eddine, a Salafist outfit that emerged from the secular MNLA’s slipstream; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and another terror group called the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The black flag of militant Islam has been spotted over all northern Mali’s big towns and residents say public awareness campaigns about the dictates of sharialaw are underway. Yet far from berating the Islamists for imposing a strict and alien form of Islam, some inhabitants actually offer guarded praise. Ansar Eddine, in particular, they say, is attempting to rein in the MNLA’s rapacious fighters. Continue reading →
Mali’s coup leaders tighten their hold but inspire little confidence
IF ANYONE knows what is happening in Mali, it should be Captain Amadou Sanogo. Sliding forward on the shiny beige sofa into which he has sunk, he insists that things are moving “as I want. Moving as I prepared…allowing me to engage, to start with my processes.” Yet the 40-year-old officer with a sandpaper rasp seems to be putting a brave face on what looks, in fact, like an accidental coup that was almost invited by the government it toppled.
Captain Sanogo is the leader of the putsch that deposed Amadou Toumani Touré, a two-term president, on March 22nd. In the cantonment town of Kati, in the hills north of Bamako, new furniture is going into freshly whitewashed buildings, and visitors jostle to meet members of the ponderously named National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and Restoration of the State.
The junta appears to be making up policy as it goes. It speaks of building a stronger army capable of serving the wider Sahel region, and has issued a 69-article constitution that empowers a council of 26 soldiers and 15 civilians to rule for a transition period of undefined length. Although protesters took to Bamako’s streets demanding a return to democracy, and various public figures connected to the upturned political system have denounced the coup, counter-demonstrations have voiced enthusiastic support. There seems to be enough disillusionment with Mr Touré’s government for many Malians to withhold judgment on the junta. Graft, increased perceptions of corruption and allegations of government involvement in smuggling drugs and arms mean that few are sad to see the back of Mr Touré, who had already foiled two earlier coup plots in 2010. Continue reading →
Captain Amadou Sanogo does not sound or look like the man in charge. But he is now the only show in town in a country beset by multiple crises
Under a sickle moon a large man with dreadlocks, a sparkling purple cloak and white moccasins climbed the stairs of the house that has become Mali’s new nerve-center. He was a marabout — a West Africa holy man — summoned by the 40-year-old army captain everyone in Kati is now calling le President. The new power in Mali is Amadou Sanogo, a career soldier whose improbable coup d’etat has upturned one of Africa’s strongest democracies. On Monday night he sought strength from the spirit world. He needs whatever help he can get.
It is a week since Sanogo led a mutiny at the garrison in Kati — a sleepy commune of cinder-block bungalows just north of the capital — that intensified into a coup. Swiftly condemned by the international community for daring to upset a rare — if perhaps superficial — African success story, Sanogo and his junta, the self-importantly named Comite national pour le redressement de la democratie et la restauration de l’ Etat (CNRDRE for short), must work out quickly how to cope with a sudden halt in economic and military assistance at a time when Tuareg rebels wage a devastating blitzkrieg in the north, protesters march and public figures bewail democracy’s death.
At the two-story house in Kati, formerly the camp commandant’s headquarters, Sanogo meets with a flurry of diplomats, soldiers and power-brokers, who wait on a first-floor verandah lined with ornamental plants. He smiles bashfully as he shakes the Algerian ambassador’s hand, as though he’s still growing into the role he’s plucked for himself. There’s a hint of the young Vladimir Putin, trying to project a persona that’s bigger than he is, and it’s easy to see why his American mentors (he attended multiple training programs in the U.S.) never marked him out as future leadership material as, apparently, is the case. Continue reading →
The leader of the military junta that seized power in Mali last week has told The Times that his priority is restoring the nation’s army, reeling after a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Tuareg rebels, and turn it into a force for stability across West Africa’s Sahel region.
In an interview at his headquarters in the cantonment town of Kati, Captain Amadou Sanogo said that if he can “get a better life for my soldiers, I get a well-prepared army, I get a proficient army ready to serve my country, to serve the Sahel region”, he would consider his leadership a sucess.
However, as he was speaking about 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Bamako, the capital, chanting “Down with Sanogo” and demanding the restoration of democracy. Mali had been due to hold elections next month. Continue reading →