Mali Rebel Coup Crisis Has Forced Africa to Rethink Its Stance on Democracy

The approach taken by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) towards Mali since the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure in a coup orchestrated by Capt. Amadou Sanogo demonstrates the continent is relinquishing its previous adherence to non-interference in the affairs of other member-states and advancing towards collective self-defense and other modern concepts of governance. While many old guards from by-gone eras continue to occupy the highest political offices on the continent, the general consensus is swaying towards a rejection of previously accepted norms such as the blatant murder of protesters, junta power, and segmented rebellions by all kinds of rag-tag groups.

Both ECOWAS and the AU condemned and refused to accept the legitimacy of the Mali coup earlier this year. Capt. Sanogo and his comrades were compelled to transfer power to an interim government headed by Dioncounda Traore. However, the chaos ignited by the coup granted Tuareg rebels in the North an opportunity to quickly advance towards the capital. The rebels were joined by Islamist extremists who ransacked Timbuktu and established firm control over in region. The Islamists have moved to impose a harsh version of Sharia law in the region. The group is deemed to be in alliance with al-Qaeda and a threat to the security of the West African sub-region.

In September, the interim government of Mali requested the assistance of ECOWAS to suppress the rebellion. The matter was forwarded to the UN Security Council (UNSC), and on October 12, the Council adopted Resolution 2071, which unanimously authorized ECOWAS and the AU to develop a plan for intervention in Mali and report back in 45 days with detailed and actionable recommendations regarding the deployment of an international military force, including modalities of the deployment, the concept of operations, force generation capabilities, strength, and costs. ECOWAS, sitting in Abuja on November 11, unanimously agreed on a 3,300 strong intervention force to retake Northern Mali from Islamist rebels. Most of the troops are expected to come from Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso. While ECOWAS does not dispense with the possibility of dialogue with the rebels, military intervention seems to be the most viable option now.

The ECOWAS decision was forwarded to the AU, and the AU Peace and Security Council endorsed the ECOWAS plan on Tuesday. The African plan will now be presented to the UNSC as mandated by Resolution 2071. The UNSC is expected to approve the mission by the end of the year. ECOWAS is making plans for immediate deployment. The European Union (EU) is also set to discuss plans for sending military instructors to help train the Malian army; and the French president, Francois Hollande, has pledged logistical support and training for the mission. 

The future success of the mission cannot yet be determined, but whatever the outcome, the entire process is a significant demonstration of Africa’s intent on graduating from its old ways and assuming leadership in solving the continent’s problems. The total rejection of coups and armed rebellions promotes democratic processes as the most acceptable method for political change, even if many elections are still marred by vote-rigging and the unwillingness of the old guards to relinquish power.  But that, too, will end.

See this Reuters investigative report on the situation in northern Mali:


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Joseph Kaifala

Joseph Ben Kaifala is founder of the Jeneba Project Inc. and co-founder of the Sierra Leone Memory Project. He was born in Sierra Leone and spent his early childhood in Liberia and Guinea. He later moved to Norway where he studied for the International Baccalaureate (IB) at the Red Cross Nordic United World College before enrolling at Skidmore College in New York. Joseph was an International Affairs & French Major, with a minor in Law & Society. Joseph is also a Human Rights activist, a Rastafarian, and a votary of ahimsa. He speaks six languages. Joseph has served as a Davis United World College Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies; a Humanity In Action Senior Fellow; and a Tom Lantos-HIA US Congressional Fellow. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Syracuse University, a Diploma in Intercultural Encounters from the Helsinki Summer School, and a Certificate in Professional French administered by the French Chamber of Commerce. Joseph was an Applied Human Rights Fellow at Vermont Law School, where he completed his JD and Certificate in International & Comparative Law. He is recipient of the Skidmore College Palamountain Prose Award, Skidmore College Thoroughbred Award, and Vermont Law School (SBA) Student Pro Bono Award. Joseph is a 2013-2014 American Society of International Law Helton Fellow. He served as Justice of the Arthur Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International.

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