Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Translation and Commentary of SlateAfrique Interview


SlateAfrique frequently has relevant, up-to-date and insightful articles on West Africa. The below interview with André Boureot is no exception. In order to share it with my English speaking readers, I decided to translate the article. You can find the article, which is now do days old, in the original French here.

Please note that the translation of this text is my own and is solicited neither by SlateAfrique nor by the André Bourgeot. Names and acronyms have been, where applicable, changed from their original French versions to their English equivalents. Any mistakes in translation are my own, but note that I did not seek to correct grammar or punctuation in the text. My primary goal was to make minimal changes so as to best communicate what I interpreted André Bourgeot to mean. Occasionally, where meaning was not at stake, I also sought to improve the readability of the interview for an English-speaking audience.

I have highlighted in bold what I consider to be some of the most important ideas expressed in the interview, although this does not necessarily I agree with them. I see Bourgeot’s analysis as one that accurately acknowledges some of the worst outcomes that could result from the coup, notably chaos within the country and regional instability. I see these outcomes as highly unlikely at this point of time, especially as by all measures the situation within Mali has only grown more calm. As I think Bourgeot would agree, however, the current calm says little about how the situation may change in the coming days. The seed of instability has already been sewn with the takeover, and that seed needs to be dug up fast before it can start to grow.

It appears that the international community is beginning to mount the pressure on Sanogo and his comrades (notably with international condemnations and the suspension of aid), but it is still probably too early to say what success these efforts will have. Fortunately the United States has not pulled its humanitarian aid to Mali, which would have been one more element contributing to a humanitarian disaster in the coming months as we get deeper into hungry season in Mali. It is assured that if still in power the military junta will do worse than an elected government at coordinating the necessary aid.

I agree with the ideas that both AQIM and the rebellion in the North benefit directly and immediately from the military junta. This seems to me a major failing of the putschists. They may not have intended to, but they have provided these two armed groups with a golden opportunity to make large advances. It is difficult for me to assess the extent of the disruption in the chain of command and the degree to which desertion and subordination are an issue, but the looting in Bamako is an indication.

Bourgeot’s statement about military intervention should be taken very cautiously. Not many people are currently speaking of the possibility of military intervention because 1) at the moment there is no need for it, 2) many Malians would oppose it, 3) given Malian historical and cultural tendencies it’s plausible that things will probably get worked out without much violence. At any rate somebody was going to bring it up, especially in the context of recent debates about interventionism, so here are my thoughts on it. I think a confluence of potential forces (instability within the junta, no enforcement of laws, famine, fuel shortages, rising prices, worsening of the rebellion, greater threats from AQIM, widespread violence) could lead in a worst-case scenario in which developed nations consider military intervention in Mali. This is a longshot from my perspective and an approach to be avoided at all costs.

Lastly, note the wealth of contradictions that Bourgeot has highlighted in the situation and which he blames on a lack of strategy. The putschists declared a democratic basis to their movement, yet one of their first actions was to overthrow the democratically elected government and suspend the constitution (they have since drafted a new constitution). They claim to want to support the army, yet their actions directly benefit the enemy. They seem to want nothing but a complete military defeat of the rebels yet also call for negotiation with them.

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Mali “The junta has no strategy”

Anthropologist André Bourgeot, director emeritus of research at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) and specialist in the Sahara/Sahel region decodes for SlateAfrique the stakes of the Malian crisis after the March 22nd coup d’état against President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT).

Update March 27th : Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the military junta in power in Mali, has called on Tuareg fighters who are advancing in the North of the country to end their campaign. “We ask them to end the hostilities and come to the negotiating table as soon as possible,” declared the leader of the Junta before adding, “Everything is negotiable, except for the territorial integrity and unity of our country.”

SlateAfrique – The junta that instigated a coup d’état against the Malian president stands for the departure of Amadou Toumani Touré and free elections in Mali. What is the legitimacy of this?

André Bourgeot – No coup d’état is legitimate. It is a step backward from democracy. Mali has regressed backward by twenty years. I’d like to emphasize that today is March 26, 2012, and that the 26th of March 1991 the Malian dictator Moussa Traoré was himself overthrown. An overthrow that caused the death of more than 300 Malians in Bamako. No junta in power can have legitimacy.

At the same time, in light of what has happened since last week, the junta is very isolated from the international community, from Malian politics. The only party that supports the junta is that of Oumar Mariko, leader of SADI (African Solidarity for development and independence), as well as the HCIM (High Islamic Council of Mali). But the balance of power will rapidly evolve in the hours and days to come.

SlateAfrique – Why did the soldiers turn against the regime?

André Bourgeot – The reasoning given by Captain Sanogo, leader of the junta, was that the Malian army did not have the necessary means to fight the rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), whose objective is the independence of the regions of Northern Mali and which would cause a division of the territory of the country. They directly accuse the head of state and a part of the army of having not given the necessary means to fight against this liberation movement. The absence of military equipment, but also a lack of food, has meant the soldiers attacked by Tuaregs have been failed.

Where are the superior officers?
SlateAfrique – Does public opinion support the junta?

