Mali’s recovery depends on international donors

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 30, 2013 blog post.

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In Mali’s recent presidential election Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was declared the winner, garnering over 78 percent of the vote. President Barrack Obama in congratulating Mr. Keita noted, “The election was a first step in restoring democracy”.

In The Hill article last week President Obama stated that Mr. Keita needs “to use this election as a foundation for further progress on democracy, national reconciliation, and addressing the security and humanitarian crises in the north”. He also said funding for Mali’s recovery would not be forthcoming until sometime after Mr. Keita’s inauguration in September. The U.S. however had indicated that aid would re-start after the presidential elections took place.

The Hill noted a State Department official saying, “The new [Malian] government must take tangible steps to assert civilian authority over the military”. In addition, “We are currently reviewing and revising our assistance programs. We intend to continue close coordination with our partners in the international donor community and with the newly elected Malian government to ensure that any renewed assistance addresses Mali’s most pressing needs in an efficient and effective manner”, which infers that new benchmarks could be imposed.

The U.S.-led incursion into Libya in 2011 to oust Muammar Gaddafi, had contributed to the instability that followed in Mali. Weapons left unprotected fell into the hands of radical Islamists in northern Mali. A military camp near the town of Kidal was surrounded for several months without adequate arms, ammunition and food. On January 22, 2012 ninety soldiers were slaughtered by the well-armed Islamists. Subsequently the Malian military withdrew back to the capital Bamako.

Military unrest festered as a result of President Amadou Toumani Toure’s lack of response to requests to send reinforcements and supplies. Capt. Amadou Sanogo and several officers frustrated by the lack of government support went to meet with President Toure, who had fled the country. The U.S. called this action a military coup, and ceased further financial aid to Mali.

In meeting with several government leaders last September, I was told that Sanogo was considered a national hero. In talking with Capt. Sanogo he said, “Toure was corrupt, and corruption ran deep in his government”. He also said that the April 29, 2012 presidential elections probably would not be held. The political parties didn’t trust Toure, and believed the elections would be rigged.

The Malian military with the help of French and UN troops stabilized the country, and protected the polling stations so the July and August elections could be held without incident. Interim President Dioncounda Traore shortly after the elections promoted Capt. Sanogo to the rank of four-star general, surprising the international community. A State Department official said, “The United States is disappointed with the decision of Mali’s interim government to promote coup-leader Sanogo to the rank of General”.

Reportedly Sanogo resisted pressure to leave the army without receiving the promotion which gave him diplomatic status and immunity from prosecution.  A Malian source told me the promotion was justified since he saved the country from Toure’s corrupt government. Sanogo had also brought attention to the Islamist crisis taking place in northern Mali.

Secretary Hillary Clinton did not support Mali’s request for military help in April 2012 to subdue the Islamists. Democratic elections had to take place first before such action could be considered, she noted. French President Francois Hollande however stated that elections could not take place while the country was under siege by the Islamists. France urged the UN to take immediate military action.

In early January 2013 the Islamists advanced to within 300 miles of Bamako. President Traore called President Hollande to ask for military support. Within days 4,000 French troops arrived to help drive the insurgents from Mali’s northern towns. Mali agreed to hold the presidential elections in July, and France agreed to leave the troops there for security until after the elections.

French and other international observers were satisfied that the elections were free and fair, for the most part. France committed to help in Mali’s recovery, as part of the international donor community’s pledge of $4 billion in aid.

President Obama last week said that he would consider financial aid after the new president’s inauguration in September. A State Department official however noted “even if the [Obama] administration concludes that Mali is once again democratic, [they] will work with Congress to redefine some of the aid to meet new conditions on the ground”.

Mali desperately needs the financial aid committed by the international donor community. Any new conditions imposed on Mali will only impede implementation of the reconciliation and unification of the country; the 400,000 displaced Malians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries remains a humanitarian disaster. The United States needs to take the lead with France to support Mali’s recovery immediately.

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