AFRICA: Things Go From Bad to Worse After Mali Coup, Nomads’ Insurgency
A Tale of Two Uprisings
Just 12 days ago young soldiers in Mali — frustrated with poor equipment and weapons in their battles against Tuareg insurgents in the country’s northern deserts — launched their own rebellion, driving out the sitting government and tearing up the constitution of one of the region’s few stable democracies.
Now the leaders of the March 22 coup face condemnation from the west, as well as economic and diplomatic isolation from their neighbors that could cause food, gasoline and government funds to dry up. Meanwhile, the Tuareg insurgency has filled the void during the nation’s unrest, seizing several key towns in Mali’s north – including the legendary desert city of Timbuktu, the Associated Press reported.
Troops at an Army base just outside the capital city of Bamako and at another camp near the northern city of Gao rebelled against President Amadou Toumani Toure’s government, claiming it was mishandling the Tuareg rebellion. The troops seized and looted the presidential palace, took over the government broadcast center and announced that Toure was desposed, the government dissolved and the constitution voided until a elections can be held and civilian rule restored. (See video here). But the coup’s leader, Capt. Amadou Hayo Sanogo, has declined to say when those elections will be held.
Ironically, the coup took place just a month before presidential elections to pick a successor for Toure who was stepping down because of term limits. At the time, Mali, which had seen four peaceful presidential elections since 1992, was seen as one of the best examples of democracy in action in the often troubled region.
Meanwhile, the rebellion by the nomadic Tuaregs which started in January, swept across the country’s arid northern region. The rebellion, the latest in a series of uprisings since the 1960s seeking an independent Tuareg homeland, began in January and picked up steam with the return of heavily armed tribesmen who had been serving as mercenaries for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi before he was removed from power and killed. Since the Mali army coup, the desert rebels have seized the regional capital of Kidal; Gao, the desert area’s largest city; and Timbuktu (Tombouctou on the map), a caravan crossroads and center of Islamic learning in Africa for centuries. All three fell with little resistance in just three days. Timbuktu has been declared a United Nations World Heritage site.
Complicating matters, a conservative Islamist group has sprung up seeking to impose Muslim sharia law in the areas controlled by Tuaregs, Reuters reported. That drive has worried religious leaders in the three recently seized cities where a more moderate form of Islam is practiced.
Meanwhile, a 15-member regional economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, has threatened to close Mali’s borders with the group, isolate it diplomatically and cut off access to ECOWAS’s central bank.