Jean-Jacques Cornish

Which historical model will the Mali coup follow?

Mali, where President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been unseated in an apparent military coup, has always been a country posing more questions than offering solutions.

This dates backs to precolonial times when it was part of the Malian, Ghanaian  and Songhai empires of West Africa,

Historically, the landlocked, kidney-shaped country that shades South Africa to form the continent’s eighth largest was a key trading post connecting West Africa with the Maghreb.  Its central city of Timbuktu is still celebrated as  an islamic cultural outpost on the fringe of the Muslim world.

In 1892 it became French Sudan in the scramble for Africa and briefly federated with Senegal before independence in 1960. 

First president Modibo Keita turned his back on France and declared Mali a one-party state. Its political space remained closed after a 1968 military coup and did not open until another military coup led to multi-party elections in 1992 that brought Alpha Oumar Konarè to the helm.

It will be fascinating to see what members of the United Nations Security Council make of the latest development in Bamako when they meet today.

Was yesterday’s arrest and detention of President Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse a military coup or were soldiers merely hoping to bring peace by responding to mounting civilian calls for Keita’s departure?

This will become apparent if and when the soldiers make good their undertaking to hand power to a transitional authority leading to fresh elections.

Ironically, his would entail the former French Sudan following the pattern of the latter-day Sudan after last year’s  military-led ousting of Omar Al Bashir.

The questions persist. Will yesterday’s putsch follow the 1992 military coup in boosting democracy inMali?

Or will it be a replay of the 2012 coup by Tuareg separatists in Northern Mali that led to the Islamist insurgency-still tearing at the country’s entrails?

French help was summoned then to assist and the 2013 operation Serval took three months clear out the insurgents.

France increased its military presence in Mali with Operation Barkhane – named for a desert dune blown into a crescent shape – countering Islamist terror in the Sahel.

The 4500 tricolor troops are backed by 13 300 blue-helmeted members of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali known by its French acronym MINUSMA.

There are also 620 troops of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) and a smaller presence of the European Union Capacity Building mission (EUCB).

Mali’s Sahel neighbors Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania – comprising the so-called G5 – have deployed abut 4000 troops, still shy of the envisaged 5000 pairs of West African boots on the ground.

An unfortunate appellation has been detached to this billion dollar enterprise . It has become known as the deadliest peacekeeping operation on the planet.

This explains the frustration of Malians at their president’s inability to contain the insurgency.

The death toll of well-armed and equipped peacekeepers in Mali is easily eclipsed by the number of civilian victims of the terrorists 

If not restored to power President Keita will have at least have two memorable truisms

The first is:“What choice to I have?” when menaced by soldiers in his resignation broadcast yesterday.

The second is: “Mali is like a dam. If it is broken then Europe and the rest of Africa will be inundated”.

Clearly the EU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) fully appreciate this.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.