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close this bookThe Courier N° 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry report
close this folderMali : An omnipresent sense of history
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThree republics to create one democracy
View the documentInterview with Ali N. Diallo, President of the National Assembly
View the documentProfile
View the documentInterview with Amadou Seydou Traoré, opposition leader and USRDA spokesman
View the documentThe magnetism of the unfamiliar... but unexotic
View the documentMali-EU cooperation
View the documentNGOs finally achieve tangible results

Interview with Ali N. Diallo, President of the National Assembly

In Mali, the army has learnt if from the past

Mali's institutions were radically remodelled in the wake of the recent vote on decentralisation. This is aimed at allowing, among other things, a degree of autonomy for the north of the country-which is essential to guarantee national reconciliation. The sudden growth in the number of small towns and villages may result in some political surprises during the long e/ection campaign period which is due to begin early next year. The President of the National Assembly, Ali N. Diallo, finds himself in a pivotal position: his Adema (A/fiance for Democracy in Mali) party current/y holds a comfortable majority in Parliament. With democracy being consolidated in Mali, he must find this an exhilarating time. Our frst question touched on this

-This is certainly an excellent time to be in Mali, but freedom is the most difficult of man's needs to satisfy. Our National Assembly has 12 parties and most people in our country are inspired by ideas based on tolerance and respect for the right to be different. The main concern of those of us who lead the party currently in the majority, is to question constantly whether we are necessarily always right. We have a comfortable majority-72 members out of 115-but this certainly doesn't mean that the National Assembly is just a rubber stamp.

· There is, of course, another stumbling block when one has such a large majority, which is the possibility of internal divisions.

-Yes, I would agree with you there. Mali's MPs have to realise that they came into this business after a three-stage process. First there was a popular uprising, then the army intervened to put an end to the bloodbath.

Finally, we had the high level national conference to draft the constitution, the electoral code and the charter for the country's parties. MPs, therefore, must always bear in mind that, though they can claim legitimacy on the basis of the revolution, there is also a republican legitimacy they ought to respect.

· The second phase in the process was the intervention of the army-are you not a*aid that the 'Niger syndrome'will raise its ugly head in Mali, too?

- Naturally, MPs have seen what happened in Niger and elsewhere, but fear is tempered here because officers in Mali's forces have also given a great deal of thought to the effects of military dictatorship. Democrats and republicans within the armed forces are very aware that only a minority of men in uniform profited to any degree from the previous regime.

· Do you think that because Mali had what might be called a 'moderate' dictatorship, it is now in a better position than it would have been had the previous administration been more repressive?

-Let me put it this way. The military dictatorship went through three different stages. During the first stage, just after the coup on 19 November 1968, the junta chose Mao Tse Tung as a model, hammering home the idea that power could be won by force of arms-and it was carried away by the popular acclaim it initially received. Subsequent popular resistance then took them by surprise. People wanted more freedom, but they also wanted to keep what they had gained in social matters. Army officers asked the protestors to abandon their action so that normal constitutional life could be resumed, but the trade unions had their own ideas. They advocated things which the people in power opposed. The ensuing repression was therefore fierce.

There was a second phase during which the military were at odds with one another over the leadership question. The popular view was that the country had fourteen different heads of state at that time. This went on until 28 February 1978 when there was a brief Iuli and they were tempted to return power to the civil authorities.

Then came the third phase when, despite appearances, poverty was on the increase. At first, Malians said that there were two 'IMFs' on the loose in Mali-the International Monetary Fund and the intimate circle surrounding the Moussa family. When the social foundation of the regime contracted, and all the country's business became concentrated in the hands of Moussa, his wife and her relations, the popular forces went on the offensive. This was a period of vociferous protest. Moussa Traore reacted with brutality: hence the 200 dead amongst the schoolchildren and students who were protesting- we will never know the exact number.

· Yet, the former regime could be said to have made the crucial economic choices which your government has continued with.

-I wouldn't agree with that. There was a half-hearted discussion at the time about liberalising the economy but, in reality, bureaucracy got in the way. It is the economic laws voted in by ourselves which form the true basis of a liberal economy. However, if you really want to look to the past, I would say that it was the February 1967 accords signed between Mali and France, when we came back into the franc zone, which set the whole process rolling.

· The Tuaregs and the government have just signed an agreement but the question of the north of the country is still a sensitive one. What are your views on this subject?

