Within weeks, Mali has plunged from being a sovereign democracy to a fractured territory without a state, occupied by competing rebel groups in the north while politicians and coup leaders in the south jostle for control of the capital Bamako. There is no sign the broken nation can be put back together soon – raising concerns among neighbours and Western powers of the emergence of a lawless “rogue state” exploited by al Qaeda and criminals. “We have never been in such a dire situation at any other time in our history,” said Mahmoud Dicko, influential head of the Islamic High Council in the poor former French colony once seen as a poster child for electoral democracy in West Africa. There is no state and two-thirds of the country is out of control,” he said of the seizure by a mix of Islamists and Tuareg-led separatists of the northern desert territory one-and-a-half-times the size of France.
Ask Malians in the street what they think of the crisis and most will say they are “depassé” – a French term for being overwhelmed by events that go beyond comprehension.
Even before March 22’s coup and ensuing rebel advance, Mali was struggling to deal with this year’s drought on the southern rim of the Sahara. Over 270,000 Malians have fled their homes as the violence makes bringing aid to hunger victims even harder. But while Mali is now firmly on world radar screens as a serious security threat in the making, neither Western powers nor its neighbours can agree on how to come to its rescue.