Stillwater News Press

February 8, 2013

VIDEO: Oklahoma State University student says elections are critical for Mali

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Students, residents and faculty were treated to a dissection of the events in Mali by an Oklahoma State University graduate with ties to the nation.

Assoumane Maiga came to OSU in 2009 as a Fulbright Scholar. After graduating, he returned to his home country, Mali, to speak out on humanitarian causes and was imprisoned by the military without reason. He was released four days later. He spoke to a full crowd Thursday at the Wes Watkins Center.

Maiga, who is now pursuing a doctoral degree in Agricultural Education Communications and Leadership at OSU, started by thanking his department and asking for a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives in Mali.

“When I left my country and came back to OSU, my objective was to not only get the Ph.D., what I’m taking, but also to educate people about what’s happening in my country. I think as a scholar, my role is to tell people what’s going in my country and also this country is very important.

“This country is a very powerful country. For me, it is important for people to know about it. This is a way that we can get the news to where decisions are made in this country. And also, this country has a big influence on the rest of the world.”

Maiga began to list information about Mali including its location in Africa, its size and history including its independence on Sept. 22, 1960.

“Mali has suffered from military coups,” he said. “We had our first one in 1968.”

That coup resulted in a dictatorship that lasted 23 years until 1991. Mali worked toward democracy from 1992 to 2012.

Maiga came to speak on the political events concerning his country. For the last two decades, he said, Mali was an example of democracy.

“We came across a multifaceted crisis starting from last year,” he said.

In 2011, heavily armed Tuaregs, a group defined by the Smithsonian Institute website as a seminomadic, pastoralist people, came back to Mali after having fought in Moammar Gadhafi militia. Maiga said they came back with an aggressive movement against the territorial integrity of the country in January 2012. Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists and radical Islamists joined in, leading them to occupy two-thirds of the country. Because of this, a military coup occurred and Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was elected democratically, was overthrown on March 22.

“And whose mandate was nearly finished,” Maiga said. “We were 40 days from the elections. We were supposed to have presidential elections and the president is elected for five years and he was doing his second mandate and then they overthrew him.”

As a result, arrests of politicians and journalists occurred in the country’s capital, Bamako, private businesses and offices were looted, Mali underwent diplomatic and economic sanctions and rebel groups occupied major cities to the north, Maiga said.

The Economic Community of West African States, intervened, working out a framework agreement with Mali’s junta on April 6, 2012. Toure came back, resigned, and the president of the Parliament Dioncounda Traore seceded him as interim president.

“This is where we are today,” Maiga said.

Maiga pointed out while Tuaregs make up 99 percent of the those involved in the original movement, not all Tuaregs are represented by this group. He said some are still faithful to the government, to the country and live in major cities.

Maiga listed many of the terrorist groups who comprise the movement and said that 350,000 have been displaced from the country as a result of their actions. Terrorist groups have unjustifiably jailed and publicly lashed residents who remain.

Things have begun to turn around for Mali. Despite the humanitarian crisis, the United Nations Security Council created a series of resolutions, including Resolution 2085 which authorized the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali for one year initially. When the groups began making their way to central and southern Mali, threatening to take control of the country’s major airport in Sevare and its capital, Bamako, interim President Traore asked France for help.

France obliged by sending jet fighters and more than 4,000 troops to support Malian forces. This action helped liberate major cities including Maiga’s city, Timbuktu. He said he is thankful for the help of the French. ECOWAS sent 2,300 troops, but only 830 have arrived. Neighboring country, Chad, sent 2,000 troops, as well. Various countries, including the United States, have lent their support. During its summit in late January, the Africa Union raised approximately $455 million in pledges from the international community. Maiga showed these details in a Powerpoint presentation, but made clear what he wanted those in attendance to take with them.

“The take home I have for you is dismantling the terrorist and Jihad groups is in the world’s best interest,” he said. “These people are not only a threat to Mali, not a threat to (the west), not a threat to Africa, but a global threat. They target you, me and the rest of the world.”

He said his message is Mali needs the support of other countries so they may uphold their elections, which the interim president has said will take place July 2013, Maiga said.

“The voting is important because a strong state is a strong government,” Maiga said. “So, today we have a problem because we have an interim president, acting president and acting government, so we need to go as quick as possible to the elections because its only in democracy that we can express the will of the people. It’s where people can decide.”