Mali, Senegal and the distance Africa has traveled
In a span of two weeks Africa has witnessed one of its most pessimistic and optimistic sides. The one is the Mali coup, and the other Abdoulaye Wade’s bowing out gracefully after losing the Senegal presidential elections.
The Mali coup and the successful Senegal elections demonstrate the distance Africa has traveled on both those counts.
Wade gave Africa some optimism that despite wanting to prolong his hold onto power through a third term, of which there was a change of the Constitution and some lives lost; at last, he did the right thing by respecting the people’s choice.
The Mali coup painted a more disturbing picture of what can be so wrong with this continent. Consider the irony that the ousted Mali president, Amadou Toumani Toure, is a former paratrooper who led the ouster of his predecessor Moussa Traore in 1991 before handing power to civilians. He won an election in 2002 and was re-elected in 2007. Under him, Mali would gain reputation as one of the politically stable countries in a region wrecked by electoral chaos and civil wars.
Though dealing with its own Tuareg unrest in the north, it seems unconscionable that mid-level army officers can bring down a legitimate government on what would appear a whim despite the broader consequences to a nation. The army claimed inability to contain the Tuareg threat due to the alleged failure by their government to equip them adequately.
It may be recalled that after the end of the Cold War, which previously underwrote much of the African conflict, coups are now viewed as not only illegal, but disruptive and not promoting political stability, investor or donor confidence. Indeed, the common African citizen not only continues to live the consequences of conflict, but the burden of sanctions when they come to bear.
In the decade beginning 1960 when Mobutu seized power in Congo-Kinshasa (which he renamed Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo) there were no less than 21 coup d’etats by 1969. In that year, Gaddhafi and Siad Barre seized power in Libya and Somalia, respectively.
Even closer home, Obote was deposed by Idi Amin in Uganda in 1971, and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was deposed in 1974. By 1975, approximately half of the continent’s states were led by military or civil-military governments. The coups would only abate after the 1980s with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold of the War.
With no contending superpowers, it has since become a rule that coups are not just condemned in unison by the international community, but also followed by various sanctions. Thus the United Nations expressed “deep concern” through Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as the African Union suspended Mali’s membership, while the West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS strongly condemned the coup. The US, World Bank and the African Development Bank announced they were suspending development aid to Mali.
Whether the condemnation and sanctions have previously proved effective in achieving their aims is another matter. What is clear is that there’s been a rise in democratic elections on the continent, of which there has been observable correlation with a decline in coup d’états.
Mali and Senegal only serve to remind us the distance Africa has traveled down that road.
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