How did Mali get here? (Part 5: Institutional explanations)

In this final installment of the series we consider the role of Mali’s political institutions in generating the wave of instability and political violence that has engulfed the country since 2012.

Institutionalist analysis ascribes a country’s success–or lack thereof–to the quality of its political and economic institutions. It highlights such problems as government corruption, poor public infrastructure and services, and weak rule of law as preventing stability and prosperity. Where institutions are “extractive,” they take wealth from one segment of a population to benefit another. Because states with extractive institutions have no capacity to hold powerful actors accountable to those with less power, or enforce rules and contracts that serve broad public interests (especially when doing so would threaten elite privileges), they are prone to conflict and economic stagnation (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012).

Mali’s postcolonial institutions have been extractive in many respects. The multiparty system set up in the early 1990s had no grounding in the political realities of Malian society, and most parties functioned as vehicles for personal advancement rather than political change (see Bintou Sanankoua’s analysis from 2007). State bureaucracy and public services, heavily concentrated in Bamako, were plagued by deficiencies (O. Sidibé, 2013). Yet despite grave threats to the nation since 2012, its ruling elite resisted calls for political reform and inclusive dialogue, seeking instead to restore the pre-coup order (Marchal, 2013; Bleck et al., 2016). Their exclusionary and self-serving rule perpetuated the illusion of a functional state while delivering a bare minimum of public goods, leading critics to brand the post-2012 Malian state a clever counterfeit or sham. From an institutionalist perspective “there is little doubt that the erosion of democracy, rise of criminality, and impunity of state officials are at the very root of the Malian crisis” (Wing, 2013: 481). Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch concurs: “It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012,” she writes in a recent opinion piece. “The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government.”

Kidal, Mali 2013

Malian administrators in Kidal, 2013  (photo: ICTJ)

Why was corruption so rampant, and how is it that Mali lacked modern state institutions like effective policing, impartial courts, a professional civil service, and checks on executive power? Baudais (2015) blames the neopatrimonial practices of Mali’s ruling elite under successive regimes. These practices were partly an inheritance from French administrators: as elsewhere in the Sahel, colonial governance was authoritarian, unaccountable, clientelistic, and corrupt–characteristics amplified by Mali’s new rulers after independence (see analyses by Olivier de Sardan and Sanankoua), rendering state agencies incapable of fulfilling their duties.

This incapacity was evident in the way the Malian government dealt with donors. Budget support from foreign governments was not effectively monitored, and Malian officials were rarely punished for embezzling public funds. Mali’s ruling elite made a show of being compliant aid recipients, ensuring that aid flows continued and even increased, while finding ways to stymie bids to make the Malian state more transparent and accountable to its citizens (Bergamaschi, 2014). In fact the Malian government proved adept over the years at exploiting competing donor agendas and domesticating foreign aid priorities to serve its own political ends (Bergamaschi, 2016).

Mali arms

Captured insurgent weapons: Where did they come from? (AP photo)

Similar institutional failings undermined the nation’s armed forces. By 2012 the army was a mire of corruption and nepotism, with a top-heavy command structure estranged from the rank and file. Foreign military assistance programs, sponsored notably by the US, poured millions of dollars worth of training and equipment into structures unable to absorb them. New supplies were often stored rather than issued to troops in need, and organizational culture was “overrun by apathy,” according to a US Special Forces officer who advised Malian army units before the coup. The result was a military unable to counter militant threats or even safeguard its own assets, virtually inviting rebellion. Insurgents captured large quantities of government weapons and hardware on the battlefield and from conquered barracks; studies by the Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research found the most common source of rebel arms to be raided Malian army stockpiles, not Libyan or other foreign depots.

Against the backdrop of “empirical state failure” mentioned by Bleck and Michelitch (2015), where state provision of security and public services was poor or absent, government forces were ill-suited to wage a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at winning the hearts and minds of local populations, even in areas not previously occupied by Tuareg or jihadi fighters. Filling the void left by the state, jihadi groups and ethnic militias offered protection and, for some, the opportunity to contest local power hierarchies or penetrate lucrative smuggling networks. Soldiers sent to quell insurgent activity in the Mopti region alienated local civilians with heavy-handed tactics including the detention, extortion, and abuse of civilians, further delegitimizing the Malian government (see analyses by JézéquelSangaré, and Théroux-Bénoni et al.).

Where a weak or failing state is concerned, institutionalist analysis situates the primary source of instability firmly within its national boundaries, ascribing agency (and responsibility) to the nation’s population and political elite. “In the end, the country’s future will not be determined so much by MINUSMA and the international community as by Mali’s inhabitants and its leaders,” write Boeke and Tisseron (2014: 38), echoing Dufka’s statement above. Such declarations illustrate how institutionalist explanations can overlook the ways outsiders incapacitate weak states and the extent to which structural forces constrain local abilities to effect meaningful change. As Sassen (2014: 85-86) puts it, talk of failed states

leaves out many of the negative effects that key actors of the international governance system, notably the IMF and the WTO, have had on program countries. Such language represents these states’ decay as endogenous, a function of their own weaknesses and corruptions…. But it is important to remember that it often is and was the vested interests of foreign governments and firms that enabled the corruption and weakening of these states.

The brutal impact of neoliberal policies on the state, the hollowing out of the public sector and the promotion of an illusory democracy, all under the watchful eye of donors, did not merely fail to promote good governance in Mali; these exogenous factors actively subverted it, further empowering the country’s extractive rulers.

Conclusion

In isolation, none of the three explanatory narratives reviewed in this series (anti-imperialist, geopolitical, and institutionalist) can properly account for the crisis Mali underwent in the second decade of the 21st century. The forces that destabilized Mali  took shape over a very long period. They are too complex to be understood as primarily internal or primarily external. It is true that generations of leaders in Mali made poor choices that undermined the integrity of national institutions, but it is equally true that these negative consequences were magnified by external factors beyond those leaders’ control. Mali’s destabilization must be recognized as a co-production of inside and outside forces–a composite assemblage of self-serving Malian elites, donor governments oblivious to their actions’ harmful consequences, and foreign actors pursuing their own ends. This assemblage has been taking shape since the colonial period.

Just as importantly, destabilizing forces kept tearing Mali apart well after a concerted international effort to stabilize the country began in 2013. They defied emergency measures and standardized approaches to conflict resolution precisely because they were generated not by an acute crisis but by the accumulation of deeply political tensions, injustices and grievances over decades. And since the roots of these tensions were both internal and external to Mali, their solutions will similarly require the cooperation of people in Mali, in neighboring countries, and beyond.

The future of Malian national unity and identity probably lies not in returning to its revolutionary days of the 1960s, nor in propping up the secular and highly centralized state structure inherited from colonial rule. That old order is almost certainly beyond salvaging. Neither is whatever lies ahead likely to entail ethnic homogenization, as for centuries this society has been multi-ethnic and interdependent with other lands. Instability has made the limitations of the Westphalian nation state apparent in Mali and throughout the Sahel. It may be in this part of the world that new political frameworks will emerge, flexible enough to accommodate difference and resilient enough to guarantee citizens’ basic rights and dignity.

Offline references

  • Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown Business.
  • Baudais, Virginie. 2015. Les trajectoires de l’Etat au Mali. Paris: L’Harmattan.
  • Bergamaschi, Isaline. 2014. The fall of a donor darling: The role of aid in Mali’s crisis. Journal of Modern African Studies 52(3):347-378.
  • Bergamaschi, Isaline. 2016. The politics of aid and poverty reduction in Africa: A conceptual proposal and the case of Mali. Global Cooperation Research Papers 16:5-33.
  • Bleck, Jaimie and Kristin Michelitch. 2015. The 2012 crisis in Mali: Ongoing empirical state failure. African Affairs 114:1-26.
  • Boeke, Sergei and Antonin Tisseron. 2014. Mali’s long road ahead. RUSI Journal 159(5):32-40.
  • Marchal, Roland. 2013. Military (mis)adventures in Mali. African Affairs 112/448:486-497.
  • Sassen, Saskia. 2014. Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Sidibé, Ousmane Oumarou. 2013. La déliquescence de l’etat : un accélérateur de la crise malienne ? In Doulaye Konaté, ed. Le Mali entre doutes et espoirs : Réflexions sur la Nation à l’épreuve de la crise du Nord. Bamako: Editions Tombouctou. 171-192.
  • Wing, Susanna. 2013. Mali: Politics of a crisis. African Affairs 112/448:476-485.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How did Mali get here? (Part 4: Geopolitical explanations)

In seeking to understand the long-term sources of instability in Mali, analytical perspectives centered on geopolitics emphasize competition among states, including the Malian government, its Sahelian neighbors, and extra-regional players, in shaping events there. These perspectives pit the Malian state’s interests in controlling its territory, population, and resources against those of external actors pursuing their own agendas. This set of narratives overlaps with anti-imperialist narratives in highlighting the role of external powers and their interest in Mali’s natural resources. Foreign governments also have security and diplomatic stakes in Mali and the region. Threats posed by terrorist and criminal organizations have brought the Sahel/Sahara to the great powers’ attention since the beginning of the US “War on Terror” (Lecocq and Schrijver, 2007) and especially since 2012.

