18 Aug 2020 – The overthrow of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) by military officers on August 18th 2020 puts Mali back to where it has nearly always been: under the army. The French army conquered this part of West Africa in the 1880s in a pincer movement from the coast of Senegal, and across the Sahara Desert from Algeria. Massacres and executions crushed the Malians into submission, and so they have lived for most of the past 140 years.
Independence in 1960 created a One-Party State run by a French-speaking elite that was ousted by the army in 1968. 23 years of corrupt stagnation followed under General-President Moussa Traoré, until a popular revolution swept the army aside in 1991 and ushered in Mali’s first-ever democratically elected president Alpha Ouma Konaré (AOK). After 10 years of democracy, Konaré stepped down and in 2002 was replaced by retired general Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT), a man who disliked democratic debate and reinstated rule by an increasingly corrupt group of military cronies. After ATT promoted 50 of his friends to the rank of general – and after the destabilization of the Sahara by NATO, whose killing of Muammar Gadafy in Libya flooded Northern Mali with Libyan soldiers and weapons – Mali’s army was pushed out of the North by Arab-led invaders. As a result, ATT fled from a military coup in March 2012, led by angry sergeants and frustrated young captains.
Mali’s military corruption was fed by Colombian cocaine transiting through the Sahara to Algerian, Italian and other mafias, crossing desert frontiers that no single country can ever control. One of the questions surrounding the collapse of Mali’s democracy, is why NATO Member States allowed Colombian and Algerian criminal mafias to flourish in the EU’s back garden.
The Pentagon’s global war on terror – after Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia – opened a new frontier in the Sahara where Saudi- and Qatari-funded organized criminal gangs continue to kill and kidnap foreigners, smuggle drugs, cigarettes and people, and terrorise villagers from Nigeria to Mauritania. Their Japanese-made trucks and motorbikes are bought in Arabia, Their fuel is supplied by Algeria. Their weapons come from Libya. Their ammunition comes from ….. where exactly does their ammunition come from, we wonder, and why are they allowed to operate right across the Sahara?
The extremist Wahhabi leaders of these criminal networks are a mixture of renegades from Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Tunisia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Arab lands. Some drug profits are said to fund Hezbollah in Lebanon, and cocaine feeds the Algerian army. These international criminal gangs call themselves Muslim Jihadis, using names like Al Qaida or the Islamic State; but there is nothing in Islam that permits drug smuggling, kidnapping or terrorism. They seek money, and power. In 2013 they nearly took over Mali, until the French army stepped in.
Instead France’s friend Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected in 2013, but he has been an unsuccessful president whose appointment of family members to powerful positions undermined both the image and the performance of his government. Yet what power does the president of any small country in West Africa have to counter the might of trans-national corporations? The extractive corporations – in Mali’s case gold and uranium – have powerful backing: the French army’s primary role in the Sahel is to protect French uranium mines in Niger, and to ensure that no Chinese, Russian, Indian, Turkish or other rival power can exploit Mali’s oil and gas and uranium reserves.
International religious corporations are also more powerful that any one African government. Saudi Wahhabist imperialism has been expanding across Africa (and across Asia as well) since the 1970s. Oil revenues quintupled after 1973. The Saudi royal family was almost overthrown in a November 1979 coup d’état that was crushed by French Special Forces using poisoned gas to clear out the subterranean chambers of the great Mosque of Mecca. The Al-Sauds survived only by paying off extremist Arab religious corporations. These Wahhabists – together with Arabia’s NATO allies – have allowed international trans-national mafia crime corporations to take over large parts of West Africa’s economies. Mali and Guinea Bissau were the first countries to fall. Which others may follow?
The failure of the West’s democratic liberalism to deliver incomes and employment to the populations of West Africa means that people are searching for a new “ism”. Islamism is ready to fill the space created by Western-tolerated corruption. Mali’s ex-president IBK has been reeling for months under the threat of Wahhabism. Before Covid-19 arrived, the former head of the Islamic High Council, Imam Dicko, filled the national stadium with 60,000 supporters who heard him castigate the president. These same supporters have filled the streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital city, calling for IBK’s head. In June 2020, a rumoured plot by Islamist army officers was blocked. Now the army has acted as Mali’s army always does. In the past 140 years, Mali has had just 17 years of civilian rule: 10 under AOK and 7 years under IBK. Get ready for a new military junta, or maybe an Islamic Republic of Mali under military and Arab Salafist rules.
Robin Edward Poulton, Ph.D. is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and the Founder of the EPES Mandala Peace Consultancy. He is a sometime faculty member of the European Peace University (Austria) and an Affiliate Research Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and is a consultant advisor on Africa to governments, the U.N. and the European Union. He is a specialist in terrorism, disarmament, conflict transformation, and peace building. He has 25 years of field experience with UNDP, EU, USAID and NGOs. He is the author of several books in French and English on development and disarmament. He received his Ph.D. from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. firstname.lastname@example.org