Saturday, April 7, 2012

Renegade Mali Soldiers Pledge to Step Down, Feign Magnanimity

It appears that the Malian political crisis has come to a crest.

The AP reports:
     Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo emerged from his office inside the military barracks that has served the de facto seat of government for the past 16 days, ever since he and his men stormed the presidential palace, reversing over two decades of democratic rule.
Flanked by the ministers of neighboring nations, he read out the accord, which states that under Article 36 of Mali's constitution the head of the national assembly becomes interim president in the event of a vacancy of power.
"In the event of the vacancy of the president of the republic for whatever reason, or due to any absolute and definitive impediment," Sanogo said, "the functions of the president of the republic will be exercised by the president of the National Assembly."
In theory, Sanogo will abdicate to Dioncounda Traoré – the National Assembly President who fled Mali when the coup began, and until now was hiding in Burkina Faso.
            Insofar as resolving the political crisis of existential proportions, this development is certainly a welcome one. If Sanogo actually lives up to this agreement and abdicates power, it appears that Mali’s democratic government, as established in the 1992 Constitution, will hold at least titular power. It appears that ECOWAS will drop the total embargo on land-locked Mali, and the economic situation might not hurtle towards the famine it was heading towards only last week. Now the Malian people might only suffer a merely terrible food crisis.
As Malians can describe the (relatively) good news, “doni doni”; literally, “little by little.” As Dr. Leo Marvin advised his patient in What About Bob?, “baby steps.”
However, there are still a number of caveats to this welcome turn of events. First and foremost is the fact that Capt. Sanogo and his CNRDRE henchman have demonstrated to the world that any written agreement they stamp is not worth the paper it’s printed on. CNRDRE announced a new Constitution on March 28th, only to repeal it on April 1st. Sanogo announced a constitutional convention, only to cancel it a few days later. Thusfar, it appears that not one of Sanogo’s public statements has contained an iota of veracity. The default assumption should be that Sanogo is lying through his teeth at all times.
So, let’s assume that this one time is the exception to the rule, and Capt. Sanogo does in fact abdicate power in favor of the former leader of the Malian National Assembly. There still remain a number of fundamental matters which must be resolved in order to determine whether this return to democracy is in fact genuine or merely the application of lipstick on a pig. After all, more than a year out since the world-historical protests in Tahrir Square, Mubarak stepped down but Egyptians are still ruled by an unelected military regime.
First and foremost, Amadou Haya Sanogo has not announced the exact date of the proposed transition of power. He could postpone this transition indefinitely. As riders on the Malian bus system know too well, one can pay for bus fare at 6:00 AM and be told the bus leaves “soni” (soon), “peut-êti” 7:00, and the bus handlers will push back the departure time until 8:00, then 12:00. The bus might leave the station at 6:00 PM, but it might break down after an hour on the road, and the passengers might spend the night on the curb.
            It remains uncertain whether the Traoré presidency will be a clean break with the CNRDRE junta. It is quite possible that the mutineers in the Kati barracks see this as is a power-sharing agreement rather than an unconditional surrender. Mali is a haggling culture, and a merchant with the goods in hand would be considered a fool to simply accede to his bargaining partner’s price without getting anything in return. Capt. Sanogo has the keys to the ship of state, and he is almost certainly angling for what he must regard as just compensation; perhaps a big wad of cash, a plum job in the military command, and a number of CNRDRE soldiers in the interregnum and the next democratically-elected administration – that is, if there is another democratically-elected administration. An administration composed of Dioncounda Traoré as the titular head of state but CNRDRE toadies calling the shots from behind the curtain would  constitute only superficial change.
Sanogo has not announced when the next presidential election will take place. Sanogo & Co. created a crisis just before the planned elections. As of three weeks ago, the election was scheduled for April 29th. Amadou Toumani Touré was a lame duck on his swan song. Democracy was just about to function right on schedule before CNRDRE somehow contrived a way to gum up the works. One cannot reiterate too many times just how much the March 21st coup was completely useless and absolutely unnecessary for any purpose whatsoever. It has achieved nothing.
