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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about Mali, the African flavor du jour in DC policy circles.  A recent piece by Vivian Derryck of the Bridges Institute, Mali Matters, gives me an excuse to return to the country. [Incidentally, the piece appears in the Africa blog of the Wilson Center, which I recently reviewed.]

In the piece, Derryck discusses her efforts to establish a Mali Watch uniting DC civil society groups to monitor developments in Mali (you can read an incredibly brief synopsis of the Watch on the Institute’s website).  While the piece is quite well written for the most part (I was particularly pleased to see her plea for the need to acknowledge Tuareg grievances), there are two points on which I would like to raise my customary quibbles (in the vain hope that my quibbles will one day influence some important people).

1.  Derryck claims that Mali’s army was once one of the most respected in sub-Saharan Africa.  While my African interests in Defense issues are not particularly developed, I do know that from 1968 – 1991 and 2002 – 2012, Mali was led by military men who had overthrown the incumbent government.  That alone is enough for this claim to concern me.

Some will undoubtedly argue that Amadou Toumani Toure should not be criticized for running for office 10 years after he led a coup to dispose an unpopular, corrupt president.  If Amadou Sanogo, who has been much reviled by the West for leading the overthrow of Toure in 2012, runs for President in a decade, will the same thing be said?

Military involvement in African politics greatly concerns me, whether it is someone who has assumed power through a coup, like Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso, or a governing party dominated by former military interests, like the People’s Democratic Party in Nigeria.  Comments that Mali’s army was once great, like the significant praise for Mali’s strong democratic credentials that can now be seen as highly premature, all indicate that to some extent, the international community bears some responsibility for current events as a result of incorrectly celebrating Mali as a success story.

2.  Derryck says that she supports national elections for Mali in July, in spite of her personal concerns with this quick timetable.  She goes on to say that her personal concerns have been overrode by statements from officials and civil society actors in Mali who support quickly holding elections to bring legitimacy to the country.

While this may make sense on paper, I will also note that Mali will get a lot of foreign aid once a democratically elected government is in place.  The desire for quick elections may just be the cries of those wanting to get their hands on the pieces of a pie pulled prematurely from the oven.

Mali was pushing full steam ahead for elections in 2012 despite the extremely precarious security situation in the North.  I will not oppose those who say that the push for the elections in that unstable environment contributed to a rise in conflict and a coup just weeks before the elections.