Mali Coup Threatens Sahel Security
By Jemal Oumar and Nazim Fethi
The African Union suspended Mali from all activities on Friday (March 23rd) as part of growing global condemnation of a coup d’état that rocked Bamako last week.
The AU move followed statements by Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger, Nigeria, France, the United States, the European Union, the World Bank and the UN Security Council denouncing the take-over.
Mutinous soldiers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo seized power late last Wednesday, claiming the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré was incapable of dealing with the Touareg rebellion in the country’s north. The soldiers from National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy (CNRDR) have promised to eventually cede power to a democratic government.
President Touré was due to step down after two terms following the April 29th election.
The fate of the ousted president remains uncertain amidst an atmosphere still marked by tension and confrontations between the insurrectionists and the Presidential Guard. Touareg rebels have taken advantage of the power vacuum to continue their offensive, surrounding the city of Kidal, according to AFP.
The coup will have “very negative repercussions on security in the Sahel and Sahara, which do not lack problems to begin with, as they have spent several years in a fierce war against al-Qaeda, in addition to the Touareg rebellion for months and the demands of eastern Libyan for autonomy, the escalating threat from militants in Tunisia, the Algerian-Libyan border tension and the ambiguity of the file of hostages in Niger. Thus, the Sahel can no longer have the prospect of further tension,” expert Al-Mukhtar Salem said.
“The actors in the region and the world must undertake their role with full vitality to disable all of these bloody projects in the region,” Salem added.
Sahel security analyst Mohamed Muftah believes that Algeria will face additional problems on its southern border due to the insurrectionists’ desire to confront the Touareg revolt militarily.
He said that could lead to further displacement of the local population, which “will no doubt be an opportunity for terrorist groups to strengthen their presence and an opportunity for organised crime gangs and smugglers to intensify their activities. And all this makes this grey region an active volcano standing before it.”
For its part, the Algerian government said it “firmly” rejected any unconstitutional change in Mali.
“Algeria is following the situation in Mali with great concern. By virtue of our policy stance and in accordance with the Constitutive Act of the African Union, we condemn the use of force and firmly reject anti-constitutional change,” said Amar Belani, Algerian foreign ministry spokesman.
“We believe that all domestic issues in Mali must be resolved within the normal framework of the legitimate institutions of this country and in accordance with constitutional rules,” he added.
Algeria has never seen such instability on its southern borders since Mali gained independence in 1960, according to political analyst M’hand Berkouk.
“Algeria is an essential partner in the counterterrorist struggle in the Sahel and in negotiations with the Touareg rebellion,” Berkouk noted, adding that he believes “Algiers will continue to act as a mediator, supported by its excellent connections with Mali.”
“Regional security will prevail over all other considerations,” he said.
According to another political analyst, Louisa Ait Hamadouche, even if Algeria could “use the insecurity along its borders to negotiate with the rebels without the backing of the central Malian authorities, it will not do so.”
“It is very important for Algiers to maintain its positive neutrality,” she argued. In other words, it must continue to promote an economic and political plan that will maintain Mali’s territorial integrity without interfering in that country’s internal affairs, which is one of the cornerstones of its foreign policy.
The Touareg revolt must be ended by a political solution negotiated within Mali, insisted political analysts Ahmed Adimi and Abdelaziz Rahabi.
When contacted by telephone, Noureddine Mzala, an Algerian journalist who has been reporting from Bamako for a month, said that the mutineers came to her hotel and “pulled down the portrait of the Malian president that was hanging in the hotel reception, greeted us and simply told us that the president had fled”.
“The situation remains tense and confusing,” Mzala continued. “Soldiers are arresting civil servants, but some army units have remained loyal to the overthrown president. We keep hearing shots around the presidential residence and incidents of looting are being reported.”
“The whole country is at a standstill, government offices remain closed,” Mzala said. “A curfew should have been imposed, but the people are divided into those who support the coup and those who oppose it. However, we know that demonstrations are planned over the next few days. They should tip the scales in favour of one side or the other.”