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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderDossier: Africa's new democracies
View the documentAfrica's new democracies
View the documentThe patterns of transition to democracy
View the documentAfrica in search of institutional revival
View the documentThe future for the new democratic regimes
View the documentApplying the solutions of the 21st century to 10th century problems
View the documentDemocracy and structural adjustment in Africa
View the documentCommunity support for setting up and strengthening democracies
View the documentAutopsy of a Transition
View the documentA society full of tensions
View the documentA survival economy

Autopsy of a Transition

by Gaoussou DRABO

As time goes by and what are often short-lived attempts at democracy come and go, Mali's transition to democracy looks more and more remarkable. At 15 months, it was the shortest a changing Africa has seen and that record seems unlikely to be beaten. And it was the least stormy of changeovers, with its legitimacy virtually unthreatened and its sights never reset, leaving a far less explosive political legacy than Benin before it or Congo afterwards. Lastly, notwithstanding the obstacles and pitfalls which beset it, it could almost stand as a model of its kind.

Its progress could have been complicated by a National Conference whose only point, after the toppling of the Moussa Traoregime, was a farreaching catharsis. It could have been diverted from its path by the continuing Tuareg rebellion heightening misunderstanding among the people of northern Mali. And it could have seen its basic ideal, that of a clean change-over to an elected government, put at risk by worsening political struggles. But, (it would be tempting to say) miraculously, the transition in Mali went through without tension degenerating into breakdown and its internal contradictions were resolved with relative ease.

The relative smoothness of the transition to democracy may have been helped by factors which were specifically Malian, starting with the origins of the process.

In contrast with other democratic processes, ongoing or complete, on our continent, transition in Mali was not the outcome of a hard-won compromise between antagonistic political forces. It emerged from a revolution which toppled the old order. The term 'revolution' here means a sudden, radical and largely forward-looking change and is wellsuited to the combined action of four forces which came together from 22 to 26 March 1991. These were the democratic associations which were the first to develop alternative political thinking through the rallies and marches they held to demand the democratisation of the system; the school and university student movement whose marches and barricades triggered the insurrection of 22 March; the only trade union confederation of the time, the National Union of Workers, which joined forces with the two first-named organisations on 23 March and bolstered their action by calling an indefinite strike; and the army, which put an end to autocratic rule by carrying out a coup d'etat during the night of 25-26 March.

Once under way, the process of political renewal in Mali managed to avoid the cohabitation between the representatives of the old order and partisans of change which always spells conflict, and was spared the inevitable quarrels over the legitimacy and ranking order of institutions (the presidency of the Republic, the legislature and the government) headed by people with ideologically divergent viewpoints.

Another special feature of the transition was the way the army adapted to the ways of a republic. It had been involved in the bloody repression unleashed by the Moussa Traoregime, won back some respectability by carrying out the coup d'etat, but failed to neutralise all the feeling against it and so had to rehabilitate itself. It therefore practised strict political neutrality (other than for Commander Lamine Diabira's putsch on 16 July 1992), although it was a soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure, who guided Mali through the whole delicate period of transition.

A third feature of the transition was that it neutralised the political ambitions of its leaders, for the basic Act promulgated on 30 March banned every member of the Committee of Transition for the Salvation of the People (the lawmaking body) and the government from running for office in the first Government of the Third Republic.

The advantage of this was that it guaranteed that the transition authorities kept the same distance between them and all the various competing parties and prevented State machinery being used for electioneering purposes. There were slips from grace, of course, but there would have been far more of them if the people in power during the transition had been able to stand in the elections.

The final great asset of the transition was that the different institutions did not pull in opposite directions. The March revolution did of course remove the opportunities for ideological dissent between decision-making centres, but it nonetheless set up a dual system at the head of the State, where a legislative body (the Committee of Transition for the Salvation of the People-CTSP) and a conventional executive, the Government, worked together, the former as the inspiration and moral tutor of the latter, which was itself jealous of its independence of action. There could well have been friction if Amadou Toumani Toure had not worn two hats, that of Chairman of the Committee of Transition and that of Head of the Government, a diffficult combination which forced him to display uncommon tact in handling the two institutions and certainly made it possible to avoid conflicts of authority.