Mali is often viewed as either blessed or cursed with a valuable geographic setting as well as abundant natural resources. Historian Doulaye Konaté described Mali’s location to an interviewer as “the transition between North Africa and Africa that reaches the ocean and the forests. This gives us an important strategic position: whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa – if not the whole of Africa… that’s why this region became so coveted” (see video below from the 03:10 mark). In 2013 Issa N’Diaye linked Mali’s conflict to “the covetousness that the immense resources beneath its soil inspire among Western, notably French, multinational companies with respect to oil and uranium.” Following Serval, many scholars (e.g., Jean Batou; see also Claudot-Hawad, 2013 and Diarra, 2013) agreed that foreign competition for Mali’s minerals–particularly energy resources, but also precious metals–had fueled conflict there and throughout the region.

The truth about Mali’s strategic minerals, however, is unclear. Some scholars (e.g., Bergamaschi and Diawara, 2014; Chivvis, 2016) cast doubt on mineral wealth as underlying French intervention. Mali certainly has significant gold deposits, and in the 1990s became Africa’s third-largest gold producer (though it may have recently fallen to fourth place). But these deposits are mainly in the south and west, and in any case French spending on Operation Serval in 2013 was over twice the value of all Malian gold produced that year (Notin, 2014). In the north, the extent of gold, uranium and other minerals is not known. With respect to oil, none was successfully drilled in Mali despite years of exploration up north. If deposits ever were confirmed, the cost of exploiting them would be steep and the rewards uncertain. Energy companies therefore never flocked to explore in Mali, and many of those that did gave up even before renewed instability in 2012 (see Augé, 2011 and a 2013 IMF report). Northern Mali’s hydrocarbons could simply be a mirage and external powers’ purported desire for them a red herring. Yet the mere possibility of their existence has long shaped Malian leaders’ actions on the ground.

More compelling than Mali’s supposed riches or important location in accounting for its instability are the security interests of foreign powers, both regional and global. Numerous geopolitical narratives attest that if the Sahara is no strategic heartland (Lacoste, 2011), it is a zone where real and assumed threats to various governments abounded after 9/11. Violent jihadi groups in northern Mali began as a consequence of civil war in neighboring Algeria during the 1990s and posed a determined menace to the Algerian government ever since. By kidnapping Westerners and hold them for ransom in the Sahara, they also became a Western concern even before they affiliated with Al Qaeda in 2007 (Harmon, 2014). The Malian government was slow to recognize the jihadis as a serious threat, and may even have reached an informal non-aggression pact with AQIM (see also Lasserre and Oberlé, 2013). Yet northern Mali’s 2012 occupation exposed violent jihad in the Sahara and Sahel as a major risk to the region’s relatively weak states.

EUTM

European Union trainers in Koulikoro, 2017 (source: EUTM flickr)

Despite decades of Malian military cooperation with the US, Russia and other states (as well as the European Union, most recently), France became the most prominent external actor with respect to Mali’s security when it launched Operation Serval in 2013. The French government identified three short-term goals: securing Bamako and its expatriate residents, halting the jihadi insurgency, and restoring Mali’s territorial integrity (Chivvis, 2016). Of these, it was arguably successful only in achieving the first: if the complete collapse of the Malian state was averted, separatist resistance and resurgent jihadi militants kept vast areas of northern Mali outside state control. France also hoped to locate its citizens held by insurgents in the region, but Serval freed none of the eight French hostages then in captivity; one was later killed and the others released in prisoner swaps.

Long-term interests were also at stake. Uranium in neighboring Niger, a major source of the fuel for France’s nuclear reactors, was among them, as was the necessity to keep Mali from becoming a safe haven for militants who could strike at French citizens, embassies and businesses in Africa. Intervention additionally served French strategic interests to which Mali was merely incidental: it raised France’s profile on the world stage. This was among Hollande’s central goals and Mali was a convenient venue for projecting French military power, particularly given other actors’ unwillingness to deploy troops there. Serval “allowed France to demonstrate its willingness to take responsibility for dealing with global terrorism in ‘its’ area of influence,” writes Chafer (2016: 131). In the face of potential defense budget cuts, Serval showcased a robust military as vital for protecting French interests at home and abroad (Chivvis, 2016) and maintaining France’s status as a global power.

But protecting French material and symbolic interests came at a cost to Malians beset by insurgent violence, crime, and injustice in their still-fractured country. French troops came to hunt terrorists, not protect Mali’s people or restore its territorial integrity. Predictions that foreign military intervention would facilitate internal Malian dynamics of conflict resolution and stabilization proved misplaced (see a recent joint report by FIDH and AMDH). The success of Hollande’s Malian gambit has so far proven tactical but not strategic (Boeke and Schuurman, 2015): while it helped prop up the Malian government, it also added new international dimensions to an already complex situation and lacked a clear exit strategy. My conclusion is that even if geopolitical dynamics were not primarily behind Mali’s destabilization, they exacerbated the conflict already underway and further fragilized the Malian state.

Coming up in Part 5: Institutionalist explanations

Offline references

  • Augé, Benjamin. 2011. Les nouveaux enjeux pétroliers de la zone saharienne. Hérodote 142:183-205.
  • Bergamaschi, Isaline and Mahamadou Diawara. 2014. The French military intervention in Mali: Not exactly Françafrique but definitely postcolonial. In Bruno Charbonneau and Tony Chafer, eds. Peace operations in the francophone world: global governance meets post-colonialism. Abingdon: Routledge. 137-152.
  • Boeke, Sergei and Bart Schuurman. 2015. Operation “Serval”: A Strategic Analysis of the French Intervention in Mali. Journal of Strategic Studies 38(6):801-825.
  • Chafer, Tony. 2016. France in Mali: Towards a new Africa strategy? International Journal of Francophone Studies 19(2):119-140.
  • Charbonneau, Bruno and Jonathan M. Sears. 2014. Fighting for liberal peace in Mali? The limits of international military intervention. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 8(2-3):192-213.
  • Chivvis, Christopher. 2016. The French War on Al Qa’ida in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Claudot-Hawad, Hélène. 2013. La “question touarègue”, quels enjeux ? In Michel Galy, ed. La guerre au Mali : Comprendre la crise au Sahel et au Sahara : enjeux et zones d’ombre. Paris: La Découverte. 125-147.
  • Diarra, Balla. 2013. Le conflit dans le Nord du Mali : les éclairages de l’espace en jeu. In Doulaye Konaté, ed. Le Mali : Entre doutes et espoirs. Bamako: Editions Tombouctou. 47-68.
  • Harmon, Stephen A. 2014. Terror and Insurgency in the Sahara-Sahel Region: Corruption, Contraband, Jihad and the Mali War of 2012-2013. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
  • Joly, Vincent. 2013. The French Army and Malian Independence. In Tony Chafer and Alexander Keese, eds. Francophone Africa at Fifty. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 75-89.
  • Lacoste, Yves. 2011. Sahara, perspectives et illusions geopolitiques. Hérodote 142:12-41.
  • Lasserre, Isabelle and Thierry Oberlé. 2013. Notre Guerre Secrète au Mali : Les nouvelles menaces contre la France. Paris: Fayard.
  • Lecocq, Baz and Paul Schrijver. 2007. The war on terror in a haze of dust: Potholes and pitfalls on the Saharan Front. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 25(1):141-166.
  • Notin, Jean-Christophe. 2014. La Guerre de la France au Mali. Paris: Tallandier.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How did Mali get here? (Part 3: Anti-imperialist explanations)

To account for the extent of state decay and recent political violence in Mali, Western journalists, diplomats and security specialists have often focused on proximate causes (e.g., Islamic radicalization, state corruption, the spread of small arms, and inter-ethnic tensions) with little attention to historical, social, and political-economic context. Better informed accounts by Malians and others seek to identify the long-term processes behind this instability. While these various narratives converge at points, for analytical purposes I will put them in three separate categories: anti-imperialist, geopolitical, and institutionalist. Each category has shaped policy and scholarly discourse regarding Mali, yet none can entirely illuminate Mali’s situation on its own. This post focuses on anti-imperialist analyses.

From the late colonial period, a strong anti-imperialist perspective informed Mali’s ruling elite. Emerging during the quest for liberation from French rule, this perspective led US-RDA intellectuals to pursue a strong central state and national identity (cohered through a single political party) at home and pan-Africanist policies abroad. Wary of neocolonial designs on the region, Malian nationalists in the 1960s accused France of opposing their new country’s full sovereignty by sabotaging its federation with Senegal and inciting the Tuareg to revolt (I. Sidibé, 2005; Lecocq, 2010; Mann, 2015). Certain Tuareg and Arab chiefs’ advocacy of continued French rule, e.g. through the OCRS (see part 1 of this series), constituted an unpardonable offense in Malian nationalist eyes (N. Keita, 2005). For its part the French government hoped to maintain troops on Malian soil, notably at the Tessalit garrison, after independence to support its ongoing war in Algeria. This desire fueled mistrust and resistance among Malian leaders, who fervently supported Algerian independence (Joly, 2013). Modibo Keita’s regime celebrated the final departure of French forces from Mali in September 1961 as a signature achievement for the young nation, and held up Mali’s new army as a symbol of national dignity (Mann, 2003).

