The New Times (Kigali)

16 January 2013

Mali: Forget the AU, Where Are the Malians in Mali?

opinion

My fellow columnist Joseph Rwagatare wrote a great opinion piece yesterday titled ' Where is the AU in Mali'. In it, he scoffed at the African Union, wondering why France was the one helping the Malian army push back the Islamist rebels who'd overrun half the West African country.

He argues that it has become "a cherished principle of the African Union to call upon fellow Africans to come to the aid of countries in various kinds of trouble". According to him, it has worked in places like South Sudan and Somalia. And he's right. However, I depart from his central thesis, which is that African countries have a responsibility to intervene in the affairs of 'weak states'.

When one looks at the most successful countries in the world, its obvious that their citizens figured out how to live together. Compare Rwanda to say, the Central African Republic. Each had serious political problems to deal with (and in our case a genocide as well). But while Rwandans muddled along, figuring out how to live together (and introducing the term 'Gacaca' to the legal lexicon) and slowly but surely, building a country that its citizens can be proud of, the Central African Republic has constantly called upon its allies to maintain the status quo.

While this has given the people of Bangui a semblance of 'calm', it is more like a 'calm before a storm'. If we are to count just how many times rebels have reached the capital city's outskirts in the last decade, one can only imagine how stormy it has been.

Now, imagine this scenario. What would happen if, instead of getting external assistance from the French military, the Central African government had to face up to its own weaknesses? The army would get thrashed and the rebels would either negotiate with the defeated government or take up the reins of power. Either way, the status quo would change (In the most recent case of civil unrest, President Bozize negotiated with the rebels after realising that 'his' Gallic cavalry was not going to come to his rescue (and after evacuating his family to Kigali-if Twitter reports are to be believed).

I'm a firm believer of the 'hands off' approach to conflict resolution in Africa. Not because I'm a cruel person, who doesn't care about the lives of my fellow Africans, but because I honestly believe that unless each and every country is allowed to find its own development path whether economically, politically or socially, it will not be able to become a stable, viable nation.

The nations that impose these status quos (such as France, the UK, the US and other single power in the world) are the same that have suffered revolutions, palace coups, civil wars and every kind of social unrest you can name. What these issues did has to improve their governance and systems of political participation. Out of conflict came solutions. But it seems that the same won't be allowed here in Africa.

Let us imagine a worst-case scenario. Imagine if the rebels reached Bamako and imposed Sharia Law. Either the citizenry would have become okay with it or a fifth column would have arisen to take on the unpopular government. Either way, Malians would have had their future in their hands.

This wouldn't have become so if the African Union had intervened by halting the rebellion and propping the present government. Let's be honest here, even if the African Union had intervened militarily, it still would've imposed foreign diktat. Thereby stifling Malian political development.

Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forwards. But if we always intervene, how will lessons be learnt?

And while we are at it, perhaps its time we stopped giving so much credence to the artificial borders that have held us prisoner so long. Perhaps its time that we allowed certain communities to find their own way forward. I mean, so what if Mali is presently divided in two? Perhaps it should have been from the very beginning.

While I understand that the 'laissez-faire' approach will probably not become AU policy anytime soon, I'm afraid that we'll end up forever treating symptoms instead of diseases unless we embrace it.

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