So the transition in Mali enjoyed considerables advantages over its equivalents elsewhere in Africa, and it made the most of them along its path to what was a generally positive record on political, economic and social affairs and the thorny question of the rebellion in northern Mali.

Politically speaking, there were two major tasks facing the transition process -holding the National Conference and organising Mali's first multi-party elections. The national conference was of course one of the opposition's main demands under Moussa Traor regime. Political groups saw it as a forum in which to make objective preparations for the transition which was bound to happen, but the single party, the Democratic Union of the Malian People, did its best to reserve the question of opening up the political arena to its own ordinary congress, which should have started on 29 March 1991.

The toppling of Moussa Traorhould rightly have done away with the need to hold the National Conference, since the basic law promulgated on 30 March 1991 met all the democratic demands which had been made, in particular by setting up a full multi-party system. But the new authorities preferred to go ahead with the Conference. They confined it to adopting the draft of the new Constitution, the new electoral code and the party charter, but, under pressure from public opinion, they added to the agenda a discussion of a report on the state of the nation briefly summarising the management record of the former regime.

But even with this clear signposting to lead the Conference away from pointless discussions that would go on for ever, there was still a risk of matters getting out of hand. Many political parties which had just been set up, and were unsure who their followers were, wanted to use the Conference to win some institutional legitimacy for themselves and get onto the CTSP, which was to become a sort of provisional parliament. And the school and university students association, which had sustained very heavy losses, turned some of the sub-committees into people's courts in which the army was among those put on trial.

But thanks to the firmness of Lieutenant-Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure, who was elected President of the Conference, they failed to raise the stakes and, after looking as though it was spreading its net far too wide, the meeting once more focused on its main objectives and -unusually for this type of gathering- got through its agenda within the prescribed time (two weeks). On the last day, it recorded the Malian people's army's official apologies for its part in putting down the demonstrations in March, a gesture which did a lot for the reputation of a body of men who had come to symbolise the 23 years of Moussa Traor regime.

Barely was the National Conference over than there were the elections to prepare-no mean challenge with the coffers resoundingly empty and the administrative system paralysed by all the pretences at consultation set in motion under the single party. There was a neverending trail of new political parties, most of them not conspicuous for their credibility, although three clearly stood out from the rest. Two them had originated in associations which had come to prominence between December 1990 and March 1991-the ADEMA-PAS (African Party for Solidarity and Justice), which emerged from the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), and the CNID-FYT (Faso Yriwa Ton), which emerged from the National Congress Democratic Initiative (CNID).

The third leading party had been seen before. It was the Sudanese Union-RDA (the single party until the military took power), which had reactivated its party organisation but was soon faced with a leadership struggle which, broadly speaking, revived the old radical-moderate confrontation which had been a feature of the party's history in the past. The exacerbation of internal dissent eventually caused the US-RDA to split down the middle (and each faction to put up its own candidate in the presidential elections), with Baba Akhib Haidara as spokesman of the orthodox group and Tieoule Konate running for the liberals.

Other parties still managed to find a niche for themselves around the three big contenders, as is clear from the results of the local government, parliamentary and presidential elections. They were the Sudanese Progressive Party (PSP), the RDA's main rival in the pre-independence era, the Party for Democracy and Progress (PDP), set up by Idrissa Traorthe Leader of the Order of Barristers, the Assembly for Democracy and Progress (RDP), set up by former international civil servant Almany Sylla, the Union of Democratic Forces (UFD), the party of lawyer Demba Diallo, a prominent figure in the events of March 1991, the Union for the Defence of Democracy (UDD), which was handicapped by having among its members people tainted by association with the old regime, and the Assembly for Democracy and Work (RDT), led by former top civil servant Amadou Niangado.

Alongside these parties with a national following, there were three parties which decided to stake everything on targeting regional audiences and were able to get themselves voted onto local government bodies and win parliamentary seats. Dr Sanogo's Malian Development Party (PMD) won five seats in Sikasso, for example, and the Union of Forces for Democracy and Progress (UFDP), set up by Colonel Youssouf Traorformer member of the Military Committee of National Liberation, targeted San, won the parliamentary seat and gained an overwhelming majority on the city council in the local capital. Finally, the Malian Union for Democracy and Development (UMADD) concentrated on Menaka (in northern Mali) where it got its only representative elected.