Seydou-Badian-kouyate-traore

Seydou Badian Kouyaté

Suspicion of French motives has shaped Malian politics and national identity ever since. More than half a century after Mali’s independence, the specter of French meddling in Mali’s internal affairs still aroused public fears (Koné, 2017). Anti-imperialist narratives represent Mali’s “Tuareg problem” as primarily exogenous and Tuareg rebels not only as feudal racists but also puppets of neocolonialism. Asked in 2015 how Modibo Keita’s government handled the 1963 Tuareg rebellion, Seydou Badian Kouyaté–a former minister in that government–replied, “We went to war. That crisis was provoked by French colonists who had served in southern Algeria and some in northern Mali. Those colonists… pushed our brothers into rebellion.” In this telling, the revolt stemmed not from heavy-handed administration nor from the nomads’ history of resistance to state control, but from covert French manipulation.

ADT

Aminata Dramane Traoré, altermondialiste par excellence

Malian anti-imperialism took on an altermondialiste tone in the 1990s, with activists such as former culture minister Aminata Dramane Traoré decrying neoliberal economic reforms as an affront to national sovereignty (Siméant, 2014). Once Mali’s crisis flared in 2012, she and other critics linked it to Western efforts to destabilize the country and region. “The West’s interest is for a central Malian state without real control over the northern part of its territory,” she asserted (Diop and Traoré, 2014: 141). Weeks after the coup, a group of Mali’s most prominent public intellectuals–including Traoré and Kouyaté–warned of the “planned recolonization” of the country and invoked the memory of the OCRS.

Anti-imperialist narratives sometimes nourish conspiracy theories casting Mali solely as a victim of a “great game” between global powers and ignoring domestic drivers of rebellion and state incapacity. Such theories were popular among Malian journalists and intellectuals. Malian officials, despite their own anti-imperialist sentiments, have generally refrained from openly accusing France or other foreign powers of interference. In one notable exception during a 2015 speech to Malian troops, IBK appeared to lend credence to reports in the Malian press of an arms embargo against the country. These reports accused Western governments, particularly France, of trying to destroy the country by preventing its military from rearming. Yet no embargo ever existed: the Malian government continued buying weapons from sources in Brazil, Russia, and elsewhere.

Malian nationalists’ concerns for their country’s sovereignty were both sincere and reasonable, though. French intelligence services had maintained close ties with Tuareg leaders (Marchal, 2013). With Mali’s once-vaunted army in disarray, over 4,000 French soldiers were deployed to Mali for Operation Serval (2013-14), followed by 1,000 posted there indefinitely for its successor Operation Barkhane. Operating out of sensitive bases including Tessalit (regarded by some, rightly or wrongly, as “one of the most geostrategically important locations on earth”!) and letting MNLA rebels control Kidal, even collaborating with them on the ground to hunt jihadi fighters, French forces only stoked Malian suspicions of their true purpose in the region (Notin, 2014; Wing, 2016). Many in Mali similarly saw the UN’s Mali peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, as tainted by imperialist motives (Sabrow, 2017).

A_french_soldier

Operation Barkhane: Creeping recolonization?

Nostalgia for the US-RDA’s anti-imperialist ideals surged after the events of 2012. Some Malians blamed France for the 1968 coup, and lionized the late Modibo Keita as a martyr of neocolonialism. Political language regarding Mali’s present travails frequently echoed official rhetoric on Tuareg rebellion and imperialism from the early 1960s. Former prime minister Soumana Sako, for example, lambasted the 2015 peace accord signed by the Malian government, arguing that national reconciliation should not “condone impunity nor support the survival or resurgence of slavery-supporting feudal, racist, and obscurantist forces.” A political party in Bamako denounced a “vast plot to undo the Malian state as a unitary, democratic and secular republic.”

Such narratives thrive for good reason. As Chafer and Keese (2013: 5) noted,

conspiracy theories find fertile ground in the literature on Franco-African relations precisely because they have been dominated by secrecy. Moreover, France has in many cases done precisely what the conspiracy theories claim that it does–destabilize or prop up African regimes that are perceived as pro-French in order to further French interests.

Yet these and other authors find anti-imperialist suspicions of French influence overstated, as notions of a “French plot in the Sahara” often rest on unrealistic assumptions. Well before the 2012 crisis, Boilley (2005: 180) wrote that “a large portion of this fear was fantasy, ascribing to France interventionist designs that no longer operated through vague desires of political control like the OCRS, or the wish to unleash rebellions against the Malian central state.” France and other powers continue to defend their interests in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel today, but their methods have changed since 1957.

Scholars have also challenged the nationalist assumption that Modibo Keita’s revolutionary regime was brought down by external forces, identifying strong internal factors behind the breakup of the Mali Federation, the 1963-64 Tuareg rebellion and the 1968 coup (e.g., Mann, 2003; Keita, 2005; Lecocq, 2010). Defenders of US-RDA rule tend to exaggerate its achievements and overlook its mistakes, not least in managing the economy. Ultimately, states Ibrahima Sidibé (2005: 351), “Malian socialism collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.” Its corresponding anti-imperialist narratives have contradictions of their own which cannot be ignored.

Coming up in Part 4: Geopolitical explanations

Offline references

  • Boilley, Pierre. 2005. Un complot français au Sahara ? Politiques françaises et représentations maliennes. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds. Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 163-182.
  • Chafer, Tony and Alexander Keese. 2013. Introduction. In Tony Chafer and Alexander Keese, eds. Francophone Africa at Fifty. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 1-12.
  • Diop, Boubacar Boris and Aminata Dramane Traoré. 2014. La gloire des imposteurs : Lettres sur le Mali et l’Afrique. Paris: Philippe Rey.
  • Joly, Vincent. 2013. The French Army and Malian Independence. In Tony Chafer and Alexander Keese, eds. Francophone Africa at Fifty. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 75-89.
  • Keita, Naffet. 2005. De l’identitaire au problème de la territorialité : L’OCRS et les sociétés Kel Tamacheq du Mali. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds. Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 91-121.
  • Koné, Kassim. 2017. A southern view on the Tuareg rebellions in Mali. African Studies Review 60(1):53-75.
  • Lecocq, Baz. 2010. Disputed desert: Decolonization, competing nationalisms and Tuareg rebellions in Mali. Leiden: Brill.
  • Mann, Gregory. 2003. Violence, Dignity and Mali’s New Model Army, 1960-68. Mande Studies 5:65-82.
  • Mann, Gregory. 2015. From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Marchal, Roland. 2013. Military (mis)adventures in Mali. African Affairs 112/448:486-497.
  • Sabrow, Sabine. 2017. Local perceptions of the legitimacy of peace operations by the UN, regional organizations and individual states – a case study of the Mali conflict. International Peacekeeping 24(1):159-186.
  • Sidibé, Ibrahima Baba. 2005. Les relations franco-maliennes à la recherche d’un nouveau souffle. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds. Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 341-362.
  • Siméant, Johanna. 2014. Contester au Mali : Formes de la mobilisation et de la critique à Bamako. Paris: Karthala.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How did Mali get here? (Part 2: From military rule to multiparty politics)

Introduction: This post is the second in a series reviewing Mali’s modern history and present trajectory. Subsequent posts will survey the distinct but overlapping analyses of Mali’s postcolonial development. As I work to improve my draft for publication, I invite readers’ comments and criticism. This post picks up in the late 1960s, where the previous one left off.

The coup that ousted Modibo Keita in November 1968 ended Mali’s period of revolutionary socialism. Under the presidency of junta leader Lieutenant (later General) Moussa Traoré, the government undid some unpopular US-RDA policies but kept a firm grasp on the economy and society and tolerated little dissent. Keita died in prison in 1977, and the regime’s detention of dissidents, including many former members of 131602370_title0h_872823418government, drew censure from abroad (Mann, 2015). Severe droughts in 1972-73 and 1983-84 left Mali dependent on foreign aid and government debt, intensifying historical patterns of emigration to neighboring countries and beyond. Migration for labor and trade had been a central part of the male life course for men throughout southern and central Mali for generations. From the 1970s, thousands of Tuareg joined this outflow and headed for Libya, where some joined the Libyan armed forces (Lecocq, 2010). In Bamako, the combination of neopatrimonial politics, elite predation of aid, and IMF-induced fiscal austerity further compromised the Traoré regime and damaged the economy to a degree scarcely offset by pragmatic policy decisions, such as abandoning the Malian franc and rejoining the CFA franc zone in 1984 (Baudais, 2015). Mali’s second Tuareg uprising began in 1990, and like the first elicited a harsh reaction from government security forces. 100,000 refugees fled the country, and many remained abroad for years (Lecocq and Klute, 2013). This rebellion, which saw the first explicit rebel demands for an independent homeland, continued through the mid-1990s.

Amidst the northern conflict, nationwide opposition to Traoré’s authoritarian rule culminated in massive street protests in Bamako. Traoré was forced from power in March 1991; Amadou Toumani Touré (known at “ATT”), the army colonel who toppled him, headed a transitional government which in 1992 organized Mali’s first democratic presidential election since the end of the colonial era. Thirty years of one-party rule gave 1059725637468way to a multiparty political system and new constitution. The new regime of President Alpha Oumar Konaré legalized private newspapers and radio stations, devolved some state powers to a new layer of elected local officials, and expanded public primary schooling from 28% of school-age children in 1991 to 62% in 2000 (Zobel, 2013). With the economy expanding by more than five percent annually, observers declared that Mali had achieved “a thriving multiparty democracy with competitive elections, a free press, better protection of civil liberties and political rights, less corruption, and stronger governance” (Radelet, 2010: 10).

