Democracy in Africa - Mercedes-Benz Forum

LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-04-2006, 04:10 PM Thread Starter
BenzWorld Elite
Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 95 E300
Location: Inside my head
Posts: 36,850
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 392 Post(s)
(Thread Starter)
Democracy in Africa

Miracle in Mali
by Robert Pringle

As journalist Robert Kaplan flew into Bamako, Mali, in 1993, he saw tin roofs appear through thick dust blowing off the presumably advancing desert. He used this image of a “dying region” to conclude his Atlantic Monthly article “The Coming Anarchy,” in which he drew a connection between environmental degradation and growing disorder in the Third World, a hypothesis that certainly seemed to fit not only Mali but most of West Africa. When the article was published in February 1994, it made a considerable splash in Washington policy circles.

But even as Kaplan predicted doom, the situation on the ground in Mali did not quite fit his thesis. Yes, life was hard in this impoverished West African nation of 12 million people, and remains so. The 2005 United Nations Human Development Index, based on a combination of economic, demographic, and educational data, lists Mali as fourth from the bottom among 177 countries. Only Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone rank lower. But despite persistent poverty and ongoing turmoil in neighboring states, in a single decade Mali has launched one of the most successful democracies in Africa. Its political record includes three democratic elections and two peaceful transitions of power, a transformation that seems nothing short of amazing.

When I served in Mali as American ambassador, from 1987 to 1990, I had never spent time in a country with such an apparent absence of political life of any kind. The military ruler, Moussa Traoré, presided over a typical single-party African dictatorship. In the early years after he took over in 1968, he survived several coup attempts, but by the time I arrived everyone seemed to have given up and gone to sleep. The government controlled all print and radio news, and, at first, there was no sign of dissident activity.

Mali, along with the rest of the region, had been wracked by drought in the late 1970s and again in the mid-1980s, and the government was making a serious effort to improve an economy dominated by peasant agriculture. Although the United States’ significant interests in this poor, landlocked country were solely humanitarian, American economic aid to Mali almost tripled during my tour as ambassador. But I never imagined that tradition-bound, predominately Muslim Mali might soon become something of a poster child for African democracy.

There was a clue to what was coming, if I’d recognized it. On my daily commute to the embassy through the potholed streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, my driver would listen to the seemingly endless half-song, half-chant recitals that were standard fare on the only radio station. He told me that the singers were griots, the hereditary musician-historian-entertainers of West Africa, singing about Mali’s ancient history. He was a griot himself, and could explain some of the songs, often about the epic of Sunjata, the outcast-turned-hero who became the first emperor of old Mali in the 13th century. I recall wondering how people facing such a daunting present could be so preoccupied by stories from a distant past. I certainly did not envision how they might put their history to creative political use.

By the time my ambassadorial tour ended in 1990, Mali was on the cusp of momentous change. People were weary of the old dictatorship, which like many in Africa was vaguely Marxist-Leninist in organization; further, the demise of communism in the Soviet Union had destroyed whatever legitimacy such regimes still had. In March 1991, Mali’s military dictator made the fatal mistake of ordering his troops to fire on students protesting in the capital, and several hundred were killed. In the wave of shocked public reaction that followed, a key military commander, Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré, joined the pro-democracy forces, and the dictatorship collapsed. Touré, better known as “ATT,” promised to hand over power to an elected government. Like Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who took up arms and then returned to his fields, Touré kept his word, surprising many of his fellow Malians.

Mali’s new leaders immediately convened a national assembly, a kind of constitutional convention with representatives from all social classes. The government that emerged was influenced by the example of France, Mali’s former colonial master. It included a specifically secular constitution, a strong executive, and a weak legislature. But most remarkable, and radically different from the French model, was a wholly Malian emphasis on decentralized administration that gave real authority to previously voiceless local governments. From the beginning, Mali’s founding fathers claimed that decentralization was a return to traditional practice. The term for it in Bambara, the principal local language, is mara segi so, which means “bringing power home.”

Mali’s electoral track record since 1991 has been just messy enough to suggest that the country’s democracy is genuine, not the creation of one strong, quasi-permanent leader in the background, as is the case in a number of other African states. The new constitution established a five-year presidency with a limit of two terms. Alpha Konaré, a journalist who had led the pro-democracy movement, won the first election in 1992. It was generally free and fair. Konaré and his ADEMA party also won in 1997, but this second election was a procedural shambles because of an inadequate electoral commission, and the opposition boycotted it. The electoral commission was expanded and repaired, and the third national election, in 2002, went much more smoothly.

