The military coup that took place last week in Mali is a monument to the consequences of U.S. interventionism, and the military junta now vying for control of the West African country threatens to roll back democracy and human rights for the 15 million people living there.
Rebel troops seized power and toppled the government in a bid to oust President Amadou Toumani Toure who they claim insufficiently supported the military in a fight against Tuareg militants waging an insurgency in the north. Toure himself came to power in a 1991 coup, but surprised many when he handed power to a civilian government and was elected president in 2002.
The mutinous troops that led the coup have imposed a national curfew, announced the temporary suspension of the constitution, arrested their political opponents, and taken control of the state television broadcast. Already their reign is starkly contrasted with the widely acknowledged democratic record of the government they overthrew.
While Mali seems geopolitically insignificant compared to many other countries in Washington’s purview, U.S. foreign policy helped lay the groundwork for this coup. The aftereffects of the U.S.-led NATO war in Libya which ousted Muammar Gadhafi had a strong hand in fomenting the coup and the coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, received extensive training in the U.S. from 2004-2010.
Gadhafi had hired and armed many Tuareg fighters to defend him against the NATO-backed rebellion in Libya, and they returned to Mali at the Libyan war’s end stronger and more determined than ever. The Malian army’s frustration with President Toure for not arming them sufficiently to fight the Tuaregs reached a boiling point.
“The Libyan crisis didn’t cause this coup but certainly revealed the malaise felt within the army,” the Malian newspaper columnist Adam Thiam told the BBC News.
A UN report released in February assessing “the Libyan crisis” claimed that the impact of the NATO-backed rebel victory over Gadhafi “reverberated across the world” as “such neighboring countries as…Mali,” among many others, “bore the brunt of the challenges that emerged as a result of the crisis.”
“The Governments of these countries, especially those in the Sahel region, had to contend with the influx of hundreds of thousands of traumatized and impoverished returnees as well as the inflow of unspecified and unquantifiable numbers of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal,” the report said.
The Malian government under President Toure has received millions of dollars in economic and military aid from Washington, especially since he started claiming the Tuaregs were aligned with al-Qaeda. The U.S. government “provided almost $138 million dollars in foreign assistance for Mali,” State Department African affairs spokeswoman Hilary Renner told McClatchy News. The aid was expected to rise in 2012 to over $170 million.
Sanogo, the coup leader, “participated in several U.S.-funded International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs in the United States, including basic officer training,” Renner said. Trainees are handpicked for the program by U.S. embassies.
In addition to the International Military Education and Training program, Mali has also participated in the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, which bolsters U.S. military dominance throughout the region under the rubric of counterterrorism.
Mali also recently hosted U.S. troops in a military exercise named Atlas Accord 12. “We have regularly had small teams traveling in and out of Mali to conduct specific training that has been requested by the Malian government and military,” Nicole Dalrymple, a spokeswoman for the Africa Command, told McClatchy.
Washington has attempted to paint the coup in Mali as undesirable, urging a return to civilian rule and threatening to cut off aid. But the alleged motivation of the rebel troops – that tougher counterterrorism measures are needed to fight the Tuareg insurgents – seems to overlap with Washington’s “national security” demands for the Sahel region.
Whether the coup was an intended U.S. plot is not known for sure at this point (although secret coups are a common tool in the established historical record of U.S. foreign policy). Either way Washington’s interventionist foreign policy undoubtedly had a hand in the events in Mali, and to the detriment of the Malian people, it seems.