Even if Mali were to hold presidential elections, the questions remains as to what kind of Mali the president would govern. It appears that the Malian government exercises sovereignty over a rump state consisting of Koulikoro, Kayes, Sikasso, Ségou and part of Mopti province – in which 13 million Malians live. The Tuaregs have unquestioned control over Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and the other swath of Mopti province – home to only 1.3 million. Likewise, if there is to be a presidential election, it remains unclear whether those 1.3 million in Tuareg Country would be eligible to vote. Would Mali extend absentee ballots to loyalist Songraï, Tuareg, Fula and Moor citizens in the Azawad – effectively claiming sovereignty over these territories? Or would the MNLA disenfranchise their newfound subjects from the Malian elections? It is also quite conceivable that Ansar al-Din could commit mass atrocities Sierra Leone-style against Malian loyalists if they do try to vote. The folks who have instituted Sharia law in Azawad territory have already abducted and raped girls, it’s not far-fetched that they might use the threat of slavery to extort submission and dissuade participation in the vote.
The ECOWAS/CNRDRE agreement remains unsettled the role of the Malian military in the provisional and future government. The March 21 putschists have dealt democracy a permanent wound by demonstrating that a few disgruntled junior offices can bring down an elected administration by seizing the Presidential Palace, the airport, and the TV station. If there is to be another Malian president in the future, it appears that he or she might have to govern in the shadow of the Kati Army barracks, the fear of another coup d’état always hanging over the presidency’s head like the Sword of Damocles. After the CNRDRE mutiny forced President Touré into hiding, the power of the presidency has been severely diminished. 
Malian democrats now have every reason to remain wary of the Malian military and what it really stands for. It appears that some of the Army corps remains at least facially committed to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Mali. But are they genuinely committed to the Republic of Mali under a bona fide republican government? It looks like Sanogo & Co. would opt for a military regime which governs the Northern territories over a stable, sustainable democracy in the lower four and ½ provinces. Since the political crisis erupted, Malian militaires have demonstrated more interest for political jockeying and looting than they have for defending any segment of the civilian population. Even after they had carte blanche from Kati, the soldiers in the North crumbled like dust before MNLA and Ansar al-Din and gave up Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu without putting up a fight.
I hate to say it, but one should also be genuinely concerned about the status of democracy amongst the Malian people. There appears to be a significant swath of Malian public opinion, disproportionately Sanogos and other Senaful clans, who supported the coup as a matter of tribal fidelity, disillusionment with ATT, and general dissatisfaction with the government. Democracy is not getting everything you want when you want it. Using violent force to effect change might be popular, it might be excusable to resist a foreign military occupation, but it's not democratic. Democracy is a system of elections, legislatures, courts, and other constitutional institutions through which citizens can effect change, often over the course of years and decades. So long as there remains a significant bloc of the electorate that can’t wait 39 days, and could willingly sacrifice a constitutional government in order to depose a president whom they don’t like, one must question those persons’ commitment to democracy and the rule of law. 
Mali is not going to be a democratic regime again until it is governed by a civilian administration brought to office by free and fair elections. So long as Capt. Sanogo and CNRDRE are anywhere near the halls of power, Malian democracy will remain compromised by the fear of a renegade military and the politics of extortion. Sanogo must step down as soon as possible, and the CNRDRE ought to disband root and branch. Though CNRDRE insisted upon an amnesty stipulation in the agreement with ECOWAS, these renegade soldiers committed amongst the greatest crimes that soldiers can commit: mutiny, treason, dereliction of duty, holding political prisoners, orchestrating violence against critics, looting and pillaging government buildings and civilian merchants. Note that the ECOWAS/CNRDRE agreement was signed between some mutineering Malian soldiers and neighboring West African states; the legitimate government of Mali was not party to this agreement, and it appears dubious whether ECOWAS has the power to grant amnesty to Malian soldiers for crimes committed exclusively on Malian soil. If future Malian governments never prosecute these outlaw soldiers for their wanton crimes, it will send the message that members of the military can subvert the law and desecrate the Constitution with impunity - and Malian democracy will long remain in a precarious position.