Mali’s crisis, Nigeria’s response

*Buhari, Keita

Kayode Komolafe  

President Muhammadu Buhari thanked his immediate predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday for the “stamina displayed” in resolving the crisis in Mali.

While Buhari and Jonathan were reviewing the brewing crisis in Abuja, mutiny was reportedly afoot in Mali on the same day. Before the end of the day, some soldiers held President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse of Mali in Kati, a military base near Bamako.

It was in the same Kati military base that the 2012 mutiny, which resulted into a coup, happened. In the process, the government of President Amadou Toumani Traore was toppled and the collapse of northern Mali began in earnest.

Protesters on the street described what happened as a “popular insurrection” and not “a military coup.”

However, in diplomatic circles the reading of the situation was that of a “coup d’etat.”

The African Union condemned the “the anti-constitutional change” and the European Union and other international organisations said the “coup attempt” was not acceptable. Jonathan, who is the ECOWAS Special Envoy to the Republic of Mali, was in Aso Rock to brief Buhari on the efforts to bring peace to the West African country.

The former president was in Bamako from Monday to Thursday last week to sell the ECOWAS peace formula to stakeholders and envoys in the Malian capital.

Earlier yesterday, the opposition groups in Mali, the June 5 Coalition, called for dialogue to break the political deadlock after gunfire was heard in a military base in Kati, near Bamako

Practically echoing President Jonathan, the coalition said: “There’s no alternative but dialogue now… (we) are searching for a democratic solution and we hope the situation could be resolved in a legal and ordered way.” This position is central to the ECOWAS peace formula, which is essentially hinged on compromise.

In a virtual extraordinary meeting last month, ECOWAS leaders proposed the formation of a government of national unity in Mali. The nominations into the cabinet were to be made as follows: President Keita, 50%; the opposition parties, 30% and the civil society organisations, 20%. Some portfolios – justice, foreign affairs, defence, finance, national security etc. – were to be made before the formation of the unity government.

Besides, ECOWAS has proposed the re-run of the recent parliamentary elections fiercely disputed by the opposition. President Keita is to prevail on his 31 political associates declared “winners” in the elections to “step down” while a bye-elections should be conducted.

Despite this inclusive proposition, a spectre of political uncertainty has been hovering over Mali since June.

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of President Keïta.

The people are holding the Malian president responsible for the economic hardship in the country, the failure to deal with the rising insurgency and the incapacity to tackle endemic corruption.

The Malian crisis is, of course, deeply rooted in its post-colonial history. The Tuareg uprisings culminating the take-over of northern Mali by insurgents have belied the image of Mali as the “poster child of democracy in Africa” especially since the 2012 military coup. Before the 2012 coup, Mali had been troubled by the Tuareg and Arab uprisings in 1963, 1991 and 2006.

The feeling of alienation in the northern part of the country has been a problematic feature of Malian politics since independence from France in 1960. The southern political and economic elites holding powers have been blamed for the marginalisation and the relative underdevelopment of the northern region.

The socio-economic situation and political resentment have combined to make the northern region of Mali vulnerable to incursion by terrorists seeking allies and bases in West Africa.

Decades before the Sahel got infested with the plague of terrorism and hostage-taking, Libya under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as well as Algeria viewed the poorly governed communities in northern Mali as their natural areas of influence.

In effect, northern Mali has been a territory for geo-political power play. Above all, mass poverty and gross underdevelopment of the whole of the country have constituted the material basis of the Malian crisis.

The latest manifestation of the crisis is a reflection of the gross failure of the Malian state in grappling with immense challenges of nation-building. Identity politics has been terribly mismanaged. For instance, in 2012 the Tuareg insurgents were believed to be pushing for only greater regional autonomy. Since then the tendency towards secession has become more apparent.

Yet, the Tuaregs, who some analysts have described as a “a nation without a state,” do not appear to be monolithic contrary to the perception in some quarters. They are made up of several fractious ethnic groups. It is clear that no efficacious solution could be found to the problem of the Malian nation without a deliberately constructed decentralisation of powers. In the Nigeria, it would be called restructuring.

So far, the approach of pacification of the northern insurgents by the Malian state has failed; so has the divide-and-rule tactic employed to weaken the unity of the various northern groups – Arab, Tuareg, Fulani and Songhay.

There is also the central question of the capacity of the Malian state to ensure security. It has been suggested that the comprehensive reforms of the security system have become an imperative for Mali to make progress.

