African Arguments by Brian J Peterson

When the protest movement of Malian women erupted in the town of Kati on January 30, few took notice. The women were mostly “war widows” of Malian soldiers recently killed in fighting against the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The women were protesting the lack of government support, in particular the shortage of weapons and food, given to Malian soldiers. And they were enraged to hear reports that their husbands, sons and brothers had been massacred in the most dishonorable way by MNLA forces.

Anti-coup protest in Mali

As the movement gained steam, the women began marching on Bamako, burning tires along the 12 km road from Kati, and heading for the presidential palace overlooking the city on the “hill of power.” Within days, the movement evolved into a more broad-based march in Bamako, soon spreading to Segou, the country’s second city. Thousands of civilian protesters threw up barricades and burned tires, effectively shutting down the capital as President Amadou Toumani Touré desperately tried to restore order. Government security forces were dispatched with tear gas and blank bullets. As we have seen, this was only the beginning. But it provided the initial spark that eventually triggered the mutiny in Kati, which in turn evolved into the coup overthrowing the President.

This has led some to view the coup as “accidental” and “improvised.” But this improvised genesis of the coup still raises questions: to what extent is the junta expressing or reflecting the will of the people in the street? Is there any overlap between the junta’s populist rhetoric and the grievances of ordinary urban and rural Malians? Indeed, in assessing the crisis of Mali’s democracy, the world community must seriously address Malian popular grievances. And the main grievances I have in mind are ones that reach beyond dissatisfaction with the Malian government’s mishandling of the anti-separatist wars in the north.

Having taken place, it is of limited utility to discuss whether one is “for” or “against” the coup. For the record, this author views the coup as a retrograde political development and an unfortunate mistake; coming on the eve of elections—elections in which Touré was not even a candidate—it is a major disservice to the Malian people and their institutions of governance. As such, the international community has rightfully condemned the coup. That said, the mainstream media’s reflexive response to the coup has been to cast it as a struggle between “democracy” and “military tyranny,” without examining the deeper structures at play, or the prevailing neoliberal order, behind the current political crisis. Indeed, beneath the surface there are deeper issues shaping the trajectories of political change in Mali. In tandem with other moving parts, these deep causes have produced the current crisis.  Read more…