The various elections confirmed the fact that the sudden appearance of the multi-party system and the shortness of the transition period meant that the political parties had not had time to cover the whole country effectively. The relatively meagre funds available did not make up for the flimsiness of local facilities and the parties had to make do with what little there was to get their message across.

ADEMA-PAS did best in the elections, winning 214 local government seats out of 751, 77 of the 117 seats in the present National Assembly and the Presidency of the Republic. The Bee Party (as it is called after its emblem) began by relying on a network of volunteers, mainly teachers, and then, to back them up, fielded opinion leaders and local personalities from the old regime who still had influence and whose prestige had not suffered in the eyes of the native populations.

But, dynamic though it was, ADEMA-PAS only won over a small fringe of the rural population and, since its rivals did less well, the transition went ahead with an election turnout that many people found disastrous when measured against the challenge of democratising the political life of the nation. Such criticism is understandable. The elections, in which the local government electorates are fairly concentrated, attracted only 32. 1% of the 800 000 registered voters and the turnout for the general election was still lower-22.38% in the first round and 22.31% in the second. It was hoped that the presidential election, where individual personalities counted for a lot, would see an improvement on these figures, but the first round brought out 23.56% of voters and the second only 20.87%.

The figures should probably be revised upwards, however, as the census was done hastily by young, unemployed graduates who were unfamiliar with the procedure and, specialists claim, the numbers on the electoral registers were inflated. Keeping them up to date had never been a priority of the single party system, of course, when it was standard practice to fiddle the votes.

It had been intended that the transition process in Mali should be seen as a model for others, and the low turnout tarnished that image. With hindsight, this was inevitable. Organisationally speaking, there were bound to be problems, despite all the efforts made, when cumbersome administrative machinery, logistically under-equipped and not practised in meeting the demands of multi-party elections, had to be coaxed into top gear in only six months.

The practical difficulties faced by the civil service impacted especially harshly on newly formed parties with rather modest administrative back-up. Voters were half-hearted after all the electioneering charades staged by the single party, they were only faintly interested in politics and clearly felt that the political parties were short on respectability. Calling in local opinion leaders to revive the flagging interest of the man in the street was only a solution in a limited geographical area and did nothing to solve the problems of identification faced by politicians most of whom were unknown to the public at large.

Where issues of society were concerned, the extraordinary upheaval which took place during the transition failed to bring about the standard of results anticipated. It would have been reasonable to expect organised civil associations to have emerged to provide credible front-men and act as a counterweight to the power of the State and the influence of the parties. But the anarchic way in which these associations burgeoned was a sign not so much of vitality as of a fragmentation of the forces in society, and all the special-interest groups (particularly those set up by jobless recent graduates and lawyers) which emerged during the closing months of the transition were signs of a basic corporatism at work rather than of a lasting stand being taken in the social arena. But despite being rudimentary and going too far, these forces at least had the merit of saying what they thought, in complete contrast with the inertia in social matters typical of the old regime.

Economically, the transition started with a clear handicap. The country's already difficult situation had been further worsened by the battering which the economic apparatus took in the events of January and March 1991, which caused damage estimated by the Soumana Sako Government at more than CFAF 30 billion. The Treasury lost 14% of its potential revenue, industrial production dwindled, GNP declined and budget deficits grew. On 29 April 1991, the Transitional Government started on a plan of action to rehabilitate the country's productive fabric and rescue the administrative and economic apparatus.

Special tax and customs regulations were set up for the private sector, which needed support for its self-financed recovery drive. The authorities also went further in removing controls on prices and marketing and with measures to improve and simplify the regulatory framework. All price controls (other than on hydrocarbons) were removed.

The adjustment campaign continued with an interim programme produced with the agreement of the IMF, and Mali's development partners commended the authorities' determination to press on with the economic reform programme and redress the basic balance.

