THE 15-member Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, is clearly in a quandary over the complex situation in Mali. On the one hand, the Captain Ahmadou Sanogo-led military junta, which seized power from President Toumani Tuore last March 22, is unwilling to comply with the one-year transitional agenda leading to a presidential election.
He insists ECOWAS’ intention to send troops to Mali was unacceptable to his junta, as the new military authorities were not consulted before the decision.
On the other hand, the regional body is faced with the need to “prevent our sub-region from giving in to terrorism and trans-national criminality” as new ECOWAS Chairman, Mr Alassane Ouattara describes it. Since the army seized power in Mali the regional body refused to recognise its authority. Tuareg militants in the north capitalised on the stalemate to capture roughly two-thirds of Mali. It is planning its own country.
It is time ECOWAS chose which, between the Islamist insurrection and the military junta, is the greater evil. It will be a great regional tragedy for Mali to be divided along religious lines, backed by force, something akin to the seizure of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The security implications and the possibilities the success offers the religious bigots in Mali would be devastating for the region. It was in Taliban Afghanistan that the terror plot to hit the USA on September 11, 2001 was hatched.
Afghanistan also offered training to the Al Qaeda terrorist gangs, especially the Al Shabbab of Somalia and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They, in turn, trained Nigeria’s Jama’atu Ahl’is Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad.
If this Salafist group succeeds in forming a state authority, it will offer training to more terrorists to bring the entire region under its control.
The religious insurrection, which drops no hints of allowing democratic determination of issues, in our view, is the greater evil and must be confronted with collective determination. ECOWAS should work with the military junta to clear Mali of the terrorists and organise an orderly transition to democracy.
ECOWAS cannot afford to fight the two sides at once. It stands no chance. Captain Sanogo seems determined not to be overlooked by the regional body. Continuing to confront him might lead to a situation where he would make a pact with the terrorists and hand over the country with its more than 90 per cent Muslim population to them.
The Sanogo junta should be treated like a bull in a china shop. It should be eased out with minimum damage. ECOWAS’ commitment to zero tolerance to military intervention should be applied with wisdom, especially when confronted with a problem worse than military intervention.