John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Rage in Mali

by John Campbell
May 22, 2012

Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako, May 21, 2012. (Adama Diarra/Courtesy Reuters) Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako, May 21, 2012. (Adama Diarra/Courtesy Reuters)

On May 21, demonstrators in Mali’s capital of Bamako stormed the office of interim president Dioncounda Traore, seventy, and beat him unconscious.  He was hospitalized and has subsequently been released, according to press reports.  The mob, numbering several hundred, traversed the city with no interference from the army—or anybody else.

The mob attack appears to reflect popular opposition to a deal brokered by the relevant regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whereby Gen. Amadou Sanogo, thirty-nine—the  leader of the coup that overthrew the ostensibly democratic government of President Amadou Toure—would step aside and Traore would serve as interim president for a year rather than for just forty days as prescribed by the constitution.  That would give him sufficient time to organize new elections, while forty days is too short. Sanogo would receive the trappings – and the pension – of a former head of state. The mob beat Traore, who has been acting president since the coup, apparently because he supported the deal.

The mob, the army, and much of the local population appear to want Sanogo to become interim president when Traore’s forty-day term expires.  This is unacceptable to ECOWAS, which has threatened sanctions.  The United States is supportive of the ECOWAS position.

Meanwhile, the northern half of Mali is controlled by fundamentalist Islamic Tuareg rebels and the country as a whole faces a potential catastrophe because of drought.

In a May 17, 2012, guest post on this site, Jim Sanders raised the question of the extent to which the military could be a vehicle for popular discontent against the old elites in Africa—and elsewhere.  Traore, a former president of parliament,   is certainly a member of the traditional elites, while Sanogo is not. Mali had the forms of democracy for twenty-one years, including regular, credible elections. The mob attack on May 21, and the apparent army support in Bamako, raise the question of how meaningful democratic forms were to a population increasingly in crisis outside the elite circle.

That could be what is happening in Mali.

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