7:00 a.m.: I don’t have much time to write today’s post: power is going to be cut soon, and will remain cut for ten to twelve hours if the past few days are any guide. The state-owned utility companies are rationing electricity and also water in all neighborhoods (though our water has yet to be cut). So I will limit this post to a few indications of the current state of affairs in Bamako.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I traveled through downtown via taxi as well as through a couple of southeastern neighborhoods via SOTRAMA. There was still a normal amount of traffic, fares were the same as always. But people are aware that the gasoline and diesel are running out. (The state newspaper L’Essor predicts that current fuel supplies can last about ten days.) Banque Atlantique has posted signs at its ATMs saying that they are closed until further notice. Also yesterday, my daughter’s school in Torokorobougou closed mid-morning due to power and water cuts, but is set to reopen today. Bamakois are especially worried about higher food prices, and there are rumors that a kilo of rice, currently selling for 400-500 francs, is soon going to cost 1500 francs; if such an increase does occur, it will effectively make this staple food unaffordable for many households here. Even before the coup, certain staples were getting expensive because of insufficient rains last year.
Significantly, and against all expectations, there have been no demonstrations against the sanctions or against ECOWAS that I’m aware of. ORTM news has featured various “civil society” representatives (often affiliated with MP22, the SADI-backed pro-junta organization) denouncing the embargo as illegal and immoral, but there’s been no mobilization of people in the streets. Bamako is starting to see small-scale protests against the junta, however. The CNRDRE regime has also announced that it is postponing (perhaps cancelling?) the “national convention” it had scheduled for today. Perhaps not coincidentally, several political parties and civil society groups had said that they would boycott the meeting.
In the north, the rebellion has dramatically exacerbated an existing humanitarian crisis. RFI is reporting this morning that the separatist movement has stopped its advance at Douentza, a town 145 km northeast of Mopti. This means that the zone the separatists call “Azawad” is now entirely in rebel hands. The MNLA has declared a unilateral cease-fire, having essentially achieved its territorial objectives. But L’Essor also reports that four Tuareg rebels were killed in Sevaré (just outside Mopti) as they tried to infiltrate the army base there.
1:30 p.m.: I’m taking advantage of the fact that the power is still on (a minor miracle!) to update this post. I spent several hours downtown this morning and found merchants surprisingly nonchalant about the embargo. Several swore to me that the Mali/Senegal border is not in fact closed, and that imports of fuel and food continue to arrive from Senegal. This contradicts everything that’s been written about the embargo so far, however, so I don’t consider it trustworthy. Still, it’s interesting to me that people in the marketplace are so low-key about Mali’s current situation, and the ones I spoke with are not at all concerned about political violence in the days or weeks ahead.
The service stations I saw still had fuel available and there were no lines — perhaps the lines observed in the embargo’s first couple of days were due to a demand spike (hoarding by customers) rather than a supply shortage? Moreover, a friend of mine in the U.S. was able to send a Western Union transfer to Mali yesterday, which means the banks aren’t cut off.
All of which makes me wonder whether the sanctions are working as well as they’re supposed to. Give them time, I suppose….
To read a wide-ranging exchange between five scholars on current events in Mali (Isaie Dougnon of U. of Bamako, Bruce Hall of Duke, Baz Le Cocq of U. of Ghent, Greg Mann of Columbia, and me), see the transcript on the African Arguments website.
[Note, however, that one of my remarks in this conversation was edited: On the possibility of an ECOWAS military intervention in Mali, it currently reads "let’s be honest, the last thing Mali needs right now is thousands of ECOWAS soldiers with automatic weapons running loose on its territory." The original version read "let's be honest, the last thing Mali needs right now is thousands of Nigerians with automatic weapons running loose on its territory. Remember ECOMOG ('Every Car or Movable Object Gone')?" In all seriousness, it's not that I think the Nigerians should play no role, it's just that their track record in West African peacekeeping operations is rather mixed.]
4:30 p.m.: Reports are emerging that the sanctions may soon be lifted — but let’s take them with a grain of salt. We also heard reports last Sunday that threatened sanctions would be delayed. Also, it’s unclear what the CNRDRE junta has done to merit the lifting of the embargo, but we’re told to expect an announcement by Capt. Sanogo soon.