North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Back to Africa - the divergent paths of Senegal and Mali

Since this continent is so big and varied, it never hurts to return, sort out where a few countries are, and what's going on. In the past several days, two arid land countries on the western edge of Africa have made the news. Mali endured a coup - so new rulers are in place, brought there by the use of arms; Senegal conducted an election, and lo, the incumbent President lost and acknowledged he did so and is stepping down. Giving up power without resort to violence, calls of voter fraud, etc! Now that is news, and world leaders noticed and applauded.

Senegal and Mali clear over on the Western edge of the African continent. Both are "Francophone" countries in the sense that much of the administrative language is French, and they were at one time French colonies.


Where to start - I know just one city in the country, not its capitol, rather Timbuktu. Anything else? Actually, I remember that during the world cup in South Africa, a Malian referee made a bad call and was dismissed early from further participation. But besides that, the internet search is on again, and from Wikipedia, and from a Mining Investor publication we begin to gather the following:

Mali has a population of 14.5 million. Its capital is Bamako. It's borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara desert, while the country's southern region, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Sénégal rivers. The country's economic structure centers around agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali's natural resources are gold, uranium, livestock, and salt. Yet, about half the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day, while Mali is the third largest gold producer in Africa behind South Africa and West African neighbor, Ghana.

Industrial scale gold mines in Mali - wealth distribution from such resources lies simmering as one reason for unrest among the various ethnic groups in the country.

Mali had its first democratic election in 1992 and has been a relative model of peace and stability since. Current President Amadou Toumani Toure, whose whereabouts are unknown since the coup, had said he would not run in the country's next election, which is slated to take place at the end of April. Officials in France have stated they have at least had a phone conversation with the deposed leader who is in hiding.

Timbuktu, the relatively well known city in the north of the country - a green spot surrounded by desert, vaguely similar to the Tri-cities, Washington.

The striking Jenna mosque in Timbuktu

Why the coup? An uprising in the north of the country is apparently a major factor. As to the uprising, Touaregs launched a rebellion in 2009, and have captured several cities since then. The Tuareg have said in recent days they are close to capturing Kidal, a key town in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation which falls in the zone they call Azawad -- their tribal homeland. They are operating under the banner of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (the MLNA). According to other reports, the rebels receive a steady supply of weapons from fighters in Libya, which has made it difficult for Mali's military to quash the uprising. The basin is thought to contain oil and the Touaregs are seeking sovereignty over the area.

Back to the coup, the International Crisis Group (a respected think tank - said Monday that the anger among the army runs deeper than its losses, both human and military, in the north. "The end of President Toure's term has been marked by an inconsistent security policy in the north. High army commanders have also been regularly accused of nepotism, corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability." In the end, some officers decided they had had enough - they themselves could do better. This was even though President Toure was due to step down after April 29 polls as he has served the constitutional limit of two terms.

The Toureg ethnic group in the north - challenged by the different religious heritage from other groups in the country, and now infected with some Islamist extremism

Traditional economy based on pastoralism and agriculture.

Combining a coup and an uprising does not make for a positive outcome. In addition to the military woes centered in the north, there is a growing humanitarian crisis as the region is facing severe food shortages after a drought. The coup has been called a disaster for both Mali and the surrounding region already battling Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which is involved in trafficking drugs, weapons and Western hostages.

Along the Niger river, the capitol city Bamako is in the background while women do laundry ...

In summary, a coup brings to an end an increasingly corrupt government - democracy must start over (though one suspects it was on increasingly shaky grounds in any event). But the jockeying for control of gold and oil, and a vicious ideology in the form of Al-qaeda-of-the-Magreb, dim the prospects of this nation for the time being.


In contrast to Mali's troubles, a neighbor to the West and bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Senegal, can proudly point to an apparently peaceful transition of power following an election of its own in the past few days.

Senegal has a population of 13 million and its capitol is Dakar - vaguely familiar due to an internationally known car rally held each year through some of these Western African countries.

The Dakar rally landscape

From one newspaper article, "Senegal's president-elect Macky Sall prepared Tuesday to take power after defeating veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade at the polls, leading to a smooth handover hailed as a democratic example for Africa.

The 50-year-old former prime minister will assume office after his inauguration on April 3, leaving him a few days to form a new government which is expected to include members of the opposition who lent him crucial support during the election. He will then preside over independence celebrations on April 4 in his first role as president. "The president's men - Macky Sall's dream team" headlined L'Observateur newspaper, speculating on who would be part of the new regime. Sall's political party is the Republican Alliance but he was elected as part of a broad coalition called Benno Bokk Yakkar (meaning United with the same Hope).

Macky Sall, the Senegalese President-elect

As the Washington Post put it, "In a surprise move just hours after polls closed, President Abdoulaye Wade called his opponent Macky Sall to congratulate his one-time protege on the victory. Sall’s elated supporters already had begun celebrating in the streets after early results showed him with a commanding lead.

Outgoing president Abdoulaye Wade deserves some praise for peacefully stepping down

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the peaceful Senegalese vote was a hopeful sign, days after Mali’s longtime president was ousted in a coup launched by mutinous soldiers.

“If there was ever any doubt, this election has proved that the foundation of Senegalese democracy is rock solid,” he said. “This is good for the Senegalese people and also for our sub-region, especially at a time one of our brother countries is facing grave challenges to constitutional order.”

Jonathan also praised Wade “for graciously accepting defeat, showing great maturity and statesmanship.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke by telephone Monday with Sall and Wade and congratulated them and the people of Senegal “for the exemplary manner in which both rounds of the presidential elections were conducted throughout the country,”

Senegal people live a familiar simple life with markets, small plot-grown foods, etc.

The baobob is Senegal's national tree.

This broad coalition called Benno Bokk Yakkar that elected Macky Sall, deserves further scrutiny...

best wishes to Senegal in the years to come


Teatree said...

An update from the BBC on the Toureg uprising. The movement has indeed taken the town of Kidal, and is moving on to another.

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