Beginning with French occupation in the late 19th century, Mali has had a long history of violence as well as a complicated relationship with authority. In January 1959, Soudan (the French name for the area) joined Senegal to create the Mali Federation which gained independence from the French Community on June 20, 1960 (ThoughtCo). The Mali Federation collapsed two months later when Senegal seceded and the following month, Soudan declared itself the Republic of Mali and left the French Community (ThoughtCo). In less than 5 months, Mali had gone from a French controlled area to its own Republic, however it rejoined the Franc zone in 1967 and would not leave again until 1984 (Jstor.org). In addition to a history that has been intertwined with international colonizers, Mali also has a history of maintaining power through military control which began in the 14th century, most famously under Mansa Musa who extended the rule of the Mali empire from coast to coast (Britannica).
While wildly interesting for a historian, this background information is also important because it establishes a political culture in Mali. In their study, The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba determined three different types of political culture: parochial, subject, and participant, where there exists an ideal combination which supports the growth of democracy. In Mali, there was no history of democracy, a combination of emperors and dictators, both foreign and domestic, had maintained control. Since Mali citizens had experienced this for generations, there was no precedent for a sudden belief in democracy. Following the formation of the Republic of Mali, the new president, Modibo Keita, moved to form a single-party state, the first sign of a fundamental flaw in creating a democratic system of government. In 1968, military officers staged a coup and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation which approved a new constitution in 1974, maintaining the one-party state but with the end goal of civilian rule in Mali (ThoughtCo).
This system continued with the election of General Moussa Traoré leading the new political party called the Democratic Union of Malian People. His government was challenged by three coup attempts as well as student-led anti-government rallies which were brutally suppressed (ThoughtCo), demonstrating his opposition to free speech and protests by the police killing of 13 students involved in the protests (Wiki). New political parties were not allowed to form until a second constitution was approved on January 12, 1992 which led to the election of Alpha Oumar Konaré, a member of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali party (ThoughtCo). However, this came about only after anti-government rioting in March 1991 and the seizure of President Traoré by military officers. While Mali was moving towards democratization, the coup by military officers continues to show the inability for Malian citizens to affect their government through legal means. President Konaré, although a civilian, was accused of electoral fraud and human rights abuses during his reelection in 1997 (Britannica).
General elections were again held in 2002 and President Konaré did not seek reelection as required by the Malian constitution. General Amadou Toumani Touré, who had previously taken power after the 1991 coup, became the second democratically elected President and served two terms after being reelected in 2007. The presence of democratically held elections in Mali for fifteen years signifies a growing trust in the democratic process, however the election of a military General who also was a part of a previous successful coup raises questions about the cultural beliefs among citizens. The support of military figures suggests that military strength continued to be the most important aspect of a presidential candidate and it was President Touré’s failings as a military leader in the conflict between Mali and Tuareg rebels to the north that led to another military coup in 2012, leading to the suspension of the Mali constitution and placed Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo in power (Britannica).
This time, there was general criticism from the international community of the military coup and international sanctions were imposed which led to food and energy shortages for Malian citizens (Britannica). President Touré officially resigned from the presidency, leading to the appointment of Diocounda Traoré as interim president in April 2012 which was not well received by Mali citizens, shown by his brutal public beating in May that same year. Under pressure, Traoré appointed his prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra in August which led to the formation of a new government (Britannica).
Again, in the span of less than six months, Mali experienced intense political upheaval and changeover in addition to the violence with rebels in the northern half of the country. While many young countries experience internal violence during their self-discovery, displayed by the US Civil War, unlike the US, Mali does not have a history of democratically elected officials in government positions, nor does it necessarily have the strong urge to democratize as the US did in order to secede from Britain. Mali gained independence from French colonizers, however it was from a strong sense of nationalism and not in order to form a civilian elected government. There was a lack of political culture in Mali because of the history of leaders gaining power through violence which today has translated to repeated coups, both successful and unsuccessful, including two coups since 2020. The successful coups do nothing to show the Malian citizens that there are democratic options to oppose leaders and will likely perpetuate violence in Mali as a way to instigate governmental change.
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