This combination of growth and formal democracy, however, failed to foster sustainable, inclusive politics into the 21st century. Especially after the 2002 election of Amadou Toumani Touré as president, the government appeared increasingly unable to cope with att_mal_491620852persistent challenges. ATT adopted a “consensus approach,” bringing a host of political parties into his government. Without significant opposition, his government had little incentive to make hard political choices or enact meaningful reforms. Voter turnout was among the lowest in the region. Public schools became dysfunctional, social divisions widened, and state dependency on foreign aid increased (N. Keita, 2013; O. Sidibé, 2013; Charbonneau and Sears, 2014; Baudais, 2015; Bergamaschi, 2016). Public satisfaction with democracy plummeted from 63% to 31% of survey respondents while perceptions of corruption rose (Dulani, 2013). Lucrative smuggling interests, including the transit of South American narcotics across the Sahara, facilitated criminalization at every level of the state, from elected officials in the north to top-ranking authorities in Bamako, and magnified disputes between local communities (Ag Alhousseini, 2016). Sporadic, low-intensity rebellions in the north blended into criminal activity.

The 2011 demise of Libyan President Muammar Kadhafi and his regime sparked the gravest threat to Malian stability: Tuareg fighters returning from Libya joined forces with Tuareg groups in northern Mali to organize new rebel movements. One, the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), fought for a secular, independent state within Mali’s existing borders. Another, Ansar Dine, fought for the establishment of Islamic law throughout Mali. Both groups allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which had been present in Mali’s north since at least 2006. These were the main entities responsible for expelling the Malian armed forces from the country’s three northern regions in early 2012. Soon after occupying northern cities and towns, though, the MNLA lost support due to abuses carried out by its fighters, leading to a complete northern takeover by jihadi groups imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law (Lecocq and Klute, 2013; F. Keita, 2014; Schulz, 2016).

Meanwhile the March 2012 coup exposed Malian democracy’s failings. Many Bamako residents saw it as divine punishment of a corrupt ruling elite, viewing elections as merely ”arrangements between those in power to perpetuate their hold on society and the economy” (Diawara, 2014: 111). Many greeted the coup as a chance to free the country from predatory rule and establish the true democracy that had eluded them since the 1990s. A return to the political status quo ante was, for them, out of the question. Neither the army junta nor the civilian transitional government officially succeeding it, however, could reunite the fractured nation.

In January 2013 French President François Hollande deployed French forces against an Ansar Dine- and AQIM-led offensive in central Mali. Operating alongside troops from IBK_509189415Mali, Niger and Chad, “Operation Serval” retook the north of the country, ending the jihadi occupation and enabling transitional authorities in Bamako to organize a nation-wide presidential election later that year. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita or “IBK,” a former prime minister, received over 77% of second-round votes.

Key problems persisted, however. Kidal, the country’s sole administrative region in which Tuareg constitute a majority, had been the scene of the 1963-64 rebellion and remained a stronghold of separatist sentiment; it reverted to MNLA control once French troops drove out jihadi groups (Ag Alhousseini, 2016). Kidal’s continued exclusion from central government authority sapped IBK’s domestic support. The deployment of UN peacekeepers from July 2013 brought only limited stability to the north, where jihadi attacks on UN, French, Malian government and civilian targets increased year by year. Violence soon spread from the northern regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu to the central regions of Mopti and Segou. In 2015 Bamako was the unprecedented scene of jihadi terrorist tactics when gunmen targeted two businesses catering to Westerners, killing five civilians at a bar and 20 at a hotel in separate incidents.

These events’ potential to spur a “credible, state-led rethinking of the state” (Charbonneau and Sears, 2014: 11) was squandered in the years following IBK’s election, and Mali’s political establishment demonstrated neither the willingness nor the capacity to undertake serious reform. Implementation of a 2015 peace agreement brokered with separatists, mandating among other things a degree of self-rule at the regional and community level, lagged. As president, IBK outsourced difficult issues to associates rather than deal with them directly (Baudais, 2015). Public service provision remained poor, and in rural areas where the majority of the population lived, most government services never existed to begin with. For rural Malians, the crisis “merely exacerbated what was an ongoing empirical state failure” of long standing (Bleck and Michelitch, 2015: 26; see also Bleck et al., 2016).

This failure left the field open for non-state actors advocating alternative forms of political change, many of them violent. With government authority increasingly tenuous, a proliferation of armed groups in central and northern regions blurred the boundaries between criminality, insurgency and terrorism (Boeke, 2016). Conflicts between herders and farmers and between rival ethnic self-defense militias intensified throughout the Mopti region, with factions sometimes seeking redress for local grievances under the banner of jihad (International Alert, 2016; Sangaré, 2016). Jihadi groups gained strength in northern zones completely outside the control of the Malian state, the French military or UN peacekeepers (Ahmed and Carayol, 2017). For its part the international community was unable to impose a lasting solution, as the French and UN military missions lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the Malian public (Sabrow, 2017).

Creeping instability in Mali also laid bare the country’s “Tuareg question”: after multiple generations of Tuareg-led rebellion against the Malian central state, the place of Tuareg people within Malian society remained a raw issue. Neither the government nor rebel groups held much confidence in their 2015 peace deal (International Crisis Group, 2017). A significant portion of Tuareg–particularly members of high-status groups–held out for a Tuareg-dominated, self-governing “Azawad.” Down south, where most of Mali’s population lived, Tuareg irredentism was widely viewed as the root cause of the country’s calamities. “For many southern Malians, the MNLA and other Tuareg rebel fronts are responsible for the disastrous conditions all of Mali has experienced since the onset of this recent conflict,” wrote a Malian anthropologist (Koné, 2017: 56).

Before 2012, political violence was foreign to most Malians, but structural violence–in the form of poverty, political exclusion, and social hierarchies based on race, caste, gender, and education–was rooted deep in Malian life (Bayart, 2013). The country’s economy, dominated by the production of a few primary commodities (gold, cotton, cereals, and livestock), never brought about widespread prosperity despite sustained economic growth (Moseley, 2017). Agriculture, employing three-quarters of the population, remained precarious due to erratic rainfall, and food insecurity was rife. As in much of the Sahel, climate change and high fertility rates placed significant economic and demographic pressure on Malian communities. With the nation’s population approaching 20 million–four times its size at independence in 1960–the scale of the human drama playing out in Mali had never been greater.

Coming up in Part 3: Anti-imperialist analyses of Mali’s instability

References

  • Ag Alhousseini, Mohamed. 2016. Du conflit aux conflits, Kidal dans l’espoir d’une paix jamais retrouvée. FES Mali Policy Paper, Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
  • Baudais, Virginie. 2015. Les trajectoires de l’Etat au Mali. Paris: L’Harmattan.
  • Bayart, Jean-François. 2013. Les racines du mal : entretien avec Jean-François Bayart. Politique International 139.
  • Bergamaschi, Isaline. 2016. The politics of aid and poverty reduction in Africa: A conceptual proposal and the case of Mali. Global Cooperation Research Papers 16:5-33.
  • Bleck, Jaimie and Kristin Michelitch. 2015. The 2012 crisis in Mali: Ongoing empirical state failure. African Affairs 114:1-26.
  • Bleck, Jaimie, Abdoulaye Dembele and Sidiki Guindo. 2016. Malian crisis and the lingering problem of good governance. Stability: International Journal of Security & Development 5(1):1-18.
  • Boeke, Sergei. 2016. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, insurgency, or organized crime? Small Wars and Insurgencies 27(5):914-936.
  • Charbonneau, Bruno and Jonathan M. Sears. 2014. Fighting for liberal peace in Mali? The limits of international military intervention. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 8(2-3):192-213.
  • Diawara, Mahamadou. 2014. La crise malienne et la politisation des catégories populaires. In Joseph Brunet-Jailly, Jacques Charmes and Doulaye Konaté, eds. Le Mali contemporain. Bamako: Editions Tombouctou. 89-116.
  • Dulani, Boniface. 2014. Malian democracy recovering / Military rule still admired. Afrobarometer Policy Paper 12.
  • International Crisis Group. 2017. The Sahel: Mali’s crumbling peace process and the spreading jihadist threat. 1 March.
  • Keita, Naffet. 2005. De l’identitaire au problème de la territorialité : L’OCRS et les sociétés Kel Tamacheq du Mali. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 91-121.
  • Koné, Kassim. 2017. A southern view on the Tuareg rebellions in Mali. African Studies Review 60(1):53-75.
  • Lecocq, Baz. 2010. Disputed desert: Decolonization, competing nationalisms and Tuareg rebellions in Mali. Leiden: Brill.
  • Lecocq, Baz and Georg Klute. 2013. Tuareg separatism in Mali. International Journal 68(3):424-434.
  • Mann, Gregory. 2015. From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Moseley, William G. 2017. The minimalist state and donor landscapes: Livelihood security in Mali during and after the 2012-2013 coup and rebellion. African Studies Review 60(1):37-51.
  • Radelet, Steven C. 2010. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.
  • Sabrow, Sabine. 2017. Local perceptions of the legitimacy of peace operations by the UN, regional organizations and individual states – a case study of the Mali conflict. International Peacekeeping 24(1):159-186.
  • Schulz, Dorothea E. 2016. “Shari’a” as a moving target? The reconfiguration of regional and national fields of Muslim debate in Mali. In Robert W. Hefner, ed. Shari’a Law and Modern Muslim Ethics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 203-228.
  • Sidibé, Ousmane Oumarou. 2013. La déliquescence de l’etat : un accélérateur de la crise malienne ? In Doulaye Konaté, ed. Le Mali entre doutes et espoirs : Réflexions sur la Nation à l’épreuve de la crise du Nord. Bamako: Editions Tombouctou. 171-192.
  • Zobel, Clemens. 2013. Le Mali postcolonial : Perspectives politiques. In Patrick Gonin, Natalie Kotlok and Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, eds. La tragédie malienne. Paris: Vendémiaire. 57-81.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How did Mali get here? (Part 1: Echoes of decolonization)

Introduction: Recently I’ve been drafting a brief overview of Mali’s modern history and present trajectory. The aim is to excavate the long-term political, economic, and historical underpinnings of Mali’s ongoing instability. This post is the first in a series on this overview; subsequent posts will survey more recent history and the distinct but overlapping analyses of Mali’s postcolonial development. As I work to improve my draft for publication, I invite readers’ comments and criticism.

