Sunday, March 25, 2012

Amadou Toumani Toure in Modern Mali Politics

He was once the “soldier of democracy”, an anti-thesis of the typical African military man. He ushered democracy to Mali and later returned to lead it. He was immensely popular then, although the latter years of presidency was marred with trouble. Just a month before he was to step down, he was deposed in a military coup, although the future of the military rule of Amadou Sanogo remains uncertain.

At the confluence of the rivers Niger and Bani in central Mali lies Mopti, a city inhabited by around 115,000 people, sometimes called the “Venice of Mali”. This name is used as Mopti is a city formed of three islands connected by dykes. It was here that Amadou Toumani Toure was born in November 1948.

At the time, Mali was called French Sudan. In June 1960, the short lived Mali Federation emerged as an independent state, with Senegal and the Sudanese Republic (former French Sudan) as constituent parts. The Federation was to disintegrate in September and the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. The president of the ill fated Federation, Modibo Keita, now became the president of Mali.

Amadou Toure joined the Army of Mali not long after Moussa Traore had deposed Keita in a coup in November 1968. He rose in ranks as a member of the Parachute Corps, and received training in France and the USSR.

Generally, the people of Mali are known to be patient. However, a people with even high level of tolerance have a limit of patience and that limit with respect to the Traore regime had crossed the line by 1991. In March, a huge protest was crushed by the military, which was also becoming disillusioned with Traore who was ordering the soldiers to shoot their own people. A military coup followed which deposed Traore on March 26. Amadou Toumani Toure led the coup.

Amadou Toure was however, not the typical soldier who leads a coup. He re-established the democratic process which will survive for two decades. Just fifteen months after the coup, he stepped aside for the president elect, Alpha Konare to take office. For this role of Toure, he was referred to as the “soldier of democracy”. Alpha Konare was re-elected in 1997, and served both five year terms allowed constitutionally.

Amadou Toure retired from the military in 2001 and announced his intention of running for presidency in 2002. Some of his admirers criticized him for entering politics, but he remained as an independent. He won the presidency in a landslide. Five years later, he returned with even a larger majority at the presidential elections of 2007.

Amadou Toumani Toure was criticized for some extravagant spending and recently, for the handling of the most recent Tuareg rebellion. But he was scheduled to step down after the elections in April 2012, and had no intention of unconstitutionally keeping the presidency. Just a month before the elections were held, he was deposed by a military coup. His whereabouts are unknown but he has been declared to be safe, protected by his loyalists.

While there is some truth in Toure’s inefficiency in handling the Tuareg rebellion, there was no need for such drastic measures such as a military coup to remove him at this juncture. It has only made the situation highly volatile as the new regime is finding hard to control the situation. They are also challenged by rumors of a counter-coup and imminent international isolation. The African Union has suspended Mali, and Canada has suspended aid. Further measures to isolate the new Bamako regime are likely to be taken.

It is an irony that Amadou Toumani Toure, who ushered in democracy to Mali, has been undemocratically deposed in a military coup. But, the story is far from over and the people of Mali are waiting anxiously, uncertain of the outcome of the power struggle.

Image: Amadou Toumani Toure, president of Mali, visiting the Mali Village crafts and culture exhibit during the 37th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, June 2003. By Barry Fitzgerald, US Department of State. (From Wikimedia Commons)

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