- Post 17 February 2013
- Last Updated on 20 February 2013
- By Anthony Okosun
As I write this piece, French forces in concert with West African forces are in hot pursuit of the Islamist extremists in Northern Mali. The world is happy that Northern Mali is now free. The world is happy that Northern Mali has been liberated. Good to know that extremist Islamists are no longer in control of Northern Mali. Timbuktu and other cities in Northern Mali have been liberated from the brutal and violent occupation by extremist Islamist power usurpers. The President of France has since visited the city of Timbuktu amidst great celebration and colorful revelry. Malians and the friends of Mali worldwide are singing and dancing for joy over the liberation of Mali. Then again, one very major truth has been conveniently forgotten. Yes, the truth has been conveniently forgotten, because it is an ugly, sad, unpalatable and an inconvenient truth. That inconvenient truth is that the crisis in Mali is a superstructure that was erected on a foundation of leadership parochialism that punished the good people of Northern Mali and forced the Tamashek speaking Tuaregs of Sahelian Mali to rebel against Bamako. The unfortunate and unwelcome game changer was that extremist Islamists hijacked the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali. Since independence from France, the government of Mali has effectively sequestered Northern Mali and conducted government affairs like Mali starts and ends in and around Bamako. Northern Malian cities i.e. Timbuktu, Gao, Tallit and Aguel’hoc have remained mere abandoned throw backs to the 13th and 14th centuries.
The miasma in Mali is malignant. The miasma has gripped the soul of the Malian nation. Indeed the crisis is cancerous. The soul and heart of the Malian nation have been shaken. The crisis did not just start overnight. The crisis was created when France decided to jam many ethnic Sahel nations, constituting the then French Sudan together with Senegal and label the geo-political contraption the Republic of Sudan. Senegal later broke off, and the remainder geo-polity renamed itself Mali. The Touareg nation that dominates Northern Mali have for centuries enjoyed their freedom as an independent and a sovereign nation roaming freely as nomads in the Sahel. The Touaregs have never accepted their forcible amalgamation with the ethnic nations of Southern Mali. Since the creation of Mali through the forcible fusion of the ethnic nations now known as Mali and Senegal; Southern Mali has never attempted to hide their unflattering perspective of events, that Northern Mali has lost its independence to Southern Mali. The Touaregs in Northern Mali distrust and are extremely suspicious of the political leaders in Southern Mali. Despite the above scenario, successive Malian rulers have never deemed it fit to rule Mali in a way that would allay the fears of the Touaregs in Northern Mali. Successive Malian rulers have conducted the affairs of government like Mali starts from Bamako and ends in Bamako. Northern Malians have always complained of abandonment, infrastructural sequestration and a general dearth of government presence in their part of Mali. The Touregs in Northern Mali still long for the fabled days long gone, when Northern Mali enjoyed an independent existence.
Northern Mali with great fabled cities like Timbuktu and Gao, was the nucleus of three great empires i.e the Ghana empire, the Mali empire, and the Songhai empire. Cities in Northern Mali especially Timbuktu were the centers of learning in the ancient world. Timbuktu was at the center of the great trading route between the West coast, the North and the East coast of Africa, in the ancient world. Timbuktu attracted merchants and scholars from all over the ancient world. One of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Sankore was established in Timbuktu. The University of Sankore was a primus inter pares among its contemporaries i. e. Oxford University and Sorbonne in France. Scholars studied mathematics, astronomy, botany, algebra, literature, alchemy, philosophy, history, geography, medicine, Islamic studies, archiecture etc in Timbuktu. Many Africans that were captured, transported and forced into slavery in North, Central and South America and also in Asia, Arabia and everywhere else in the diaspora were either students, graduates or professors of the University of Sankore in Timbuktu. It is interesting to observe that the Buckingham palace in London and many of the earliest European Universities were architecturally structured to replicate the University of Sankore architecture. Even learning in renaissance Europe among the professions and the earliest universities were structured after the University of Sankore model. Many ancient manuscripts dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries are still available in Timbuktu and other Northern cities in Mali. Evidently, The Touaregs are wondering whatever happened to their civilization. The Touaregs want some space to rebuild their civilization. The Tourages want the republic of Azawad, where they can directly drive the engine of development. Unfortunately, for the Touaregs, extremist Islamists have hijacked and truncated their enterprise.
Recently, the extremist Islamists while escaping from Timbuktu as the French and West African liberating forces were approaching, set fire on an ancient manuscript library in Timbuktu. Northern Mali and in fact the whole of Mali has very little in common with modern cities the world over. The fundamental question is why has the government of Mali been so pedestrian, mediocre and ineffective over the years? Whereas, the Touaregs in Northern Mali have consistently elevated their brinksmanship in their attempt to attract the attention of the government in Bamako to the need for the development of infrastructure in Northern Mali; the truth however is that the whole of Mali has remained one huge ghetto with reminders of Mali’s great and glorious past in its ancient manuscript libraries and ancient mosques.
