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Why The Mali Coup Threatens All Of West Africa

Following the March 22 coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré, the north of Mali is in the hands of a Tuareg rebellion. It is a rolling series of events that has leaders across the region worrying about similar threats.

Tuaregs, like this man in Algeria, live in several different countries in North and West Africa (Garrondo)
Tuaregs, like this man in Algeria, live in several different countries in North and West Africa (Garrondo)

The very existence of the West African country of Mali is currently under threat. The whole of the north of the country is in the hands of a Tuareg rebellion, which nothing seems able to stop.

President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted on March 22 by a junta of captains calling themselves the National Council for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE). Taking advantage of the ensuing power vacuum in the capital Bamako, the rebels have gained possession of northern Mali at lightning speed.

The rebels, the majority of whom are members of the nomadic Tuareg people, refuse to be called Malian, and they want to establish an independent Tuareg state called Azawad.

Currently the rebels only hold the northern part of Mali, but with potential reinforcements arriving from other areas of the Sahel, a transition zone between the Sahara in the north and the savannahs to the south, and in particular from neighboring Niger, that could all change. In the meantime, the Malian army is falling apart.

The captains who overthrew the president justified their actions by claiming to be working to end the decline of Mali. However, the coup has had precisely the opposite outcome. Despite the fall of city after city in the north over the past few days, the CNRDRE has not sent any troops north to defend the country from the rebels.

Quick response, deep concerns

West African leaders are responding quickly to try and avoid an outright collapse of the Malian state, and they have reacted with commendable promptness. At the impetus of, in particular, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, a diplomatic emergency committee has been formed that is threatening the junta with heavy sanctions if it does not relinquish power.

However, none of the heads of states involved is entirely blameless. Some, like Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, have faced mutinies in their own countries. The desire of the presidents of the region to return constitutional order to Bamako is therefore influenced by a certain degree of self-preservation. Who can blame them? Only recently emerging from the Ivorian crisis, with Guinea still fragile and Senegal only just managing to avoid serious upheaval following its electoral turmoil, West Africa could do without the collapse of Mali.

In Bamako, regional pressures run counter to public opinion; Mali has developed a strong dislike for its neighbors' interference. But at this stage the only options left are likely to be hard to implement, not least the junta stepping down as Sanago, president of CNRDRE, holds tight to power.

The West African heads of state will need plenty more energy to achieve their joint objectives: firstly, getting the Malian military back to their barracks; and secondly, helping them to launch a counter-attack. If this doesn't happen, the North will quickly be lost and the division of the country becomes an ever-growing threat.

Until now, West Africa's efforts have met with relative indifference from the international community. It is imperative that the outside world offers its support and realizes that the situation in Mali will have significant consequences for the whole of the Sahel region.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo – Garrondo

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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