Mali Cries Out

Yesterday, during the visit of the Malian Defense Minister to a local military base, shots rang out. No one was killed and no one was hurt; the shots, aimed at the sky, weren't malicious. They were cries for help.

Early this morning Lt. Amadou Konare representing the newly formed National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy came on national TV declaring that the President had been ousted.

This has all been a long time coming.

In northern Mali, a growing Touareg rebellion has created tens of thousands of refugees and has displaced many more than that. Yet this rebellion is far different from the rebellions of past decades; these rebels are not Malian.

They are composed largely of the ex-military personnel of Muammar Gaddafi. Yes, that Gaddafi, the one we thought we were finally rid of. Unlike previous rebels, these fighters are far better armed than the national military. Moreover, they aren't fighting for their rights-- they are fighting for power and to destabilize a country and a region that is already on edge.

With each passing year, the food security situation across the Sahel grows more and more dire. As global warming continues to change our planet, the Sahara inches further and further south, taking with it fertile soil in a region where every sack of rice produced means another man, woman, and child, saved from malnutrition. No one can say it out loud -- if an NGO like Oxfam explicitly states there is a famine in Mali, they will be expelled from the country -- but the truth is evident: famine is coming. And with famine, more often than not, comes war.

On top of all this, elections are set for April 29th. In this global year of elections, we have seen how easily democracy can be trampled on. Whether in Senegal, Russia or in the ever-quieting din of the Arab Spring, the voice of the people is growing fainter and fainter. Mali is an extremely poor country -- even for the region -- yet it has also been quite stable and peaceful. It is for this reason that ECOWAS and the United States view this upcoming election as crucial. Another pin cannot fall. We cannot play Jenga with people's lives.

The television and radio were cut for a long stretch yesterday and deep into the night (it came back on with Malian music videos and a sign that a military statement was imminent... this lasted for hours), and in the wee hours of the morning, it was confirmed that a coup d'etat was indeed being carried out. The current President Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) is no longer sitting as president, though he is said to be safe. For months now a coup has been on the horizon, I only expected it to come closer to the election date; in this former communist country, the military is held in high regard and holds much political sway (ATT himself led a coup in '91, only to become a champion of democracy afterwards). It is unclear that whether anyone was killed or hurt during this latest African coup, as of now we can only pray that it was bloodless and as we stay inside and see what this next day brings. What is clear is that the Malian army is frustrated, and that people here are sick of seeing Facebook photos showing the slashed throats of their brothers.

We in the West are keen on deposing dictators, but we aren't as fond of the process of rebuilding that comes afterwards. It is slower, more frustrating and harder to control. Right now I am cooped up in a hotel in the center of Bamako as gunshots sporadically obliterate the silence. And while I enjoyed my first air-conditioned night in quite a while, I would have slept better in my cement-cooked apartment knowing that Mali's future was secure.

Concrete news has been hard to come by, but in the past few weeks I have heard rumors that the Americans have been pulling soldiers out of Northern Mali because of the rebels. We should take the opposite approach. It pains me to advocate violence in any sense, but this rebellion must end as soon as possible. If that means dropping American or NATO bombs on several hundred well-armed and extremely angry ex-Gaddafists so that tens of thousands don't die of starvation in the coming months, so be it. Bombs inevitably lead to more bombs; after all, NATO bombs over Libya started this crisis. As we say here, insh'allah these will be the last.

Mali is teetering on the brink. We cannot sit by and simply pray that these problems will resolve themselves. Now more than ever we must come to Mali's aid and help put an end to this Northern rebellion and restore democracy in this peace-loving nation.

Sam Savage is a freelance journalist and NGO operative.