John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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A Revolution Not a Coup d’État

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
October 22, 2012

Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako 21/05/2012. (Adama Diarra/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Janet Goldner, a Senior Fulbright Scholar who has worked in Mali for the past fifteen years.  She works on a variety of grassroots, cultural, and women’s empowerment projects. She visited Mali again in July and August 2012. Her perspective, different from the more conventional discussion of the Mali crisis, reflects a wide range of indigenous contacts.  

The western media, to the extent that it covers Mali at all, feeds us a steady diet of information about the refugee crisis and the horrors of the barbarous crimes occurring regularly in the occupied northern territory. And indeed it is terrible.

But there is little attention to the crisis in the south that allowed the occupation of the north to occur. The current Government of National Unity, headed by Interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra is rarely covered in the western press. On the rare occasions when Mali is the topic of governmental hearings, Malians are rarely, if ever, included in the deliberations.

What happened on March 21, 2012, was not a coup d’état. What began as an unplanned mutiny by soldiers disgruntled at being sent to fight a war without munitions, supplies, or support, culminated with the resignation of President Amadou Toumani Touré. Neither planned nor violent, this event was the beginning of a still incomplete revolution against deep-seated corruption spanning the entire twenty years of the so called Malian democracy.

This mutiny occurred six weeks before planned elections. Many Malians did not believe that the elections could dislodge the ruling kleptocracy. Now, elections must wait until the north is liberated. Then Malians can try to build a true democracy as opposed to the corrupt illusion of democracy that existed before this crisis. Malians want real change and will respond vigorously if the old order tries to turn back the clock.

The coup leader, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, is often portrayed by commentors as a mad man, an imbecile. But, he was not present at the Presidential Palace the day of the mutiny, only later did he agree to become the leader of the mutiny. He has no political experience and was not well advised. He made mistakes. In contrast, Sanogo is seen by many Malians as a savior because he delivered Mali from the corrupt leaders and awoke the nation to previously unknown depths of the corruption, including kickbacks from narcotics trafficking and ransoms paid by European countries for hostages held in Mali.

ECOWAS is viewed with suspicion as defending of the old corrupt regime since it is led by presidents of west African countries who are no less corrupt than the old Malian regime. Their actions are seen as an effort to protect their own hold on power from the revolutionary aspirations in play in Mali.

It is important to listen to ordinary Malians who have not had a voice in the international media’s narrative of the ongoing crisis nor have they been consulted by the international community.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Martin Klein

    A military coup is not a revolution even if it replaces an unpopular government. If democratic elections have to wait until the reconquest of the Sahara, it could be a very long time. Military coups often are greeted by popular demonstrations, but those who cheer one day, often learn to regret it.

    I personally think that military autocracy is worse than corruption, but then I spent the first part of my life in New York and Chicago.

  • Posted by Bruce Whitehouse

    It’s good that someone is raising the question of “Who speaks for Mali?”, but I don’t understand how the events of 21-22 March in Bamako cannot be considered a coup d’etat. Moreover I think using the word “revolution” to describe these events is not just misleading but dangerous, and I have expressed these reservations to the author in the past. President Toure was indeed venal, ineffective and unpopular, and the rule of law in Mali was tenuous under his rule. But Capt. Sanogo’s coup (or whatever one should call it) only compounded these problems. It did nothing to address Malians’ legitimate grievances with the way their government has been run, and isolated Mali from its allies at a time when it needed them desperately.

  • Posted by Lisa Vives

    While the author might disagree, it is widely acknowledged that Capt. Sanogo allied himself with soldiers that removed a democratically elected president, however unpopular. He proclaimed himself leader of the National Committee for Recovering Democracy and Restoring the State, suspended the constitution and activities of some organizations, declared a curfew and closed borders. Despite the benefit of 6 training missions in the U.S. which poured some $1 billion into the country, Sanogo in a matter of hours destroyed two decades of a functioning democracy, and enabled Al Qaeda-linked terrorists to entrench themselves in the north. The author’s picture of this rogue soldier comes up short on significant facts.

  • Posted by Raja Saleem

    As a Pakistani, I can relate to what Malians have felt for their democratic order. While democracy is praised around the world and most of the Pakistanis want a democratic set-up, five years of democratic order in Pakistan has disgusted people. There is corruption, nepotism and a total disregard for ordinary person life and desires.

    I know military rule is not the answer and most of Pakistanis also know it as they have been ruled by generals for more than forty years but still when people look at what their democratic rulers are doing, they forget the past and want the soldiers back.

    I would also like to commend you for writing against the dominant narrative. For the West, terrorism is most important but it is only one type of terrorism, Islamic terrorism. When people are killed by thousands by military of their own or other countries that is not important as that is not terrorism. So, leaders in developing countries, like Mali, inevitably frame their contexts as a fight against ‘war against terror’ as otherwise why should anyone in US care about Mali. This is then picked up by the terrorism ‘industry’ that has mushroomed around Washington. Both help each other and military/ financial aid starts to flow to the developing country concerned. The terrorism industry in US benefits by the promotion of its agenda and financial consultancies/contracts.

  • Posted by Patricia

    This has been your life-long message in the arts and it holds true in politics as well.

  • Posted by Bob Holman

    Bravo, Janet, for your clear and responsible reporting.

  • Posted by MAKY SARI

    the revolution is not (yet) in Bamako, but in northern Mali. It is -despite the rhethoric of terror/islamist name-calling – genuine and irrevokable.

    intruders will change little, but intensify the struggle for a new Mali, living on its own terms.

  • Posted by Djeneba Traore

    Janet, thank you for this write-up and for highlighting some aspects of this situation not frequently discussed in the media. Indeed the situation in Mali is complex and multidimensional. I really did not see this writing as condoning a military coup or indicating that the coup is a solution to anything; it is just giving information about the events and the view of real people she has been in contact with. I agree with the author that there is a revolution going on in Mali right now, because for the first time people are taking interest in the affairs of the country, they are no longer going to sit by idle and watch the politicians destroy their country.
    Regardless of what is or not said here, this is an opportunity for the Malian people to make sure they get a true democracy, which will work for the interest of the people not for lining up the pockets of the politicians. The future leaders of Mali needs to make the people of Mali their number one priority and works to improve the conditions of life and foster a brighter future for this beautiful and warm country.

  • Posted by Bert

    So, what people seem to miss is that in fact, Mali has now been split up into two countries: Mali proper and the new Azawad.

    Splitting up an African country, in spite of what happened in Ethiopia and in Sudan in recent years, is still seen as a taboo. This means that even those people in the Azawad region who might be more moderate are pushed to extremist groups and their views. It also means that people in the South of Mali are encouraged to focus their energies on reconquering the north. This can only lead to more human suffering and misery. All in all, a very sad development.

    It would be better for all concerned to accept the new status quo. It would be good if new borders could be negotiated that do better justice to different ethnic groups in the region. That would make both Azawad and Mali free to start deciding on and building their own destinies.

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