Yesterday’s ugly development was clearly an indication that the job of bringing peace to Mali is far from being done.

So, how does the story of Mali speak to the situation in Nigeria and indeed other African countries?

The paradox of Nigeria could not be more obvious than the commendable leadership role the country is playing, despite its own headache, in stabilising the situation in Mali. Here is a huge country enormously troubled at home being asked by others to lead the process of resolving conflicts abroad.

It is particularly remarkable that Buhari and Jonathan are working unison as they are subtly reminding their compatriots of the history of their nation.

In the past, Nigeria played pan-Africanist roles despite its own problems at home.

One of the issues in the Malian crisis is the lingering dispute over parliamentary elections. To appreciate the relevance of this observation, it should be related to Nigeria’s recent history. Five years ago, Buhari and Jonathan were opponents in a presidential election that was conclusive against predictions to the otherwise. So, for the first time an incumbent president was defeated in an election. Nigeria achieved this feat of a smooth transition because, among other reasons, Jonathan called to congratulate Buhari even before the results were formally announced. Nothing can ever take that historical credit from the former president.

The good news is often ignored when some Nigerians embark on episodic orgies of self-flagellation, denigrating their nation in the name of criticising their leaders.

Amidst all the woes, this point is worth underlining because, as they say, you never fully appreciate the value of a thing until you lose it.

Yes, Nigeria is bedevilled with multi-faceted problems; yet other nations still respect the country as a force for good.

The contradictions are worth pondering dialectically.

Perhaps in this instance what the Confucian philosopher, Mencius, wrote about the life of a human being could also be applied to the life of a nation:

“The goodness of human nature is like water tending to flow downward. Just as there is no water that does not flow downwards, there are no humans who do not have goodness.”

Nigeria’s positive role in the situation in Mali is reminiscent of the country’s role in West Africa during the military era more than a quarter of a century ago.

Nigeria led other West Africa nations to end the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra-Leone and subsequently assisted in the process of restoration of civil rule to these countries and others in the sub-region.

The intervention, which was launched during the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, was at the enormous cost of the lives of hundreds of Nigerian soldiers and civilians as well as billions of dollars.

In those days, this foreign policy trend attracted such remarks as this: “Nigeria exports what it doesn’t have (democracy) and imports what it could produce in abundance (petroleum products).”

In retrospect, Nigeria gave leadership in putting together ECOMOG, a monitoring force to keep peace. ECOMOG, of course, first enforced peace before keeping it.

The other day, Buhari was in Mali as part of the peace-making efforts despite the public health situation. Not a few of his country men and women critically observed that the President had not been to southern Kaduna where bandits continued to kill people and communities got devasted. Such criticisms are legitimate. They do not, however, derogate from Nigeria’s leadership role in the West African sub-region.

It is also important to draw some pertinent lessons from the situation in Mali.

First, an important factor in building a nation is the subjective feeling of a sense of belonging. It is , in fact, an indispensable factor. Nations are built by peoples led by visionary leaders who think big about human progress. So, leaders should be wary of alienating sections of the country in words and action. National integration should be a deliberate process of conducting public affairs on the basis of social justice, equity, sensitivity and an acute sense of accountability.

It is the policy of inclusion that can win over those nursing separatist impulse to the pan-Nigerian cause. As the Malian experience has shown, you cannot force a people to be nationalistic. But leaders could convince the majority, at least, using the instruments of inclusive policies.

Nepotism, ethnic prejudice and other policies of exclusion should be abhorred by officialdom. In other words, “the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy” embodied in the Chapter II of the constitution should be pursued with vigour in managing the affairs of the nation.

In this process, the feuding members of the elite craving advantages over one another in the system should not substitute their narrow class interests for the larger material interests of the people.

Secondly, deepening democracy is a work-in progress. Nothing should be taken for granted at any point in the efforts to expand the frontiers of freedom, including socio-economic rights. Nations that aspire to develop liberal democracy should be prepared for the rigour of obeying the rules and strengthening the relevant institutions. In this regard, the roles of the individual actors as politicians, agents of the state, civil society leaders etc. are important. The action of one individual can go a long way to strengthen an institution of democracy as Jonathan did in Nigeria in 2015 while the role of another individual can severely undermine democratic institutions as Donald Trump is currently doing energetically in America.

Finally, efforts at building the nation and democracy could be impaired in a climate of insecurity. A leader with a sense of historic purpose should not permit a swathe of his nation’s territory to remain ungoverned spaces for the reign of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals.

So, security must be approached with utmost competence.


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