On the surface, Mali’s descent into chaos has been intense and rapid. John Campbell’s Council on Foreign Relations blog recently used the headline “Mali Descends into Hell.” Ever since a March 2012 coup toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure, the landlocked West African state has indeed resembled hell for many Malians.
Up until the coup, though, Mali seemed to be moving in the right direction, if we focused on democratization (and Freedom House reports). For much of the last decade, Mali has received the overall rating “free,” which is indicative of liberal democracy. The 2011 Freedom in the World report gave Mali very respectable scores on both civil liberties and political rights, noting some room for improvements.
As we now know, political progress since the 1990s was not enough to overcome economic and geopolitical weaknesses. Key weaknesses include:
- A strong divide between Mali’s core region (the South) and the peripheral North, which is driven by environmental, economic, and cultural differences.
- Proximity to a destabilized Libya, which led to an infusion of weapons and fighters in 2011.
- A small economy, which limits the state’s ability to integrate the peoples and places that constitute Mali.
As we reflect further on Mali’s apparent progress from the early 1990s up until early 2012, it is becoming clear that progress was quite partial and fragile. Though the country was a star with donors interested in democratization, Mali did not develop the foundation to help it weather basic attacks on its territorial and social unity.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.