How the Arab Spring led to a coup d’etat in Mali

Saturday March 24 2012



So there has been a coup d’état in Mali. In Mali, of all places. Which has been, until recently, one of the more democratic, sensible and stable of West African countries.

Our Minister for Foreign Affairs Moses Wetangula was caught up in it, having (ironically) been attending a meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at the time.

And the question is now, of course, just what the AU will do to handle the situation.

Part of the problem in handling the situation is that popular opinion in Mali is, reportedly, not entirely unsympathetic to the part of the army that’s taken over.

Malians have been upset for quite a while with what they see as the state’s ineffective handling of the conflict in the north.

There have been too many deaths of both soldiers and civilians. Too many villages and towns have fallen into the hands of the insurrection — reportedly a combination of Tuareg secessionists and deserters from Libya.


More broadly, the coup d’état should make us think about another set of questions.

It is now over one year past the much-vaunted “Arab Spring.” But what really has been the result?

Electoral processes in Tunisia and Egypt have shown the strength of Islamist parties — pushing to the side not only older and more secular opposition political parties (supporting both more left and more pro-women’s rights policies).

But also, more importantly, pushing to the side the youth — who were at the heart of the Arab Spring.

Their motivations — more freedom, more employment, more opportunities to earn livelihoods — do not seem to have translated into post-Arab Spring political agendas.

In Egypt, they are back on the streets. And Libya is being torn down the middle — with demands for secession being met with proposals for decentralisation.

The joke has become a cliché: the Arab Spring has become the Arab Winter.

Meanwhile, arms and deserters have flowed across the Sahara into Mali. With the consequences coming to a head with this coup d’état.

But they’ve also moved into northern Nigeria, where we saw towards the end of last year, the sudden scaling up of Boko Haram’s activities and, like the Tuareg secessionists, the explicit linking of their activities with those of Al-Qaeda.

There is no serious prospect of a military takeover in Nigeria — I think Nigerians have long ago exhausted themselves on that front.

But the instability across the Sahel is putting pressure on all Sahelian states, as well as all the sub-regional and regional mechanisms intended to handle conflict.

What can most of us do beyond starting where we’re at — but trying to situate where we’re at in the bigger picture?

On the roots: What does youth unemployment mean to us? Where is it driving young Kenyans politically?

Towards ethnic and religious militia that appear to hold out the promises both tangible and intangible?

Or towards forms of organisation that speak to addressing their disenfranchisement through the accepted political process?

What will those militia and other forms of organisation be doing as we move into our own electoral process?

What will our amoral political parties and politicians be trying to do with them? What will the state be doing to them?

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France.