The final years of French control over what was then called le Soudan Français or French Sudan set the mold for much of what followed independence. The legacy of seven decades of colonial rule continues to shape questions of governance, relations among various segments of society, and foreign relations for Malians today. Indeed, reading the Malian press in the early 21st century, one often finds that political discourse about key issues has scarcely changed since the late 1950s.

The government of France’s Fourth Republic (1946-1958) sought to preserve its influence over French possessions in Africa and elsewhere. It created the French Union, a political framework that bestowed certain rights upon erstwhile colonial subjects, including political participation and representation in the metropolitan National Assembly. On the heels of French military defeat in Indochina, a bloody war for independence in Algeria–France’s largest colony and Mali’s neighbor to the north–helped bring down the Fourth Republic and put Charles de Gaulle back in power. To forestall the breakup of its overseas possessions, in 1958 de Gaulle’s government created the French Community, granting limited self-rule to former colonies but maintaining the metropole’s power over their defense, diplomacy, and currency. A territorial body known as the Organisation commune des régions sahariennes or OCRS had been established in 1957 to keep French sovereignty over a vast expanse of the Sahara Desert stretching from the eastern borders of Morocco and Mauritania to northern Chad and its borders with Libya and Sudan (see map below). This territory was meant to guarantee French access to newly discovered mineral resources in the region, including oil and gas, as well as France’s nuclear testing site in southern Algeria (N. Keita, 2005; Lecocq, 2010).

OCRS

Both the French Community and the OCRS were overtaken by events, however. The Community became defunct as former colonies opted for full independence. In 1959 French Sudan and Senegal formed a union called the Mali Federation, taking its name from the Empire of Mali which spread over much of the western Sahel from the 13th through the 17th century. The Federation fell apart just weeks after independence from France in August 1960, splitting into two sovereign republics. As for the OCRS, it was dissolved after Algerian independence in 1962 (Mann, 2015).

Throughout this gradual transition from colony (French Sudan) to member of the French Community to member of the Mali Federation to independent republic, a new generation of leaders in Bamako fought to assure their homeland’s emerging sovereignty. The Union 220px-keita_stamp_1961Soudanaise – Rassemblement Démocratique Africain or US-RDA, a pan-Africanist party headed by former schoolteacher Modibo Keita and drawn from a small cadre of civil servants educated in French colonial schools, became the dominant faction. In many respects the US-RDA stood firmly against lingering French control, opposing the OCRS in particular. After becoming Mali’s first president in September 1960, Keita demanded that French military personnel evacuate their bases on Malian soil (including Tessalit in the far north, which was useful for the war effort in Algeria). He forged military links with the Soviet Union and communist China, and later established a new currency, the Malian franc. In these regards Mali diverged from its neighbors such as Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, which continued to house French military bases and retained a currency, the CFA franc, pegged to the French franc. Yet the Malian government made no diplomatic or economic break with France, and retained French as its official language (I. Sidibé, 2005; Joly, 2013). Moreover, Mali’s first constitution was heavily drawn from France’s 1958 constitution, marked by a strong presidency and highly centralized state authority (Baudais, 2015). While the people governing had changed, the same style of governing–secular, bureaucratic, autocratic and occasionally brutal–endured (I. Sidibé, 2005).

Perhaps the most significant resistance to Malian government authority in these early years came from northern Tuareg communities. Tuareg nomads had long roamed large swathes of the Sahara; their zone of activity straddled the borders of five newly independent states in the region. French colonial administrators had upended Tuareg society by banning slavery, dismantling local polities and favoring some clans over others (N. Keita, 2005). Despite, perhaps even because of, their repeated armed opposition to colonial rule, Tuareg people occupied a “privileged place in the French colonial imagination” (Lecocq and Klute, 2013: 425) and were exempted from forced labor, conscription and schooling requirements.

Like their French predecessors, Malian leaders in Bamako interpreted the hierarchies within Tuareg society as evidence of an essentially feudal political order marked by vestiges of slavery. The ruling US-RDA, guided by pan-Africanist and modernist ideals, worked to coalesce a unified Malian national identity and historiography, but did so largely around the dominant Mande cultures of the south (Lecocq, 2010; Baudais, 2015). In promoting this model of nationhood, Malian government officials saw themselves as opposing an unjust Tuareg social order that permitted light-skinned elites to impose their will upon darker-skinned vassals as well as other racially “black” peoples inhabiting the region (Lecocq, 2010). The US-RDA spoke out against the forces of “ethnic particularism” and “obscurantism,” not to mention the lingering influence of colonialism throughout the country. This struggle was especially acute in the north, where several Tuareg and Arab leaders had lobbied French officials in the late 1950s for inclusion in the OCRS instead of a new, black-led nation-state (N. Keita, 2005; Hall, 2011; Koné, 2017).

These tensions formed the backdrop of Mali’s first Tuareg revolt in 1963-64 when nomads in the northern Adrar mountains–probably no more than a few hundred in all–took up arms. Malian troops violently suppressed the rebels and abused civilians suspected of aiding them; trauma from this period remains seared into many Tuareg communities’ memories (Lecocq, 2010; Rasmussen, 2017). Suspecting a French hand in the uprising, Malian authorities courted the support of historically marginalized segments of Tuareg society to cement their control over the north (Boilley, 2005). Much of northern Mali would remain under direct military administration for decades.

Political power, marked by the authoritarian culture of commandement inherited from French colonial administrators, became increasingly personalized under Keita’s presidency. Official socialist rhetoric and economic policies proved divisive. The government was forced to devalue the Malian franc in 1963 and again in 1967, and cracked down on groups it accused of undermining its revolutionary aims, such as migrants seeking work abroad and merchants opposing import controls. Heavy-handed rule sapped the state’s legitimacy and stoked disaffection in segments of society and the state apparatus (Baudais, 2015). New troubles were brewing.

Coming up in Part 2: From military rule to multiparty politics

Offline references

  • Baudais, Virginie. 2015. Les trajectoires de l’Etat au Mali. Paris: L’Harmattan.
  • Boilley, Pierre. 2005. Un complot français au Sahara ? Politiques françaises et représentations maliennes. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 163-182.
  • Hall, Bruce. 2011. A History of Race in Muslim West Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Joly, Vincent. 2013. The French Army and Malian Independence. In Tony Chafer and Alexander Keese, eds. Francophone Africa at Fifty. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 75-89.
  • Keita, Naffet. 2005. De l’identitaire au problème de la territorialité : L’OCRS et les sociétés Kel Tamacheq du Mali. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds Mali-France: Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 91-121.
  • Koné, Kassim. 2017. A southern view on the Tuareg rebellions in Mali. African Studies Review 60(1):53-75.
  • Lecocq, Baz. 2010. Disputed desert: Decolonization, competing nationalisms and Tuareg rebellions in Mali. Leiden: Brill.
  • Lecocq, Baz and Georg Klute. 2013. Tuareg separatism in Mali. International Journal 68(3):424-434.
  • Mann, Gregory. 2015. From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rasmussen, Susan. 2017. Global media and local verbal art representations of northern Malian Tuareg. African Studies Review 60(1):77-100.
  • Sidibé, Ibrahima Baba. 2005. Les relations franco-maliennes à la recherche d’un nouveau souffle. In GEMDEV and Université du Mali, eds Mali-France : Regards sur une histoire partagée. Paris: Karthala. 341-362.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Mafiacracy: The Malian state adrift

ibrahim-boubaca-keita-ibk-logo-caricature-logo-corruption-213x300This post  was written by A. Karim Sylla of the MaliLink Investigative Reporting Group. A longer version in French, featuring additional coverage of irregularities in public finance and high-level government appointments, appeared on 24 January in Bamako’s Le Républicain newspaper.

Malian government bureaucracy costs taxpayers dearly. More than half the state budget goes to civil service salaries and administrative expenses–buildings, motor pools, telecommunications, trips, supplies, etc. For every franc spent on public infrastructure, roads, or schools, another 1.37 francs is spent on the bureaucracy. From 2010 to 2017, the Malian budget more than doubled, from 1.1 trillion to 2.27 trillion CFA francs (about US$4.5 billion), an increase of 106% that yet had little impact on key sectors like education and health, or even the effectiveness of government services. But worse than its poor productivity, the Malian state sector has become a place where funds meant for public investment either disappear or are misspent. Through fraud and theft of public funds, a mafia has taken over the public sector.

