The shamed and the shameless

After Monday’s chaotic events, God sent the rains Tuesday morning to cool Bamakois’ heads and calm their spirits. It started around 4 a.m. just as the first calls to fajiri prayer were ringing out across the city, and built quickly to a heavy downpour punctuated by lightning and booms. After an hour or two it gradually tapered into a steady drizzle that lasted for four hours, until the morning commute was over. God kept sending down rolls of thunder every few minutes just to remind us He was serious.

Bamako remained calm throughout the day on Tuesday, and people heeded the prime minister’s admonitions from the night before not to demonstrate or march. There were no roadblocks or protests in town. Shops and banks were open, and traffic was more or less normal. Bamakois went about their business.

Their main topic of conversation, of course, was the beating of President Dioncounda TraorĂ© on Monday afternoon. I don’t know anyone who actually likes or would vote for Dioncounda. But I didn’t speak to anyone yesterday who wasn’t upset about what happened to him. In fact everybody was downright ashamed. Ashamed that an old man would get knocked out by young hooligans in his own office. Ashamed that unscrupulous politicians have fanned the flames of Bamako’s already heated political discourse to the point where something like this could happen. Ashamed that Mali, which used to be an example in the region — of stability and calm, at least, if not meaningful democracy — has now become just another dysfunctional African country, the sort you keep hearing about in the international news media for all the wrong reasons.

Starting late on Monday, condemnations of the beating came fast and furious from Mali’s political class. I didn’t hear anyone defend it, although notorious firebrand Oumar Mariko, whose Kayira radio network had been urging listeners to mobilize against Dioncounda and a nefarious ECOWAS plot to take away Mali’s sovereignty, told the BBC French service the whole thing was the fault of ECOWAS for putting Mali into this situation by “imposing” Dioncounda as president.

Mariko and his political allies in COPAM (the Coordination des Organisations Patriotiques du Mali) went ahead with their “sovereign national conference” yesterday, refusing to recognize Dioncounda as president and concluding the two-day session by naming junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo as Mali’s new president. This act, coming on the heels of a long-awaited agreement getting Sanogo out of politics, speaks to the shamelessness of COPAM’s leaders and the stubborn ignorance of its members. And it further strengthens an old maxim of mine: beware of any organization that has the word “patriot” or “patriotic” in its name. How on earth can COPAM claim to speak on behalf of all the Malian people — to declare its meeting “sovereign”? I’ve never met any of its members (though a few of the more intellectual among them are active on the Malilink e-mail forum), and don’t know anyone who supports its radical agenda. Then again, I tend not to hang out with hot-headed young men….

The hope among Bamakois now is that their current shame will cause them to reflect on their situation and to pull back from the abyss. If this dynamic gathers strength, it can marginalize the radical voices and help build some kind of consensus at the center. Wednesday is shaping up to be another hot day, but perhaps cool heads will prevail.

Update, 1900 GMT: The day was calm, but a COPAM rally at Modibo Keita Stadium — in which, it was rumored, the coalition was going to “swear in” head putschist Amadou Sanogo as Mali’s new president — was reportedly dispersed by security forces not long ago.

The BBC now reports that Dioncounda has flown to Paris for medical tests.

Thursday, 1300 GMT: In fact yesterday’s rally at the stadium was never “dispersed,” but it appears that attendance fell far short of the organizers’ expectations. ORTM news broadcast footage from the rally Wednesday evening, showing probably fewer than 1000 people clustered in the middle of the stadium’s western stands, surrounded by empty seats. It seems there was some disagreement between COPAM and Oumar Mariko’s MP22 movement as to whether the meeting should be called off. In any event, the most important invitee, Captain Sanogo, was a definite no-show. Which didn’t prevent those present from swearing him in anyway.

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4 Responses to The shamed and the shameless

  1. Holly L. says:

    You mentioned that you talked to many people in Bamako who were ashamed about the attack. Were these people “normal” Malians, as in not members of the political class? It would make sense that the political class would be condemning the attacks, I imagine they wouldn’t want to suffer the same fate. Do you get the feeling that this huge protest and subsequent attack was spawned from manipulation of the masses by the pro-junta radio networks or is it coming from a deeper level? Thanks for your insights, we look forward to each of your blog installments!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I generally don’t consort with members of the political class. Ordinary Bamakois are the people I know best (with the added proviso that I don’t hang out with hot-headed young men). I do think Radio Kayira has had a role in fanning the flames these last couple of months, against Dioncounda and ECOWAS and the “political class” too.

  2. Charis says:

    I think that Oumar Mariko and his allies at COPAM should be picked up by state security. These are the ones who really are a threat to the security of the country. I am sad for Mali. Monday’s event was a step backward. When in 1979, Rawlings’s cohorts carried out public floggings of women and elderly, something in the social fabric of Ghana was torn. Mali just took a step in that direction. As someone said on Maliweb, the action as similar to burning the national flag.

    God help Mali.

  3. Mariam says:

    I want to add to this that COPAM does not represent the views of most Malians. Despite the appearances, most Malians are for peace and would be willing to accept a compromise even though they disagree with ECOWAS choices. As Bruce says, I have yet to see one person in favor of Dioncounda – myself included – however, for the sake of getting peace and some sort of normality back in the country, most people are willing to accept him for the transition. We, Malian tax payers, will be the ones paying for Sanogo’s retirement, no ones asked for our opinion, but once again, whatever it takes for peace. There is, as a lot of people put it, a ”silent majority” in this country who is not represented by any movement or political party.

    What I fear now is the ambiguous position of the army. It is obvious from yesterday’s events that they didn’t do anything to protect their president. I was shocked by the PM’s weak declaration following the events on Monday. COPAM leader should have been arrested by now. He mentioned black on white a few weeks ago that Dioncounda would be taken out by any means necessary after 40 days. At this time we need active and dedicated security forces, but who will they respond to ? Who’s in charge today ?

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