Budget aid in 1991 was CFAF 41 billion, CFAF 22.9 billion of it in grants and CFAF 18.1 billion in loans. The financing received under investment schemes brought external assistance to Mali during the transition up to just over CFAF 105 billion.

Prime Minister Soumana Sako had every right to be proud when he submitted his Government's resignation on 5 April. GDP had gone up by 5.6% in 1991, which, allowing for 1.7% inflation, was a real increase of 3.9%. This, Sako maintained, was thanks to very good recovery in the primary and tertiary sectors and to a drive to rebuild incapacitated industrial units and get them working again.

On the public finance front, the Prime Minister said, the budget deficit had been held at 11.1% of GDP, as against the 13.3% predicted in the programme, and the deficit on current transactions, excluding grants, was 13.3% of GDP, as against a predicted 16%. Overall, the report by the Head of the Transitional Government suggested, there was a large balance of payments surplus-CFAF 38 billion in 1991, as against CFAF 11.6 billion in the previous year - although Soumana Sako did admit that the exceptionally large amounts of external aid went a long way to explaining this performance.

The Third Republic authorities have never openly contested the picture which Soumana Sako painted, but they have hinted that it was an unlikely one several times since the Treasury affair, as they call it in Bamako, came to light. The facts emerged in June 1992, when a World Bank-IMF mission went to Bamako to finalise documents for the signing of an augmented structural adjustment facility for Mali and a letter of intent from Bamako to the IMF.

What should have been a routine procedure turned up two irregularities in the statement of the financial position as it was presented: unexplained extraordinary expenditure of CFAF 8.5 billion and a CFAF 5.5 billion hole in public revenue.

Although an explanation for the extraordinary spending was soon found (it had gone on reconstruction operations, election organisation and a series of major works), the hole remained a problem, but investigators traced it to the Treasury departments and embezzlement involving unsupported cheques and misuse of public monies.

In fact, the enquiry into the Treasury affair had begun during the transition and the investigation had concluded just before President Alpha Oumar Konaras sworn in. But saying so did not stop political sniping breaking out over the affair or prevent a shadow falling over the economic record of the transition.

The Tuareg issue turned out to be far more important during the transition than was originally suspected. The new authorities thought they would get themselves well on the way to a negotiated solution by including representatives of the Azawad Arab Islamic Front (FIAA) and the Azawad People's Movement (MPA) in the CTSP, but persistent attacks forced the transition authorities to embark upon a laborious process of dialogue with the armed movements, with help from Algeria, which was sheltering one of the movements on its territory.

It all ended in Bamako on 11 April 1992, when the Malian Government and the Azawad United Fronts and Movements (MEUA) signed the National Pact, an agreement featuring a ceasefire, the Malian Army's withdrawal from the north. the formation of an independent commission of enquiry, the return and resettlement of displaced Tuareg populations, the integration of rebel fighters into the regular armed forces and the establishment of a decentralised system of administration in northern Mali.

The general public were highly unenthusiastic about the National Pact as originally drafted, as people were convinced that over-generous concessions had been made by the authorities. The Songhay and Peul majorities in the North also received it badly, believing that the way the negotiations had been conducted had been to their disadvantage. None of these reservations was ever expressed in public, however, and there was an unspoken national consensus that the priority should be to re-establish peace. But the Pact was put under severe strain in July and August 1992, when the army withdrew too soon, leading to renewed attacks by armed bandits, and a faction of the Azawad People's Liberation Front led by the dissident Rhissa Ag Mohamed. Troops were redeployed and the MFUA became more involved in maintaining security, so that things were quiet again by the end of 1992.

All in all, the Transition, as regards the spirit behind it, was a privileged period in the history of modern Mali. It came after a period of autocracy during which political, social and intellectual life had deteriorated, and it released energy in what was often a disorganised way. It can also claim credit for having laid the foundations of a democratic Mali. But what gave it strength also led to its weaknesses. It started like a bullet from a gun, but soon ran up against the con" straints created by the deliberate choice that it should be short, and it did not change the underlying situation as profoundly as its roots in revolution had led people to hope it would. G.D.