And this goes back a long time. In its 2007 report, Mali’s Bureau du Vérificateur Général (BVG) or inspector general’s office singled out the Ministry of Urban Housing for its spending on household goods:

Average annual « food expenses » reaches 34 million francs. Add to that 500,000 francs for buying soap, cooking oil and cooking utensils, the purchase of 2645 cans of Nido powdered milk, and some 3 million francs to buy 141 bags of sugar. This department’s food costs are clearly excessive.

CHU GT.jpeg

Why was the ministry buying cooking oil? Couldn’t that 34 million francs have been put to better use in the pediatrics department of Gabriel Touré Hospital? Civil servants buying themselves Nido milk with public funds while children die of malnutrition!

Fraud is now done in the open. According to the 2012 BVG report, in the Ministry of Mines:

Purchases made by the DFM [Direction des Finances et du Matériel] cannot be justified. For example, even though the department has only 23 HP printers, it purchased 813 ink cartridges worth for 52.29 million francs in just nine months. That quantity suggests that each printer used 4 cartridges per month. Moreover, some of the cartridges purchased did not match the type of printer used by the DFM.

Many BVG reports have come and gone, and nothing ever comes of them. Everyone blames everyone else; the executive branch accuses the judicial branch of foot dragging while the judiciary blames the executive or even the BVG. Meanwhile, fraud and corruption run rampant. The social fabric is indelibly stained to the point that nothing is shocking anymore, even at the highest levels of the state.

After a journalist asked whether it was normal for the family of Prime Minister Modibo Keita to get state-subsidized housing from a program designed to enable low- and middle-income households to gain access to new homes, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita claimed that the prime minister, after loyal and honest service as a civil servant truly deserved this “gift” (six villas in all: one each for his wife and five children).

The omnipresence of fraud gives it a whole new meaning in public affairs. Ordinary citizens accept it as the norm; the courts rarely intervene, even when the abuse is excessive. Nevertheless, the case of the telecommunications regulatory agency stands out and demands an explanation.

Open-air fraud

The Malian Telecommunications and Postal Regulation Authority (l’Autorité Malienne de amrtpRégulation des Télécommunications et Poste or AMRTP) is charged with managing and regulating telecommunications in Mali. It oversees application of government policy, guarantees competition and protects the interests of customers. It also enjoys fiscal autonomy, and its resources come mainly from a 2% tax on telecom companies. That’s a lot of money: AMRTP coffers held close to 46 billion FCFA in late 2015. And this being Mali, such a sum generated considerable envy.

Earlier last year, the AMRTP hosted a visit by the Contrôle Général des Services Publics–one of many agencies in charge of seeking out irregularities and violations of financial procedures. Auditors finished their report in June 2016. This document, of which we obtained a copy, exposed instances of fraud and graft during the period 2012-2015. Among the examples of the regulatory authority’s questionable expenses are the following:

  • Organizing a summer camp abroad for the children of AMRTP personnel (cost: 494 million FCFA);
  • Buying 227 iPads, 80 iPhones and 100 computers for ministers, presidential staff, the National Assembly, and AMRTP personnel (cost: 468 million FCFA)
  • Communication expenses for the AMRTP’s administrative council (cost: 28 million FCFA)

How can the AMRTP spend 500 million francs on a children’s summer camp in a country where 43% of the population lives in total poverty, and where 2000 people die of malaria every year because they can’t afford a 500-franc dose of Maloxine? All told, the agency spent over a billion francs of public funds without justification.

landcruiser

The Toyota Landcruiser (Note: has only 2 front wheels, 2 rear wheels, 2 headlights and 1 windshield)

The reports of various oversight agencies show that the Malian state is being looted in a multitude of ways. Euphemisms such as “irregularities,” “managerial errors,” “discrepancies,” “non-collection of fees,” etc. boil down to just one thing: a fraudulent system kept in place to enrich certain civil servants at state expense. Some civil servants’ greed knows no boundaries. The staff of the Ministry of Mines surely wins the prize for sheer brazenness in this regard (BVG 2012 report, p. 89):

With respect to vehicles, maintenance records show, for instance, that for a single repair job, 150 parts were installed on a single vehicle [including] 3 windshields, 3 oil filters, 3 air filters, 3 fuel filters, 4 front shocks and 4 rear shocks; 2 windshields, 4 front and 4 rear shocks, 2 radiators, 4 sets of motor brackets, 4 crankshafts, 4 fuel pumps and 6 headlights were installed on another. Such cases have become common and recurring.

Such effrontery may seem amusing, but it’s the root of the problem. Theft doesn’t even bother to escape oversight–since punishment never materializes–and concentrates on extracting maximum funds from state accounts. The 2014 BVG report (the last one published) includes examples like these:

  • At the Roads Authority, some 11.8 billion francs simply disappeared, including 4 billion misallocated by a single individual (p. 106).
  • 667 million francs disappeared from the Office de la Haute Vallée du Niger (OHVN), including 183 million stolen by the head of marketing (p. 118).
  • At Gabriel Touré Hospital, the BVG found that the staff basically stole x-ray film worth 115 million francs; as a result of the shortage of x-ray film, the radiology unit stopped functioning for two weeks (p. 125).
  • In all, 1.4 billion francs disappeared from Gabriel Touré Hospital accounts from 2011 to 2014. This sum is the equivalent of the combined budgets of the public hospitals of Ségou (Hôpital Nianankoro Fomba) and Kayes (Hôpital Fousseyni Daou).
  • At the Centre International de Conférence de Bamako (CICB), where the controller set himself up as a bank teller for ministry of culture personnel, the public lost nearly 995 million francs (p. 131).

What future for Mali?

By our estimate, the Malian public lost 2.5 billion francs at the AMRTP alone with no outcry whatsoever. This is, alas, no isolated case; all government offices are involved. The problem lies in the very nature of civil service in Mali, where the least competent are named to strategic posts, not because of nepotism but to perpetuate chaos and facilitate fraud. Honest civil servants can never hold important positions for long. All Malians suffer from this problem caused by the few, the civil servants who haven’t grasped that a well-run Mali will benefit everyone, including them. The out-of-order hospital scanner affects everyone; the polluting car that nevertheless passes inspection worsens everyone’s respiratory problems; the poorly built road increases transport costs and the price of produce for all; the corrupt education sector undermines economic growth. We are all victims, and the damage is not only financial: we are witnessing the breakdown of society in which the extreme has become the norm.

The 2.27 trillion francs in Mali’s 2017 budget put the country at the forefront of the West African Economic and Monetary Union: only Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal spend more. Yet everything is lacking in Mali. Malians pay all sorts of taxes and fees just to support an administration that does not serve them. Despite the 106% rise in public spending from 2010 to 2017, can we truly claim to be better off? Slashing the budget by half would make it possible to lower the value-added tax from 18% to 9%, and everyone would live better except the bureaucrats who’ve grown accustomed to getting rich off the backs of peasants. The Malian taxpayer is the worst kind of sucker.

Postscript, 31 January: In a speech to his party this week, former prime minister Moussa Mara declared that “what weakens and handicaps [Mali] is, first, corruption, individualism and the unbridled quest for money…. Nobody is ashamed anymore of stealing, lying, or debasing oneself to get money or a position allowing one to get it.” Yet Mara’s party retains its position within the majority of President Keita, whose regime has done remarkably little to stem the tide of corruption described in Sylla’s article above.              – Bruce Whitehouse

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Africa comes to Washington

English novelist David Lodge once observed that professional conferences have become a modern form of pilgrimage. Much like medieval pilgrims, he wrote, conference-goers today “indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self-improvement.”

marriott-wardman-park-photos-interior

Pillars of wisdom in the Africanists’ house of pilgrimage

I remembered this observation while attending last week’s annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington, DC. For me, though, the pleasure lies not in the travel but in the encounters with fellow participants, both in and out of formal panel presentations, roundtable discussions and special sessions. Whether sitting in a hushed meeting room in the bowels of the Marriott Wardman Park, crossing the lobby buzzing with fellow Africanists, or sharing a meal with old and new friends who study the continent’s affairs, I gain invaluable opportunities to expand my horizons at this conference. Daunting as it may be, finding myself the least-informed person in a room is both edifying and rare. (Well, it’s rare here in the US. It happens to me all the time in Mali.)

Another aspect that draws me to the African Studies meeting is that it’s attended not only by academics like me but also by federal government employees keen to share their views and acquire new insights. You might spot a USAID bureau director alongside tenured political scientists on a governance panel, or bump into an intelligence analyst in the book exhibit, or listen to a fairly high-ranking State Department official trying to predict Trump’s policy toward Africa (upshot: nobody has a clue what to expect, but nobody’s expecting much.) Such exchanges allow me to keep believing that empirical knowledge still carries value outside the ivied halls of academe. For the time being, at least.

