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For long one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, the land-locked, impoverished Mali has plunged into turmoil after an army coup overthrew the country’s elected president Amadou Toumani Touré. The coup is a catastrophe for a country that had been doing fairly well in its struggle against poverty and backwardness and sends the wrong message to the rest of Africa.
Toumani Touré was sent into hiding on March 21 when a group of disgruntled soldiers mutinied at a military base located around 10 kilometres from the presidential palace, and then marched on the seat of government. In a matter of hours, they had succeeded in reversing more than two decades of democracy. If the coup leaders are allowed to remain in power, it will be a setback for democracy in Africa and will embolden forces which are trying to undermine the gains the continent has made in the past few decades.
The fact that Amadou enjoys wide international support has helped him immensely after the coup. The world has been united in its condemnation of the coup. Robert Fowler, a former UN regional envoy, said he was an enlightened, freely elected leader that is still too rare in the continent. “He made his country the darling of aid agencies and think-tanks alike,” Fowler said. “His overthrow by a motley crew of disgruntled junior army officers is not only deeply disappointing, it is a disgrace and a disaster for the 15 million people of Mali, and, indeed, for the entire Sahel region.”
Mali will plunge into chaos and lawlessness if the crisis is not resolved immediately. Though the international community hasn’t been of much help, despite their condemnation of events, the African community has been quick to act. The 15-state ECOWAS West African bloc launched trade and diplomatic sanctions against the country aimed at forcing the leaders of the coup to stand down. An emergency ECOWAS summit on Monday gave the coup leaders 48 hours to quit power, a deadline the junta did not even acknowledge, but the severe sanctions imposed will force the new rulers to take note.
There is no doubt that Mali’s 1.5 million population will suffer badly due to the crisis. Mali’s neighbours are hoping the embargo will economically suffocate the junta, but before that happens, it’s likely to cause great strain to the people. As the borders closed overnight, panicking Malians lined up outside petrol stations. The nation imports all of its fuel, which is trucked in from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Senegal, both located on Africa’s Atlantic Coast.
If the international community stands united, the crisis in Mali can be resolved fast and Toumani Touré reinstated. This is a coup that should not be allowed to succeed.