|The Courier N° 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
|Mali : An omnipresent sense of history|
It is just something you have to get used to-in French-speaking Africa, virtually all countries have imitated France in assigning a number to each republic formed under a new constitution. At the time of its independence on 20 June 1960, Mali was a federation of two states; Senegal and the former 'French Sudan'. It was an alliance which failed after only a few weeks'existence end 'French Sudan' then adopted one of its most prestigious former names- Mali.
The first regime, under Modibo Keita, became increasingly unpopular as its form of 'tropical' marxism caused it to become more and more isolated. One of its main shortcomings was its unrealistic five-year plans, none of which were ever implemented. Discontent became rife among various social groups. including the farmers who, opposed collectivisation and were adept at passive resistance which they employed to disrupt the supply of produce. The regime also modelled itself on the so-called 'people's democracies' in certain respects. For instance, it made a determined effort to improve education, health and social justice, while refraining from the more dictatorial excesses that often characterised such systems.
Initially welcomed by some sections of the population, the November 1968 putsch, by Lieutenant Moussa Traore quickly fumed into dictatorship although it was to be more than 10 years before there were any significant anti-government protests. At the end of 1990, opponents of the regime openly set up organisations which claimed opposition-party status. One of these was ADEMA (the Alliance for Democracy in Mali), formed by the current President of the Republic, Alpha Oumar Konare. Marches calling for a multi-party state attracted the support of tens of thousands of people.
The dictator then sought to neutralise the opposition, beginning with the Tuaregs in the north who had been waging a guerilla war. This conflict was viewed by many as the 'front line' in the people's struggle against dictatorship, and the Tuareg cause was supported by opposition movements. The government, which had for some time opted for 'soft' repression, now revealed its claws and in January 1991 it began to imprison student leaders. The streets were filled with armoured vehicles and the first death amongst the students brought condemnation. Repression reached its height on 22 March 1991, when several dozen students were killed.
Prior to this, in February 1991, Moussa Traore's UDPM (Democratic Union of the Malian People) came out in support of a multi-party system - a move which marked the beginning of the end of the regime. The day after the students were killed, a democracy coordination committee launched an appeal for a general strike, to last until the dictator was overthrown. This began on 26 March, and amounted, in effect, to a 'democratic' coup d'etat. Its instigator was Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure, who took charge of the transition to-tether with the democratic movements.
The former dictator was arrested and put on trial for his crimes. He was later condemned to death but his sentence was recently commuted by President Konare.
The Tuareg guerilla war continued despite the government's conciliatory attitude. The new administration also had to deal with a number of social claims which had long been stifled by the dictatorship. However, popular support for the regime remained firm. The new constitution was adopted virtually unanimously in a January 1992 referendum and, a week later, ADEMA won the municipal elections, the first in a series of electoral victories for Alpha Oumar Konare. He went on to win the Presidential election (for the Third Republic) in April, with almost 70% of the vote. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Tuareg rebels resulted only in signatures on agreements which were not observed. The situation grew worse with the Ghanda Koy counter-offensive, but this in turn led to a seemingly viable accord between the Azawad Arab Islamic front, the most important guerilla movement, and the Malian government. Last March, President Konare presided over an enormous bonfire of weapons seized from the former guerilla fighters. The flames lit up the skies above Timbuktoo, the symbol par excellence of rapprochement between the peoples of Mali.
At the beginning of January 1994, the regime suffered the effects of the devaluation of the CFA franc. Economic liberalisation had enabled Mali to improve its macroeconomic position, but social discontent, particularly in the towns and cities, demonstrated that the average citizen was continuing to suffer economic hardship. The President still enjoys considerable support, and political democracy is greatly appreciated. Obviously, the government cannot be blamed for all the difficulties facing the country. There is, for example, a lack of professionalism in the press. However, it could have given a lead in the case of the State media, which still studiously avoids criticising the government's actions. The administration has also been taken to task for its apparently lax attitude towards 'economic' misdemeanours.
Next year will see a series of elections. The government views
these with apprehension, although it has stolen a march over its rivals by
signing a political accord with several small parties. Opposition is centred
around the MPR (Patriotic Movement for Renewal), the revamped former party of
the dictator Moussa Traore. This has undergone a 'facelift, and now seems to be
regaining support. lts trump card is decentralisation. Its former leaders, who
held total power for a quarter of a century, can take advantage of the network
of contacts they built up. The US-ADA, the party of the Republic's founder,
Modibo Keita, which until recently appeared to be the herald of change, seems
lately to have restricted its role to that of arbiter. Surprises are in the
offing, but one thing is certain: the Third Republic's constitution will remain
the guarantee of democracy in