Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore on July 16, 2011. He spoke at the conference on preemptive prosecution. (Photo: Andrea Egypt), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Two New Leaders for Mali Amid Threats of ECOWAS Intervention
Military coups in Bamako and Bissau may indicate greater instability
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A new president and prime minister have been sworn-in over the last week in the West African state of Mali. The country was shaken by a military coup on March 21-22, when a group of junior officers took control of the state and pushed aside longtime President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra was named as prime minister to the beleaguered country. In 2006, the United States Microsoft Corp. designated him as “ambassador to Africa.”
The previous week another figure was sworn-in as interim president. Dioncounda Traore, now in temporary control, had served as the speaker of parliament.
Traore has forty days to put together new elections in a country that has been ripped into two pieces with a rebellion among the Tuareg in the north who have declared large sections of Mali independent of the southern region where the capital of Bamako is located.
Despite these two leadership figures, the military remains major players in the present political situation. On April 16 leading figures in the former government of President Toure were arrested by the army.
Taken into custody were former Prime Minister Modibo Sidibe, ex-defense minister Sadio Gassama, chief of staff General Amadou Cissoko and Bani Kante, a businessman with close ties to the ousted President Toure and managed Libyan investments in Mali. Reports indicate that 10 people have been arrested so far and are being held in the barracks just outside of Bamako.
A spokesperson for the former finance minister Soumalia Cisse announced that he had been arrested as well. Cisse was planning to stand for presidential elections in the first round that had been scheduled under the previous government for April 29.
There has been no official comment from the coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo in relationship to the arrests. A statement was issued on state television noting that a number of cases were being passed on to the judiciary for further investigation.
Northern Region Remains Under Tuareg Control
Meanwhile there is no change in the political and security situation in the north of Mali. The Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine, an Islamist organization, has taken control of all the major towns in the region.
Reports indicate in some areas that Ansar Dine is moving to impose sharia law. There are extreme shortages of food that is worsening the already severe deficits which are reflective of the overall crisis throughout the Sahel spanning several states.
The MNLA’s declaration of independence from the rest of Mali in late March, has gained no support within established international and regional organizations. Neighboring states are hostile to both the military coup and the Tuareg bid for secession.
Interim President Traore called for “total war” to recapture the northern region taken over by the Tuareg organizations. Although mediation efforts are underway and Malian troops are gathering in Mopti as a staging area for a potential assault on the Tuareg positions in the north, at present the military appears to be in no shape to launch an offensive.
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, the MNLA and other forces moved at rapid pace to take control of the remaining areas of the north that were under government control. At present as the humanitarian situation worsens there is enormous pressure to break the current impasse militarily and politically.
Even though the interim president and prime minister have assumed their offices, the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State (CNRDR) has not ceded power. In an address over Malian television, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the head of the CNRDR, said of the coup leaders that the regime “is not going anywhere; when a group of soldiers take power, nobody can sideline them, and that’s no joke.”
Sanogo said that he would meet with the 16-state regional body the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after the interim period of 40 days to decide on the way forward. Such statements indicate that the CNRDR is attempting to stake out a position in the future dispensation of the country.
ECOWAS Forces Poised for Intervention
There are reports that ECOWAS has prepared a military force to intervene in Mali to address both the declaration of independence in the north as well as the continuing role of the CNRDR in the south. If there is a movement of troops into Mali the situation could be become extremely volatile and create the conditions for greater involvement by the United States and other imperialist governments.
In an article published by the Informer based in Monrovia, “Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan has disclosed that ECOWAS is contemplating sending to Mali 3,000 strong standby troops to be named ECOWAS Mission in Mali (MICEMA) in order to restore constitutional rule, firm condemnation of the rebellion and the non-recognition of any so-called independent territory in Mali. Another deployment is also being planned for Guinea-Bissau, where electoral violence looms.” (Informer, Liberia, April 16)
On April 14, ECOWAS requested approval from member-states for the deployment of troops in Mali. This will not be the first time that the regional organization has intervened in civil conflicts when during the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s it sent forces to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
At an extraordinary meeting on April 12 in Abidjan, ECOWAS decided “that the regional force will be deployed if dialogue being brokered by the regional mediator, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, should fail. ECOWAS shall take all necessary measures to end the rebellion and maintain the unity and territorial integrity of Mali including the use of force.”