After his second term, Konaré—who reputedly once said that what Africa needs is more living ex-presidents—gracefully accepted retirement. Malian law wisely provides a comfortable personal residence for term-limited ex-chiefs of state, on the theory that it will help to discourage post-retirement coup plotting. But Konaré didn’t need it: He is now chairman of Africa’s top regional organization, the African Union. With Konaré out of the picture, ATT, Mali’s erstwhile Cincinnatus, retired from the army, ran for election in 2002, and won handily. Meanwhile, the former dictator, Traoré, had been tried and sentenced to death for political and economic crimes. But Konaré pardoned him, and he is now living comfortably in Bamako with his once-controversial wife, whose extended family had been the economic power behind his regime.

During its first decade, Mali’s democratic government settled a serious rebellion in the Saharan north, halted endemic student unrest, and established comprehensive political and religious freedom. These accomplishments were all the more remarkable given the chain-reaction conflicts that had spread across the region to Mali’s south, from Liberia to Sierra Leone and most recently to Ivory Coast, once a model of developmental progress.

Was Mali’s record simply the result of fortuitous good leadership, or was something more fundamental at work? To find out, I returned in 2004 and traveled throughout the country conducting interviews. When I asked Malians to explain their aptitude for democracy, their answers boiled down to “It’s the history, stupid,” of course expressed more politely.

(much) more
Botnst is offline  
Sponsored Links
post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-04-2006, 04:25 PM
BenzWorld Elite
MBZER's Avatar
Date registered: Nov 2005
Vehicle: 560/sel/sec/Jag XJS
Location: San Francisco
Posts: 1,930
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
C&P whore. ALERT !!!!!!
MBZER is offline  
post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-04-2006, 05:28 PM
worst mod in BW history
ThrillKill's Avatar
Date registered: Apr 2005
Vehicle: ML CLK Iridescent Hyundai Accent lol,GoPed Freightshaker & Volvo semi's, c'mawn?
Location: Chicago
Posts: 27,762
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 3 Post(s)
Lifetime Premium Member
Well written essay, he deserved to have a potato chip named after him.
Like the weather in Chicago, if you don't like the government in Africa, wait a minute.

ThrillKill is offline  
post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-04-2006, 07:48 PM
BenzWorld Elite
mcbear's Avatar
Date registered: Apr 2004
Vehicle: E500Es
Location: The BlueGrass State
Posts: 29,579
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 2 Post(s)
I thought some small country in Africa had pissed us off and we were going to take Democracy to it. My bad.


Being smart is knowing the difference, in a sticky situation between a well delivered anecdote and a well delivered antidote - bear.
mcbear is offline  
post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 08-04-2006, 07:58 PM Thread Starter
BenzWorld Elite
Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 95 E300
Location: Inside my head
Posts: 36,850
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 392 Post(s)
(Thread Starter)
Originally Posted by mcbear
I thought some small country in Africa had pissed us off and we were going to take Democracy to it. My bad.

The article is about the way a country with a long tribal history has adapted a communal philosophy to the demands of a pluralistic state. The whole article really opened my mind to the rich possibilities available to innovative people of good will. It is of no mean significance that Mali is predominantly Muslim.

In the interest of full disclosure, my Mother's first cousin and his wife lived in Mauritania and Mali for 40 years as medical missionaries for the Presbyterian Church (a Christian sect). I have seen hundreds of pix of the peoples of the region and was impressed with the cheerful and pleasant demeanor of the people they photographed. Oh yeah, my relatives are leftists beyond probably anybody on BW.

Botnst is offline  
Sponsored Links

  Mercedes-Benz Forum > General Mercedes-Benz Forums > Off-Topic

Quick Reply

Register Now

In order to be able to post messages on the Mercedes-Benz Forum forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.

User Name:
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.


Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.

Email Address:


  • Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
    Thread Tools
    Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
    Email this Page Email this Page
    Display Modes
    Linear Mode Linear Mode

    Similar Threads
    Topic Author Forum Replies Last Post
    Is democracy possible for everybody? Botnst Off-Topic 43 07-20-2012 03:42 PM
    Funding Democracy GMISBEST. Off-Topic 0 01-29-2006 08:28 AM
    Democracy the US Way Shabah Off-Topic 13 12-18-2005 09:53 AM
    Is this democracy? Shabah Off-Topic 0 11-16-2005 07:05 AM
    how to grow democracy Botnst Off-Topic 20 09-19-2005 06:08 AM

    Posting Rules  
    You may post new threads
    You may post replies
    You may not post attachments
    You may not edit your posts

    BB code is On
    Smilies are On
    [IMG] code is On
    HTML code is Off
    Trackbacks are On
    Pingbacks are On
    Refbacks are On


    Title goes here

    video goes here
    description goes here. Read Full Story
    For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome