On the Ground in Bamako: What’s next for Mali?

Bruce-Whitehouse-head-shot-e1345775951876-946x1024Rachel Signer interviews anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse on the coup in Mali, in Construction magazine:

On his blog, Bridges From Bamako, Whitehouse documented not only snippets of his research findings, but also observations of daily life in Bamako during the pandemonium and thoughts about how Bamakois were responding to the coup. The blog began attracting the attention of journalists who were covering the turmoil in Bamako from afar. Soon, Whitehouse was giving interviews to Time magazine, the New York Times, the blog Africa Is A Country, and other media outlets.

Whitehouse returned from Mali in June. He spoke with me from campus of Lehigh University, where he is an assistant professor.

Construction: Having previously lived in Mali, and living in Bamako as a researcher right before the coup, to what extent did you foresee the uprising?

Bruce Whitehouse: The history of Tuareg unrest and separatism goes back at least to 1963 and has recurred roughly once a decade. The Bamako regime has never fully controlled the desert. The region has long been home to smugglers, insurgents, and criminals. The coup wasn’t really a surprise to anybody. What was a surprise, I think, was just how different things were this time. When the rebellion resurged in late 2011, you had fighters showing up from Libya with lots of arms. But I don’t think the Libyan civil war made all the difference. If the state in Bamako had been stronger, the rebellion could have still been headed off. If you look at Libya, a lot of those fighters had to cross through Niger to get to Mali. And many convoys were fought and destroyed by Nigerien officials. Generally what had been seen as the Tuareg home region extended into Niger and Algeria, as well as Mali. But the Nigerien government showed that it had a firmer control of its territory. Niger has a border with Libya, yet it was able to contain the problem; Mali does not share a border and yet it wasn’t.

So why is that? You have to go back to what we’re calling the failure or the deterioration of the State.