The ECOWAS leaders also demanded that the MNLA and other Tuareg groups withdraw their forces from the occupied territories as a pre-condition for negotiations. The United States, France and the European Union have expressed their willingness to assist the ECOWAS intervention in Mali.
Another Military Coup in Guinea-Bissau
On April 12 the armed forces in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau staged a coup against the government of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, Jr. The military seizure of power came during a period leading up to the national run-off elections for president scheduled for April 29.
This act of military defiance represented the second coup in the region in less than a month.
The coup has been rejected by the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), ECOWAS and the African Union (AU). ECOWAS is planning to intervene in Guinea-Bissau as well and therefore creating the possibility of wider regional conflict.
In a statement issued by the PAIGC on April 14 at the National Headquarters of the party, the organization roundly condemned the coup and demanded the immediate return to civilian rule and the resumption of preparations for the elections. Guinea-Bissau has a history of military interventions in politics that extend back to the pre-independence period when the founder of the PAIGC, Amilcar Cabral, was assassinated in January 1973 by rivals who were working with the Portuguese secret police (PIDE).
In 1980, a military coup took place that overthrow Cabral’s brother, Luis, the first post-independence presient. The leader of the military wing of the PAIGC Joao Bernardo “Nino” Viera took charge of the government. Since 1980 there have been numerous internal conflicts and coups as well as assassinations of political and military leaders.
In relationship to the present crisis, the PAIGC in its statement says “The PAIGC were informed that during the coup d’etat that the houses of the Interim President of the Republic, who also is the 2nd Vice-President of the Party; the President of PAIGC, who also serves as Prime Minister and candidate for President of the Republic, (who won the first round of the presidential elections on 18 March 2012), were vandalized in addition to the houses of other Government members.” (Statement from the National Secretariat of the Central Committee, April 14)
This statement continues by noting that “In addition, the Permanent Committee and the National Secretariat followed closely through the media the proposed meeting between the self-styled military command and some political parties. The PAIGC Party is in power and could not under any circumstances be involved in this meeting, because the PAIGC does not recognize the democratic legitimacy of the structure that convoked the meeting.”
The PAIGC goes on to issue eight points related to the current political situation inside of Guinea-Bissau. It first goes on record to “Denounce and strongly condemn the military coup of the 12 of April and its main authors along with all manipulations underlying its policies and responsibilities before the national and international community.”
In the second point the PAIGC “Demands an immediate return to constitutional order that must respect the Constitution and other laws of the Republic and the restitution of the democratically established bodies.” The Party then goes on to demand the release of the Prime Minister and Interim President being held by the military.
In conclusion the PAIGC statement says that the Party is “Enjoying the solidarity shown by the international community to the Guinean People at this difficult time in our life, and seeking greater involvement and monitoring of socio-political and military developments in Guinea-Bissau.”
In regard to the regional and continental response to the coup in Guinea-Bissau, the ECOWAS regional council of ministers stated on April 14 that they would dispatch a military contingent to the country to replace an Angolan force that had left due to the hostility expressed by the coup leaders in Bissau. The coup leaders in Guinea-Bissau utilized the presence of Angolan military units to justify the usurpation of power against the government.
Also ECOWAS stated that “The council further agreed on the dispatch of a mixed civilian-military delegation to Guinea-Bissau under the auspices of the regional mediator to meet with the key stakeholders within the political class and the military." (AFP, April 14)
The African Union on April 17 suspended Guinea-Bissau and indicated that they may impose sanctions on the coup leaders and their supporters. Ramtane Lamamra, the head of the AU’s Peace and Security Council, confirmed the automatic suspension from the continental organization’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
These sanctions could affect travel and the freezing of assets. The AU statement notes that “the recurrence of illegal and unacceptable interference of the leadership of the Guinea-Bissau army in the political life of the country contributes to the persistence of instability and the culture of impunity, hampers efforts towards the establishment of the rule of law, the promotion of development and the entrenchment of a democratic culture.”
The Military Coup as a Manifestation of the Class Struggle in Africa
Military and police coups have been a recurrent feature in post-colonial Africa. During the first full decade of African independence, the prevalence of military-police coups drew considerable attention from observers both inside and outside the continent.
In recent years beginning in the 1990s and extending into the era surrounding the formation of the African Union in 2002, there has been greater intolerance for this method of the usurpation of power. Yet this does not mean that the coup d’etat is no longer a political factor in Africa.
In Mauritania, Guinea-Conakry, Madagascar, Niger as well as Guinea-Bissau, there have been military seizures of power over the last few years. The response of the African Union to these developments have been swift condemnation and the demand that civilian rule be restored.