André Bourgeot – One must distinguish between supporting the junta and supporting the defense of the homeland. One part of civil society is financially aiding the soldiers of the Malian army invested in the protection of the homeland, threatened by territorial division. That does not mean a support of the junta. The situation is complicated. Because some say that they are aiding the homeland and others the junta. On the whole, one cannot say that the junta enjoys popular support.

SlateAfrique – Does the junta have the support of high-ranking officers? One has the impression that the coup happened without senior officers. We are witnessing a revolt rooted in opposition toward the higher ranks seen as unable to manage the crisis in the North.

André Bourgeot – If we look at the composition of the junta: one junior officer, Captain Sanogo. The spokesperson is a lieutenant so another junior officer; a sergeant-major, and a corporal. Among these four there is not a single superior officer. That shows the important cleavages within the army, between junior officers, officers, men of rank in relation to the high ranks of the army (commanders, generals, colonels). This is an important element. For the reason that it raises the question: What has happened to ATT? Is he in the hands of the junta or is he protected by the cadres of the Malian army composed of superior officers, of parachutists, since ATT himself was a member of the parachutists.

Finding ATT changes the situation. It is not by chance that we do not know where ATT is or who he is with. Information has a very important political function. In general, there is an important cleavage in the army, which thus is no longer a national army in the republican sense of the term.

SlateAfrique – What is the political/military strategy of the junta?

André Bourgeot – It seems clear to me that the junta doesn’t have a strategy. It lives day to day. That’s where the disorderly and anarchical aspect of their actions comes from. On the other hand, the leader of the junta does not have a lot of authority over the men of rank. As proof, the behavior of some soldiers in Bamako that participated in looting. The Captain intervened, but he wasn’t followed. What real authority does he have over the soldiers who support his action? There are significant contradictions.

A Regional Crisis to Fear
SlateAfrique – Can this junta keep itself in power?

André Bourgeot – It’s searching for itself. There is no strategy. On one hand, we are still in uncertainty, beyond the declarations of intentions of Captain Sanogo. On the other hand, the balance of power inside the army does not seem to me to be in favor of Captain Sanogo. That does not mean that there will be an attempt at a counter-coup. But, take note of the isolation of the junta in the international sphere as much as within the country.

SlateAfrique – Can the international community influence the junta?

André Bourgeot – Hard to say. If the sanctions imposed by the international community take immediate effect, I do not see how the junta can keep itself in power. But if it does not stay in power there will be a period of violence. That is worrisome. Except if Captain Sanogo shows a great civic and patriotic responsibility. “I am unpopular, I’m going.” But I do not know of any historical examples of that situation.

SlateAfrique – Can Mali, being one of the African countries that receives the most aid, do without international aid?

André Bourgeot – The withdrawal of aid can only put concrete pressure on the junta and the Malian population, in a context where there is a lack of food and oil. That could cause a drift toward an anarchical process. Faced with broad-based chaos in Mali, the international community could decide to intervene militarily. These hypotheses should not be ignored. At the moment the chaos is in the North, but it could spread to the rest of the country and its neighbors. A regional crisis is to be feared.

SlateAfrique - Do the putschists want to fight the Tuareg rebels?

André Bourgeot – The coup instigated by the junta benefits the MNLA, in a context where one no longer sees coherence and cohesion in the Malian army. One no longer sees how authority is exercised. The MNLA advances and today surrounds the city of Kidal. This coup benefits the rebels.

There is a series of contradictions on the part of the putschists. They legitimize the coup by proclaiming more means for fighting against the rebellion. At the same time, they keep a front of conciliation by saying that they want to negotiate with the rebels. But on what basis? One does not see what the strategy of the leader of the mutineers is for reaching a cease-fire. The MNLA accepts negotiation only on the basis of the independence of the Azawad.

Fighting or negotiating with the Tuareg Rebellion
SlateAfrique – Does the coup testify to the failure of ATT’s policies?

André Bourgeot – Yes, the large majority of the regions in the North were a lawless zone where the state did not exercise its sovereignty. Was there the political will with the head of state and the Malian political class to resolve the situation in the Northern regions? That’s the question raised by part of the population. It’s also the rhetoric used by the junta to legitimize its action. Except that the coup does not correspond to the current needs and leads to a step back for democracy.

SlateAfrique – Did the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi exacerbate the crisis in the Sahel and in Mali?

André Bourgeot – Unarguably, the prevailing situation in Mali is one of the important consequences of the Anglo-French military intervention, then that of NATO, in Libya, at the conclusion of Resolution 1973 of the United Nations Security Council, the objective of which was to destroy the Jamahiriya. Now, we are living the consequences of that situation. When the balance of power was in favor of the Libyan rebels, military aresenals proliferated throughout the whole of Libyan territory. An important part of the fighters making up the rebels of the Azawad come from Libya.

SlateAfrique – The other actor in the destabilization of Mali: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?

André Bourgeot – The primary objective of the rebels of the MNLA is to fight the Malian state and not the jihadists of AQIM. Which bolsters the position of jihadists in the region. The Malian state has not itself had a firm enough policy against the jihadists. Can we thus infer that there is an arrangement between the state and the jihadists? We can’t say. One passes from a lawless zone to a mocked “zone where all is legal” in Northern Mali. Any jihadist movement in the Sahara keeps ties with drug, arms and human traffickers. It’s all tangled up.