Mali was the natural focus of my interest throughout most of the conference. I heard presentations about labor and gender during the early days of COMATEX, about diaspora-led development in a Soninké community, and about critiques of polygamy in the songs of famous jelimusow (a.k.a. “griottes”); my own presentation dealt with monogamy rates in Bamako. Meeting programs have long featured such contributions based on Mali research. What was striking this year, however, was the number of talks examining much more dire subjects, including the loss of cultural heritage in Djenné and Timbuktu, the origins of the present violence in the north, and especially the weakness of the Malian government. One scholar described Mali as having a “Potemkin state” incapable of serving its people’s needs, while another characterized efforts to enhance rule of law as futile in a country where the ruling class has no interest in being held accountable. The Malian state, to use one colleague’s analogy, was like a house with no foundation, kept standing only by donors and a self-serving elite.

Such critiques are not new and have been articulated in recent years by some of Mali’s opposition activists and junta leaders. But they sound especially alarming coming from seasoned scholarly observers who tend to be in favor of reform, not revolution. The question raised by many of the presenters I heard, implicitly or explicitly, was “Can the Malian state be saved?” I did not sense much optimism among those present, and nobody I talked to sees a leader on Bamako’s political scene capable of turning things around. Has the time come, we wondered, to question longstanding assumptions about what the state in Mali ought to look like? Perhaps a centralized, dirigiste secular state has never been what most Malians really needed.

It’s worth noting that the participants in these conversations were, like me, mostly non-Africans. Yet Malian and other West African participants, some of them having flown in just to attend the meeting, were on the same page with respect to Mali’s outlook: the future appears bleak, and big changes to the political system are long overdue. The ongoing intervention by France and the UN to prop up the existing government structure may merely delay the inevitable day of reckoning.the-vert

Listening to all this as I sat sipping the cup of mint tea I’d purchased in the hotel cafe, I noticed it was branded “Touareg green tea” by a French company. No doubt some of my Malian friends would wonder, What makes this tea “Touareg”? Don’t the region’s Arabs, Sonrai, Fulani and Bambara also drink their green gunpowder tea with mint? Why has Dammann Frères appropriated Tuareg ethnicity to sell this particular tea (which, in any case, is probably grown in China)?

But these questions only reminded me of something I did not hear expressed at this conference: the idea that Mali should be partitioned and that Tuareg and other northerners should have an independent homeland. While many Malians I know assume that the Tuareg separatist cause enjoys strong support in Western capitals, I have heard no one in US policy circles express such support in public or in private. Nor have I ever heard anyone in these circles call Mali’s present borders into question. The South Sudan example suggests that partition, even when overwhelmingly desired by the local population, doesn’t address underlying political problems and may actually exacerbate them. I suspect that the assumption most of us at the African Studies Association make is that what ails Mali is not its boundaries but the way it is governed. This assumption is shared by a great many people in Mali, as Jaimie Bleck and colleagues have recently found. And questions of governance, both in Mali and more broadly, seem to be generating increasing discussion, even among scholars and policy specialists who used to care mainly about economic growth.

My African studies pilgrimage over, I felt compelled to reflect on what I learned from my fellow pilgrims. The outlook may be grim where Mali is concerned, but I take heart in the fact that growing numbers of us see governance as central, not secondary, to problems of poverty and conflict resolution. If this emerging consensus is indeed genuine, perhaps it will help people to usher in the necessary changes–both in Bamako and in Washington.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Changement et désespoir : lettre d’un ami américain

Mon cher Lamine,

Tu m’as demandé, une fois les résultats du scrutin présidentiel américain connus, “Comment cela a-t-il pu se produire ? Comment la démocratie la plus puissante du monde a-t-elle élu un démagogue déséquilibré à la présidence ?”

Comme beaucoup de mes compatriotes, j’ai du mal à accepter cette nouvelle réalité. Ma réponse à la victoire électorale de Donald Trump cette semaine n’était pas seulement faite de déception ou de désespoir. J’ai plutôt eu le sentiment inquiétant que mon pays ne ressemblait  pas à ce que je pensais. « Sonné », envahi par le chagrin et l’anxiété, j’ai passé quelques jours comme paralysé par la crainte, incapable d’affronter l’énormité de ce qui se passait.

Et puis, je me suis rendu compte que j’avais eu ce même sentiment dans le passé, à Bamako, en mars 2012.

Tu te souviens bien sûr que nous étions tous deux à Bamako quand les soldats en colère ont renversé le gouvernement. Humiliés par les avancées des rebelles et dégoûtés par les élus, des soldats maliens, menés par un certain Capitaine Sanogo, ont pris le contrôle de l’état et ont mis fin à ce qui était considéré comme une démocratie multi-partite imparfaite, mais en marche. Quel étonnement que presque personne ne s’y soit opposé et qu’il y ait même eu des scènes de liesse dans les rues bamakoises. Les Maliens comme toi ont toujours marqué leur soutien au processus démocratique. Même si je savais que vous n’étiez pas satisfaits de vos hommes politiques (comme tout le monde d’ailleurs), je ne comprenais pas la profondeur du mécontentement. Je supposais simplement qu’on allait tenir bon jusqu’aux élections pour attendre une amélioration.

Ce que j’ai assez vite saisi, c’est que beaucoup, sinon la majorité des Maliens, se sentaient méprisés par un gouvernement et une élite politique qui se servaient sévèrement au dépens des citoyens lambda. Tu ne pensais pas que le système, qui ne semblait produire que de la corruption, un manque d’opportunité et une inégalité croissante, pouvait faire mieux. Te souviens-tu m’avoir dit que le vote du peuple ne comptait pas, que le prochain président du Mali serait choisi par une cabale d’hommes politiques en catimini ? Pas mal d’autres Maliens considéraient leur démocratie comme illusoire aussi. Ils ne pouvaient pas dépendre des initiés du système pour régler leurs problèmes et ils ont donc jugé le coup d’état comme un choc nécessaire au système.

Lamine, durant cette année, le sentiment public ici, aux E-U, présente des points communs avec celui qui prévalait à Bamako en 2012. Nombre de mes concitoyens se sentent exclus du système politique. Troublés par les changements démographiques et économiques du pays, ainsi que par les menaces sécuritaires à l’extérieur, croyant le système truqué, ils ont préféré un pari risqué sur un “outsider” à la fausse sécurité du statu quo. Que l’on ne se “Trump” pas : nombre d’entre eux ont également été motivés par la crainte… des immigrés, des musulmans, de ceux que ne leur ressemblaient pas. Beaucoup aussi n’étaient pas prêt à voir une femme comme chef suprême des armées (même s’ils ne l’admettront jamais). Pourtant, l’unique désir partagé par tous les Trumpistes, c’était le changement–parce qu’ils ne croyaient plus à l’alternative.

 Tu voulais savoir ce à quoi on doit s’attendre avec Trump. Personnellement, je pense que son administration se montrera aussi incohérente et sa direction aussi incompétente que celles du Capitaine Sanogo. Comme Sanogo, Trump communique d’une façon brusque mais habile, et il sait bien manipuler les craintes et les soupçons de ses citoyens. Comme Sanogo, c’est un homme obsédé de lui-même et de sa grandeur. Mais également comme Sanogo, Trump n’a aucune solution pratique à proposer ; il est aveugle à ses propres limites et il guette sans cesse ses ennemis (on dit qu’il en fait une liste).

Nous connaissons bien le sort de Sanogo : son régime s’est vite perdu dans le maintien du pouvoir et la commission de crimes haineux, pour lesquels il sera jugé fin-novembre. Nous connaissons d’ailleurs le sort du Mali qui ne vit que sous perfusion de la communauté internationale. Je parie que la plupart de tes concitoyens, même ceux qui soutenait Sanogo à l’époque, regardent son règne court comme une faute tragique. Peut-être les Trumpistes regretteront-ils aussi un jour leur choix (selon David Brooks, Trump “va soit démissionner, soit se voir inculpé d’ici un an”).

Ton pays et le mien, Lamine, ont des cultures et des systèmes de gouvernement très différents. La pauvreté et la faiblesse des institutions de l’état sont certes plus graves au Mali qu’aux E-U. Mon séjour au Mali m’a appris que la démocratie est une chose très fragile. Ce scrutin présidentiel m’a appris que, du point de vue politique, les Maliens et les Américains sont beaucoup plus semblables que je ne le pensais auparavant. Pourtant, malgré ce qui s’est passé au Mali depuis 2012, et malgré ce qui s’est passé aux E-U cette semaine, j’espère que le but d’une société stable et inclusive reste à la portée de nos deux peuples. Que Dieu nous protège de ceux qui nous écarteraient de ce but.

Amicalement,

Bruce

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Despairing for change: A letter to a Malian friend

Dear Lamine,

You asked me, once the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election was apparent: How could this happen? How could the world’s most powerful democracy elect a volatile demagogue to the highest office in the land?

Like many around me, I have struggled to come to terms with this new reality. My reaction to Donald Trump’s victory this week was more than mere disappointment or even despair. It was the unsettling sense that this country was not the place I’d thought it was. Stunned, chagrined, anxious, I went through the next few days with a numb feeling of dread, trying to process the enormity of what was happening around me.

Then it dawned on me: I’ve had this feeling before. Bamako, March 2012.

Of course you remember that time–we were both there when Mali’s ruling establishment was upended by angry soldiers. Stung by recent rebel advances and disgusted with their elected leaders, Malian soldiers led by a certain Captain Sanogo took over the government and put an end to what had been considered a functioning if somewhat under-performing  multiparty democracy. It surprised me that hardly anyone in Mali tried to oppose them, and that jubilant crowds even celebrated their takeover on the streets of Bamako. Malians like you had always said you were in favor of the democratic process. I knew you were dissatisfied with your politicians (who isn’t?), but I hadn’t realized just how deep the discontent ran. I simply assumed people would hold out for improvements following the next elections.