-The problem in the north of Mali is extremely complex. First, the Malian nation is made up of a patchwork of minorities, the largest being the Ban Mana (Ed. 'Bambara' in the colonial vocabulary), but no ethnic group is larger than all the others put together. Second, all groups have, at one time or another, held supremacy. But the fact is that the peoples involved have all lived in the same area throughout history- they have shared joys and sorrows, and their blood has mingled on Malian soil. l would accept that the Malian nation is not as well consolidated as it should be, but it is arguably one of the most advanced in the sub-region in terms of its constitution-though I don't mean to sound chauvinistic here.

Anyway, the problem in the north of the country seems to me to be one of development. The various regions have not all developed at the same rate on account of climate differences. In addition, the dictatorship did not show any great respect for minorities - although it did not direct its actions solely against the Tuaregs, who resorted to arms. The Tuaregs exaggerated the mistreatment they had suffered because they were unfamiliar with what was happening in the rest of the country. In fact, Moussa Traore oppressed everyone: the French-style Jacobin state we inherited did not allow for regional differences. After independence, the regime redoubled its efforts to centralise the state. both because it was Jacobin in outlook and because of Modibo Keita's communist leanings. In 1959, the French forced the Tamashek (ea. 'Tuaregs') to secede-Max Lejeune and Houphouet Boigny were mixed up in all that. This was when oil was first discovered in Algeria and the war with Algeria had been in full swing since 1954. Modibo Keita set up the Malian Federation and declared in 1959 that, upon independence, he would withdraw all soldiers from the Algerian front. Since the Malian Federation was dismantled, Gao virtually became an Algerian willaya, a base camp for its fighters. Mali did not accept this. Moreover, Algeria, around the time it achieved independence, took retaliatory measures and sealed off its borders, mercilessly sending back huge numbers of refugees. It mobilised them through humiliation, telling them that they were the last members of the white race-the only ones to allow themselves to be under black rule.

· But when Ganda Koy's militia halted the Tuareg movement, they appeared to have been supported by the black population. Doesn't that also suggest a racist attitude?

-I addressed the Tuaregs in October 1992, and pointed out that their wish to regard themselves as overlords and the other peoples in Mali as vassals who ought to pay tribute would provoke a general uprising, with the risk of a slide into civil war. I told several of the Tuareg chiefs seated around me the legend of Ouagadou- about the serpent of the well who each year demanded that the Soninke people should sacrifice an 18-year-old girl in its honour. Then the day came when a young man refused to accept the sacrifice of his fiancee. He went down into the monster's lair, watched by a horrified crowd who saw his recklessness as folly, and cut off the serpent's head. In the beginning, the Malian people's sympathies in fact lay with the rebellion. On 26 March, when the rebellion against the dictatorship took place, the president at the time, Konare, asked for all the Tuareg chiefs to be brought to him so that they could set up a transition body. He got a nasty surprise when the Tuaregs resorted to arms.

· Was the government, as rumoured, behind the Ganda Koy?

-Not the government as such. To my mind, it would be wrong to applaud when one faction of the people one governs wants to exterminate another faction.

· It appears that some of the people are unhappy with the concessions that have been made to the Tuaregs.

-This is a myth. The idea that we are frustrated because the Tuaregs were once our masters, is a story put about by Europe. The situation is quite the reverse. At the time of colonisation, they were unwilling to ream, like other nomads, such as the Peul people, for example. There were splits with them, of course, but no actual, all-out war. Forging a nation always requires tears, sweat and mourning. Those who return will find what they left broken or stolen and will want land which is less barren than that impoverished by the encroaching desert. However, those who stayed put in the face of rebel attacks had their houses smashed and their animals taken away. There will be problems when some Peals, for example, identify their cows which were stolen. We will have to negotiate, but I have confidence in the people. Just as they ended the war, they will be able to heal the wounds-of this I am sure. And the process has already started.

· I gather that you continue to practice as a doctor, on top of your political duties. Is this to teach a moral lesson to your political colleagues?

-I would say that it is more of a weakness, an inability to abandon a passion, even for supposedly good reasons. l am an 'internalist' and I have a passion for mechanisms. If you cure an infection and it returns, you have to look elsewhere to solve the problem. There are those in authority who spend money on trying to tackle problems without troubling to locate the cause. I would like to think that the analytical rigour of clinical science might also be put to good use in promoting understanding in politics.