Nonetheless, the intensity of the response to individual countries has varied. In Mauritania in 2008, although the coup was condemned there was no military intervention to restore a civilian-dominated state. In Niger the coup of 2010 meet no serious challenge by the AU because it was perceived as a response to the changing of the national constitution allowing the president to seek an additional term.
In Guinea in 2008, the coup came in the aftermath of much social and labor unrest. The leader of the coup later fell victim to a military ouster himself and agreed to accept exile in lieu of an internationally-supervised election.
Madagascar’s violent change of power in 2010 prompted the political intervention of AU mediators but the situation has not been adequately resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved. The situations that occurred in Libya and Ivory Coast during 2011 were clearly instigated by imperialism and their agents.
In Libya, the National Transitional Council (NTC) was put in power by the U.S. and NATO in 2011. In Ivory Coast, that same year, the French and the U.S. backed Alassane Ouattara against Laurent Gbagbo who had dared to challenge the imperialists over the handling of a dispute involving the national elections.
The AU in relationship to Libya opposed the imperialist war but appeared to have recognized its outcome with the installation of the puppet regime in Tripoli. In Ivory Coast, Ouattara is recognized as legitimate by both ECOWAS and the AU and is heavily involved in seeking to purportedly find a solution in the crisis in Mali.
Kwame Nkrumah, the former president of Ghana’s First Republic and a leading theoretician of the African Revolution, wrote on the class character of the military in the post-colonial period as well as the role of the military and police in relationship to the continuing dominance of imperialism in Africa even after national independence. Nkrumah insisted that the military and police must be under the political control of the ruling party within the post-independence state.
He wrote in 1970 that “The rank and file of the army and police are from the peasantry. A large number are illiterate. They have been taught to obey orders without question, and have become tools of bourgeois capitalist interests.” (Class Struggle in Africa, pp. 42-43, 1970)
He goes on to point out that “They are alienated from the peasant-worker struggle to which through their class origins they really belong. While to obey orders without question is a fundamental requirement of the ordinary soldier in most professional armies, it becomes extremely dangerous when those in a position to give orders serve the interests of only a small, privileged section of society.” (p. 43)
In regard to the military involvement in politics in Africa, Nkrumah stresses that “When the army intervenes in politics it does so as part of the class forces in society. Coups d’etat are expressions of the class struggle and the struggle between imperialism and socialist revolution. The army, after it has seized power, gives its weight to one or the other side. In this respect, the army is not merely an instrument in the struggle, but becomes itself part of the class struggle, thus tearing down the artificial wall separating it from the socio-economic and political transformations in society. The theory of the ‘neutrality’ of the armed forces, consistently propagated by the exploiting classes, is thereby proved to be false.” (pp. 43-44)
According to Nkrumah, the only solution to the phenomena of the military and police coup in post-colonial Africa is socialist revolution. He says that “The rash of military coups in Africa reveals the lack of socialist revolutionary organization, the need for the founding of an all-African vanguard working class party, and for the creation of an all-African people’s army and militia. Socialist revolutionary struggle, whether in the form of political, economic or military action, can only be ultimately effective if it is organized, and if it has its roots in the class struggle of workers and peasants.” (p. 54)
The Role of Imperialism in the Current Crisis in Africa
The territorial boundaries that exist today in post-colonial Africa derive from the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. It is also true that the military and security structures that exist are a manifestation of the old order of western dominance and must be effectively uprooted in order to bring genuine social stability and development on the continent.
This is why the current conflict in Mali and Guinea-Bissau are dangerous because they provide opportunities and political rationales for imperialist intervention in Africa. None of the states within ECOWAS possess the economic capacity to act on their own in resolving the internal crises in these countries. Therefore, any military intervention on a regional basis must be monitored closely for evidence of U.S.-NATO involvement which must be opposed and denounced by anti-imperialist forces in Africa and throughout the world.
Western military intervention in Africa and other parts of the world has proven disastrous. The most recent examples of Ivory Coast, Libya and Somalia, indicate that the social and political situations will worsen and the masses of workers, farmers and youth will suffer immensely.
Therefore the struggle for African unity and socialism must take priority over the settling of episodic conflicts that largely emanate from the continuing dependency of Africa on the capitalist mode of production and social relations. In the long run only the breaking with imperialism and the establishment of a united Africa can bring peace and security to the continent.