Quiet, too quiet

Here in Bamako we are very thankful for slow news weeks. When seven more days go by without another attempted coup, counter-coup, violent demonstration or physical assault on the head of state, that is just fine by us.

The quiet will almost certainly not last, however. Already there are rumblings. From abroad, a special meeting of representatives of ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations in Abidjan has demanded the immediate dissolution of Mali’s CNRDRE military junta, and is discussing an international military intervention under the auspices of the UN and African Union.

And there are rumblings here in Mali, where unnamed military sources cited by the Xinhua News Agency have spoken of an imminent offensive to re-take the north of the country, starting with the town of Douentza, on the southern border of rebel-held territory, “within the week.” (I’m no expert, but signaling one’s operational intentions in such detail doesn’t seem like a great idea, militarily speaking. On the other hand, what if it’s all part of a disinformation campaign to throw the rebels off balance? Or maybe that’s only what the army wants them to think….)

We’ve heard little, thankfully, from the pro-putsch political organizations (COPAM, MP22) lately. In the wake of the May 21 attack on Mali’s transitional head of state Dioncounda Traoré, which has spurred a criminal investigation of some of these groups’ leaders, they seem to be keeping a low profile. And we’ve heard no further talk of installing a “parallel government” led by CNRDRE leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, as some pro-junta groups sought to do a couple of weeks ago.

Despite calls for Captain Sanogo to quit the political scene, and despite his having signed an agreement last month to do just that, many in Bamako still suspect him of seeking to maintain his influence and power. In the last week he has been seen around town in a large motorcade with an imposing security detail. For some observers, this sends the wrong message. “As long as [Captain Sanogo] continues to parade around with an entourage appropriate only for a sitting President of the Republic, international donors will hold back from doing anything,” wrote a journalist in L’Aurore today.

Sanogo has recently paid visits to various military headquarters in Bamako and Kati. He may be trying to head off discontent among the troops by assuring them that the government will deliver on the better living conditions and pay they were promised in the early days of the coup. Again, his undertaking this mission suggests to some that the captain is still the man in charge. For one local journalist, Sanogo is “visibly pulling the strings of the Malian army.”

Over the past week Sanogo has emerged from the silence he’d kept since signing the accord with ECOWAS on May 20. In an interview with a Financial Times correspondent, he said he is done with politics, then went on to criticize Dioncounda Traoré: “This person, nobody likes him. For 20 years he was in parliament, a minister. And now we want him back?” (The captain made similar statements in a recent interview with Jeune Afrique.) No wonder people have their doubts about Sanogo’s intentions.

It doesn’t help that Mali’s civilian authorities have yet to emerge fully from the junta’s shadow. Former foreign minister and PARENA party boss Tiébilé Dramé told the same Financial Times correspondent, “The army is still in control of everything and constitutional institutions have little authority…. The state is upside down.”

Will the army definitively return to barracks and give the government of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra free reign to run the country? Can it mount a credible challenge to the rebels controlling the north — who’ve been having their own problems lately? When will Dioncounda Traoré return from Paris where he’s been recuperating for over two weeks?

Too many questions. Not enough answers.

Update, 22:00 GMT: Here’s one positive sign in Malian civil-military relations — the military has taken down its roadblocks outside the ORTM broadcasting studios. As of today, I can confirm that for the first time in over a month, the street between the ORTM and Hotel de l’Amitié is open in both directions.

And I highly recommend this excellent article by the Financial Times‘ Xan Rice about the C.A.V. billboards that have been appearing throughout Bamako for the past 7 weeks.

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5 Responses to Quiet, too quiet

  1. scott says:

    Hey Bruce,
    Thanks for the update! You mention rumblings that the MAF are preparing for a possible offensive (which I continue to be skeptical about). How popular within Bamako is such an idea? Are the Bamakois keen to see offensives begin in the north? Or is there a greater fear that this will simply stir the bee’s nest and bring the ire of AQ and their ilk into the south!
    Cheers from Ottawa!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I think a lot of Bamakois would support an offensive now: they felt humiliated by the rebels’ advance and are impatient for a riposte. But a good many people I speak with are also skeptical that the army has the means to mount a successful drive into the north. I don’t know about a fear of “stirring the bee’s nest,” I haven’t heard anything along those lines yet.

  2. Mariam says:

    Quiet indeed but very tense underneath ! I feel that the situation is still very unclear. On top of the questions without answers there are lots of contradictions : Ecowas and the AU want the UN to intervene but Mali has yet to express the ”need”. The Minister of comm feels that the transitional institutions are ”secured” by the national army. Whatever happened to Dioncounda then ? After an agreement being signed by Ecowas, they now reject the status of Super Captain ex head of State. The national assembly will stay until the end of the transition but the government want special powers to vote certain laws without consulting the institution. Everyone knows who’s behind the president’s aggression, but no one’s been formally accused yet. Where are we going ???

  3. Kalao says:

    These rumblings were announced by the malian newspaper l’Indépendant and can also be read on the website of Malijet. Stangely, they do not appear on the site of Xinhua itself: http://search.news.cn/language/search.jspa?id=en&t=1&t1=0&ss=&ct=&n1=Mali&x=24&y=12

  4. makje01 says:

    Bruce, your writing is like true art. I am searching for words to express how grateful I am for your blogs and also how much your writing is appreciated by many people who are concerned with Mali. Therefore : Thank you Bruce,!! (including all the words I am searching for to express my gratitude) Marlinde

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