What I soon understood was that many, perhaps even most Malians felt they had been spurned by both a government and a political elite that had callously served its own needs at ordinary citizens’ expense. You had little faith in the system to deliver anything but more of the same–corruption, lack of opportunity, and rising inequality. Remember when you told me before the coup that voting was irrelevant, that Mali’s next president would really be chosen by a clique of politicians behind closed doors? A lot of other Malians felt their democracy was a sham, too. They didn’t trust political insiders to fix it, and they saw the coup as a necessary shock to the system.

Lamine, for the past year the public mood here in the US has felt a lot like the mood in Bamako back then. A great many of my fellow Americans feel left out by their government and political system. Troubled by economic and demographic changes at home and by security threats abroad, believing that the system was rigged, they decided to take a risk on an outsider rather than stick with the status quo. Make no mistake: many of them were also motivated by fear–of immigrants, of Muslims, of people different from themselves. Many also weren’t ready to see a woman as commander in chief, even if they would never admit as much. But the one thing all Trump’s supporters seemed to desire was change, because they didn’t trust the alternative.

You wanted to know what we can expect from Trump. Personally I think his administration will prove as incoherent and his leadership as incompetent as Captain Sanogo’s did. Like Sanogo, Trump is a brusque but skilled communicator who plays expertly on the fears and suspicions of ordinary citizens. Like Sanogo, he is a man obsessed with himself and his greatness. But also like Sanogo, Trump has no practical solutions to offer, is blind to his own failings and is constantly in search of enemies (apparently he’s keeping a list).

Of course we know what happened to Sanogo: his regime quickly got carried away with ensuring its own survival and committed some heinous crimes, for which he’s set to be judged later this month. And we know what happened to Mali: the country is now on international life support. I suspect that most of your fellow citizens today, even those who supported Sanogo back then, look back on his brief period of rule as a tragic mistake. Who knows, maybe a lot of Trump supporters will feel the same way someday (David Brooks thinks Trump “will probably resign or be impeached within a year”).

Your country and mine, Lamine, have very different cultures and systems of government. Mali certainly has far greater poverty and weaker state institutions than the US. My time in Mali taught me that democracy is a very fragile thing. This election taught me that, at least politically speaking, Malians and Americans are much more alike than I used to think. But despite what’s happened to Mali since 2012, and despite what happened in the US this week, I hope the goal of a stable, inclusive society is still within reach for both our peoples. May God protect us from those who would deny that goal.

A bientôt,

Bruce

Postscript, 21 November 2016: Observers who have compared Donald Trump’s popular appeal and leadership style to those of African strongmen include Kenyan writer Patrick Gathara (in November 2016) and South African satirist Trevor Noah (in October 2015) who said “Trump is basically the perfect African president.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Kicking the foreigners out

43711887

Paris, 24 August 1996

Amid the recent hype over Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric in the US, the anniversary of a landmark crackdown on unwanted foreigners has quietly slipped past. 20 years ago this week, police broke down the doors of the Eglise Saint-Bernard in Paris and “evacuated” the 210 undocumented migrants within, mostly West Africans. The brusque removal of these men and women from their supposed place of sanctuary mobilized political opposition to President Chirac’s conservative immigration policies and helped bring a leftist government to power in France the following year.

While the Saint-Bernard operation was dramatic and highly mediatized, it was by no means unusual in the experience of Malians who go abroad. In August 1996, the very same month France expelled dozens of Malians, with little fanfare the Angolan government began a massive roundup (dubbed “Operation Cancer II”) of foreign migrants on its territory. On 22 August, the eve of the Saint-Bernard raid, Angolan police surrounded a mosque in one Luanda neighborhood and detained everyone inside–again, mostly West Africans. The campaign lasted four months and led to the deportation of 4000 migrants, including 1000 from Mali. “Cancer II” and many similar mass expulsions of immigrants by African governments have scarcely garnered any attention internationally. Over the years Malians have been targeted by sweeps in countries including Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. (One passage in my book Migrants and Strangers in an African City details the expulsion of thousands of West Africans from Congo-Brazzaville.) Most recently, dozens of would-be asylum seekers from African countries were deported by the US government, while Algeria repatriated over 400 Malians allegedly bound for Europe.

International migration is important to Mali. It’s difficult to know how many Malians live outside their country’s borders; most Malians who move from one place to another remain within Mali (the 2009 census found 2.6 million of these “internal migrants” in the country, some 20% of the total population). Reckoning the number abroad is much harder. For years the Malian Ministry of Malians Abroad has estimated that four million Malians live outside the country, a figure that seems wildly inflated even if we expand the category of “Malians abroad” to include anyone having one or more Malian parents. The Malian government’s RAVEC administrative census identified 265,000 Malian voters living abroad, while the World Bank estimated over 360,000 Malian emigrants in 2015. Arouna Sougane’s chapter in Le Mali Contemporain (2014) entitled “Migrations et transferts : Un état des lieux” advances the figure of 328,000 migrants, or 2% of Mali’s total population, abroad; some two-thirds of them live in other African countries, while 17% (57,000 by Sougane’s reckoning) live in France.

Even if international migrants account for a tiny sliver of Mali’s overall population, they are vital to the country’s economy. The World Bank estimated that Mali received 200 billion CFA francs in remittances from these migrants in 2011, while the regional central bank put the figure at over 350 billion, worth more than US$750 million at the time. And these figures, which have climbed steeply over the past few years (see below), don’t even factor in funds sent through informal value transfer systems, widely used by the Malian diaspora. At least one out of five people in Mali resides in a household with one or more migrants abroad, and in those households remittances account for 11% of household spending. (The above statistics all come from the same chapter by Sougane.)

Mali remittances

Remittances to Mali (source: knoema.com, based on World Bank data)

All told, it’s quite possible that Mali’s remittances exceed the level of official development assistance (“foreign aid”) Mali receives, once informal flows are factored in. And, unlike official aid, remittances tend not to get siphoned off by foreign consultants, administration overhead and elites in Bamako; they go straight to urgent household expenses and sometimes to community-level projects (schools, clinics, mosques etc.).

So you can see why Malians would be concerned about rising anti-immigrant sentiment in host countries. Civil society groups like the Association Malienne des Expulsées have been sounding the alarm for years, and the fact that Mali could wind up on a list of “excluded countries” under a Trump administration is surely not lost on them.

The study of African migration flows and the barriers they’ve faced offers lessons that we in the West might ponder as we consider how to respond to the perceived “threat” of migrant influxes in our own countries.

  1. Expelling foreigners doesn’t solve the problem. Migrants might make a convenient scapegoat for politicians during periods of economic distress, but they are almost never the cause of that distress. Foreign labor usually occupies particular niches of the host economy and cannot easily be replaced after the foreigners leave. Congo’s attempt to promote local entrepreneurs by driving out West African shopkeepers in 1978 flopped after only a few months, leaving prices high and shops bare until the West Africans started trickling back in. Labor migration is a response to structural forces (see Ruth Gomberg-Munoz’s ethnography Labor and Legality on the forces underlying Mexican labor migration to the US), and anti-immigrant crackdowns do nothing to address these forces.
  2. Mass deportation has terrible optics. As the French government discovered two decades ago, rounding up immigrants en masse tends to generate public opposition because it just looks heartless. As more and more people get caught up in the dragnet, spouses are separated and parents cut off from children. Citizens who think of themselves as humane cannot always reconcile their positive self-image with brutal measures carried out by their governments. I don’t know if Americans are ready to see ICE squads battering down their neighborhood church doors to expel the migrants sheltering inside. When we consider that the US is home to an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, it’s hard even to imagine the extr9780520282520eme measures necessary to remove such a population from the country.
  3. Walls don’t work. For years the European Union has spent millions to prevent migrants from crossing into its territory from Africa. Stepped-up maritime enforcement coordinated by Frontex has only forced migrants to take longer, riskier sea routes. Immigration enforcement tends to benefit security contractors and human traffickers by raising the price of passage, but does little to stem the actual flow of migrants, nor does it blunt their determination to migrate. (See Ruben Andersson’s Illegality Inc. on the absurdities inherent in “the business of bordering Europe.”)

From their own experiences or those of their kin abroad, Malians often recognize that discourse casting immigrants as the enemy is purely a political tool–what we might call a form of ethnocentric nationalism. As Yael Tamir writes, “Ethnocentric nationalist language hardens the heart and leads individuals to be impervious to others’ misery, destruction and expulsion, blind to injustice, hatred and death. Ultimately, when national struggles occur, only a few members of each nation participate or support hostile activities, but many more are guilty of crimes of omission.” These words are worth remembering as we think about how to respond to the foreigners in our midst.

 

Postscript,  24 September: On the US case, consider this op-ed from the Washington Post: “Mass deportation isn’t just impractical. It’s very, very dangerous.” This article concludes, “history has shown that crisis rhetoric, coupled with a racially tinged aspiration to mass deportations, has repeatedly led to episodes that harm some severely, perhaps even mortally, and is likely to bring shame on us all.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 13 Comments