Many times in the past, deeply concerned indigenes of Northern Mali have attempted to cut Northern Mali free from Southern Mali. These concerned indigenes of Northern Mali call their prospective country, Azawad. Some of the major northern cities, the rebels want to take out of Mali are Timbuktu, Aguel’hoc, Tallit, Gao et al. The Northerners complain of having been subjugated to the domination and oppression of Southern Mali. Northern Malians complain of economic stagnation. They complain of lack of infrastructures, poverty and general backwardness. Northern Malians contend that they feel no sense of belonging in the present Mali. These are no light allegations that can just be waived away with a wave of the hand just like the rulers in Bamako have been doing.
In the first quarter of 2012, there was a coup in Mali. The rebels in Northern Mali, perceived the event as an auspicious time to make the final push to pull the North out of Mali. After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Touareg rebel fighters who had been recruited to fight alongside the Libyan army, on the side of Gaddafi, returned to Northern Mali and introduced fiercer action, more violence and more substratum into the Azawad republic project. Unfortunately for the folks who sincerely believed in the Azawad republic project as the panacea for the social, political and economic problems stagnating Northern Mali; the Touareg rebels who went to Libya to fight as mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi returned to Northern Mali after the fall of Gaddafi with extremist Islamist militants, who were committed to the introduction and enforcement of brutal Sharia law in Northern Mali. Whereas, the ordinary folks in Northern Mali were hitherto practicing a moderate form of Islam; the extremist Islamists subjected the people of Northern Mali to the harshest form of Sharia law. The Islamist extremists hijacked the Touareg rebellion. It would appear that this was where the rebels lost the everyday folks in Northern Mali.
The intervention of France in the miasma in Mali was provoked by the action of the Islamic extremists who were rolling down to Bamako in Southern Mali; on a rampaging mission to conquer the city and assume total control over the entire geographical territory of Mali. France got scared and feared for the lives and welfare of the very many French citizens in Bamako and Southern Mali. Soldiers from ECOWAS countries who were scheduled to be drafted into Mali under a UN mandate sometime in the last quarter of 2013, to help reverse the new political equation occasioned by the coup in Bamako; were hastily flown into Mali, much earlier than originally scheduled, to help halt the further advance of the extremist Islamists and more importantly to help kick the extremist Islamists out of Mali.
The political, economic and social dynamics that predicated the desire of Northern Malian political leaders to have their own country is not unique to Mali. Had the Islamic extremists not hijack the struggle of the Sahelian and Tamashek speaking Touareg Azawadians to get their republic of Azawad; the everyday people of Northern would have very likely joined the struggle to free northern Mali from Bamako. The story of Mali is the story of many African countries. Majority of African politicians are guilty of extremely selfish approach to governance. The average African ruler conducts himself like his country’s commonwealth is his personal estate. It is not uncommon to find huge swaths of the masses in an African country harboring deep bitterness and suppressed frustration over unaddressed injustice, poverty, corruption, oppression, lack of infrastructure and countless other genres of social injustice. Virtually every African country is still as geo-politically structured as the European colonialists structured them. Many ethnic nations who were forced into political unions by the Europeans are still struggling and fighting for improved and re-defined political re-structuring that will give the constituent ethnic nations more comfortable socio-politico and economic existence.
Many African leaders run their countries like the citizens are merely around to serve the leaders. Many leaders in Africa lead like the masses are conquered people. Though many African countries operate the federal system of government; many African leaders lead their countries like they are unitary states. Many African leaders seem to have no idea that government business must be conducted with extreme transparency and in a way and manner that would allay the fears of the various ethnic nations in the polity. Government is about development and the government must be seen to be driving the engine of development northward and at the same time closer to the people. This explains why local governments must be autonomous. Autonomy of local governments helps to bring governments very close to the local people in a geo-polity. The closeness to the people that local governments facilitate helps to introduce stability and peace to the polity.
The federal system of government also helps to give the constituent ethnic nations, the space and freedom to govern their constituent parts of the country. Under a federal system of government, constituent ethnic nations are able to manage and drive the engine of development in their constituent part of the country. In a federal system of government, only affairs that are best conducted by the federal government i.e defense and foreign affairs are left to the federal government. The major problem that encumbers federal states is the fact that the operators run the states like they are unitary states. Some politicians run some federal states with so much mediocrity that the whole purpose of creating a federal state becomes meaningless and or defeated.
Without an electron of doubt, the current crisis in Mali is traceable to government failure. If every ethnic nation in Mali enjoys a sense of dignified belonging and the various ethnic nations could see manifest infrastructural development and tangible prosperity, there would be no rebellion; and the extremist Islamists would have no rebellion to hijack. In effect, France and West African countries and some other members of the international community would not be bothered to rush down to save Mali, Malians and foreigners in Mali, if the government had been functioning properly.
As the world labors to redeem the independence and sovereignty of Mali, it must not be forgotten, that the greatest threat to the very existence of Mali are the ignorant and mediocre operators of the government of Mali. The failure of the state of Mali is predicated on the failure of the government in Bamako. The government of Mali in Bamako has no control over every Malian territory. A country that has no complete or total control over every inch of its territory or total control over every instrumentality of violence in its geo-polity is a failed state. Thus, the failure of the state of and the current crisis in Mali is directly traceable to the failure of government in Mali. Every African government must pay attention to this fact.