Fragile democracies in Africa?

I’ve been focusing on the upside of the radical change around us.  Not all that change is wonderful.  We need to focus on the not-so-great stuff too.

Earlier this month, soldiers staged a coup in Mali.  Many years ago I visited Mali so I have some interest.

Long time ago I read an article describing how the Mali government had done a great job of cooperating with the Tuareg tribe, addressing their concerns, and bringing them into the national dialogue. As a result, according to the article, the powerful discontent dissipated.  Good example on how to end a rebellion.

The renegade soldiers were apparently upset that they did not have sufficient firepower to battle the Tuareg rebels in the north.  The Tuareg tribesmen took lots of weapons out of Libya when that country fell.

So I’m sad to read the rebellion is strong.

Walter Russell Mead describes how the coup is an unexpected consequence of the overthrow of Libya:  Mayhem in Mali. A few major points –

First, Mali had been a strong democracy:

Until this week’s coup, the government of Mali was one of the strongest democracies in the region, having held four consecutive democratic elections since the overthrow of a 23-year-old military dictatorship in 1992.

Second, the West takes out the Libyan government, lots of weapons take a walk, rebels in Mali bring the weapons home, now outgun the government, and Africa loses one democracy:

The Malian soldiers overthrew their government because it was unable to fight the Tuareg rebellion, which had reached a critical point after weapons and soldiers flooded out of chaotic Libya. Here we have another unintended consequence of NATO’s intervention in Libya: an African democracy in ruin.

Mr. Mead continues the discussion on the strength of democratic governments in Africa: Triumph of Democracy?

The coup by soldiers in reaction to the fight against the Tuareg tribesmen..

…surprised many in the international community. Apparently the stable democratic institutions in Mali weren’t strong enough to weather the fallout from an unrelated civil war in a nearby country.

He is concerned there are other governments that may be vulnerable.

Despite the earnest wishes of Western do-gooders, democracies are still very weak in Africa, while “backwards” ethnic and religious loyalties remain as strong.

I have long noticed that many of us in the West seriously underestimate the power of ethnic and tribal loyalties and the extremely powerful religious dimension as well.  Thus we unknowingly overestimate the power of democracy for change.

Much to learn.  Much to think about.

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