Mali Coup: Fractured Opposition Leads To Military Power Grab

After the Aug. 18 coup d'état in Mali, a growing popular protest movement that emerged in June may be quickly forgotten.

Mutinying soldiers speaking at a press conference near Bamako on Aug. 19
Jean-Loup Amselle

PARIS — The military coup that has taken place in Mali raises doubts about the continuation of the strong movement of popular protest that has, in recent weeks, taken on the appearance of a real revolution. In spite of the declarations of the "National Committee for the Salvation of the People," it is feared — as has happened before in Africa — that the military will begin to get used to holding power and "forget" to return it to civilians. Be that as it may, this coup, denounced by the entire international community, adds to longstanding pessimism toward the situation in Mali.

Since gaining independence in 1960, Mali has never ceased to create problems for the world's powerful countries, particularly France, which did everything possible to overthrow the socialist regime of Modibo Keïta, the country's first president. General Moussa Traoré"s coup d"état in 1968 and the establishment of a liberal system have somewhat eased concerns, despite the corruption that at the time flourished around the presidential family. This in turn fostered the emergence of a social movement leading to the advent of democracy in 1991 and Alpha Oumar Konaré — Mali's first fairly elected president — coming to power.

Reforms have increased support around Muslim religious leaders opposed to France.

During the years 1990-2000, Mali became a model of democratic rule, surpassing Senegal, which until then had been cited as the best example of African democracy. The successful democratic shift with President Amadou Toumani Touré in 2002 reassured Western powers that Mali had reached a stable democratic regime. This was despite rumors of the ruling class and senior officers in the Malian army being involved in corruption and drug trafficking, and Touré"s inability to implement more Western values in social policy reforms in the face of religious opposition.

This situation, together with the takeover of northern Mali (an area that became known as Azawad) in 2012 by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, resulted in the coup d"état led by officer Amadou Haya Sanogo, head of a motley coalition of Marxists and nationalists opposing the dismantling of the country. After the coup failed, interim President Dioncounda Traoré appealed to French President François Hollande to intervene militarily in Mali and stop the southwestward advance of jihadists.

Operation Serval led to the restoration of civilian power throughout the country, the temporary elimination of the jihadists and the triumphant election of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in 2013 with the support of Muslim leaders. Up until then, the power of the president was limited by an alliance between the Wahhabi Mahmoud Dicko and the Sufi Bouyé Haïdara who, after having supported Keïta, abandoned him during the 2018 presidential campaign.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako on Aug. 19 — Photo: Imago/Starface/ZUMA

Relations have since soured between the government, civil society and Muslim religious movements after the president was accused of wanting to increase his power by amending the Constitution, promoting homosexuality and the teaching of gender theory, while abolishing the practice of female genital mutilation. Such reforms have increased support around Muslim religious leaders opposed to France, such as Mahmoud Dicko and Bouyé Haïdara.

Added to this is the corruption, which appears to have gotten closer to the presidential family for some time. Another reason for the ire of the Malian nationalists is that the government, through the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, is said to have agreed to grant autonomy to the Azawad region.

It all amounted to an explosive cocktail that led to the formation of the heterogeneous coalition of the Movement of June 5 - Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) and the popular demonstrations that followed.

Time will tell whether this revolution can continue.

The fact remains that these demonstrations and the existence of the M5-RFP movement have shown that a real revolution is at work in Mali. This revolution is based on a political alliance between a Marxist and nationalist movement and another so-called "Islamist" movement, provided that it does not tie itself down to the supposedly Wahhabi character of Mahmoud Dicko.

This strong popular opposition, present especially in the capital of Bamako and other large cities, is rooted in a deeply Muslim population. They follow Dicko because he and his movement reflect the appearance of a truly Malian Islam, far from the Western and especially French fantasies that present its leader as being subservient to Saudi Arabia.

Time will tell whether this revolution can continue and produce the changes so long awaited by a people who, it seems, have accompanied with fervor the seizure of power by the military and the fall of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta as its immediate consequence.

*Jean-Loup Amselle is an anthropologist and emeritus director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris.

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Oui-haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

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