More serious worries

So far, neither ECOWAS has come up with an adequate response to the crisis in Mali, nor has the international community in general.

By Olayinka Oyegbile

To many people, the coup that swept away the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré in Mali a few weeks before the constitutional end of his tenure was unexpected. To keen observers, how­ever, the rise of the hitherto little known Captain Amadou Sanogo was no surprise.

Before the overthrow of Touré, there was serious disquiet in the military and the country in general. The reasons were the activities of the Tuareg rebels and the widespread drought. Many people in Mali felt their government was neither doing enough to rein in the rebels nor to contain the impacts of the drought.

Many issues led to the ouster of Touré. One of the most important was the feeling that his government was not doing enough to help the army curb the uprising. Various rebel groups even seemed to be better equipped than the national army and tended to gain the upper hand. More­over, they enjoyed support form well-armed and well-trained former mercen­aries of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator.

Many believe that Gaddafi’s fall hastened the fall of Touré in another way too. Libya’s autocratic ruler was a strong ally and supporter of Touré, and he was known to use his country’s oil wealth to fund various African governments and rebel movements. In some quarters, it is believed that Touré would not have been overthrown if Gaddafi was still in power.

The military junta, however, has not achieved much except driving Touré from power. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional body, frowned upon this coup because it was a blow to Africa’s transition to democratic rule. ECOWAS announced it would not tolerate the interruption and ordered the junta to step down. Formally, power was handed over to Dioncounda Traoré, the speaker of Mali’s parliament. He is now the interim president.

ECOWAS has a history of trying to quell coups in its subregion and it did intervene in Sierra Leone’s civil war. However, its power and role has been mostly advisory since. Its approach to Mali, so far, is inconclusive.

For instance, ECOWAS decided to send about 3,000 troops to Mali to ensure the transition of power to the civilian interim government. However, it did not set a date for the deployment of troops. In Mali at the moment, the interim president is officially in power, but in truth, the country’s south is in the hands of the military junta and the north is controlled by Islamist an Tuareg rebels.

Shortly before D+C/E+Z went to press, the interim president was wounded in an attack on his office. He was beaten unconscious and had to be rushed to the hospital. This was an embarrassment to the government and an affront on ECOWAS.

Sunny Ugoh, an ECOWAS spokesman, recently told journalists: “We’re rather shocked that this kind of incident would happen barely 24 hours after a delegation from ECOWAS managed to secure an agreement with the military.” According to him, regional governments are discussing how to respond and sanctions are being considered.

The idea of slamming sanctions on Mali is not new. ECOWAS has a habit of debating sanctions when a member country violates the regional organisation’s code of conduct. Such debate tends to be divisive, however, because some of the member countries are led by people who came to power in coups. Two of them are Yahaya Jammeh of Gambia and Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso.

To make Sanogo quit power, ECOWAS accepted his demand to retain the title of former head of state and enjoy all related privileges even though he rose to power by unconstitutional means and only led the country formally for three weeks. While it may make sense to facilitate the exit of an undesired leader, it does seem absurd to reward an army officer in this way for toppling an elected government.

No doubt, Africa needs democracy to thrive. ECOWAS must rise to its regional responsibility. Doing so is challenging at best times. In Mali today, however, the times are much worse than in past years. Apart from the military coup, the country has two more serious worries: the insurgents and the drought. So far, ECOWAS has not come up with an adequate response – nor has the international community in general.

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