Unrest Seen In Once-Stable West African Countries

Senegal and Mali have experienced recent upheaval. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about the rebellion and coup d'etat in Mali, as well as the recent news that the Senegalese president conceded a very controversial election.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Now, we want to turn to two different developing stories in West Africa, where the democratic aspirations of two countries may be headed in opposite directions.

Today, West African leaders are gathering in Ivory Coast for a crisis summit on the situation in Mali. There, President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted by the military last week. The U.S. has suspended military aid to Mali.

However, there are expressions of relief and hope across the border in Senegal. There, a presidential runoff over the weekend ended incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade's quest for a third term in office.

Violent protests ahead of the first round of voting left six people dead and left Senegal, a country with a history of peaceful transfers of power, badly shaken.

On Sunday night, Wade promptly conceded to his opponent, his one-time protégé, Macky Sall, and that sparked celebration among many in Senegal, including singer and Sall supporter Youssou N'Dour, who talked about how the election felt for him.

YOUSSOU N'DOUR: Like liberation, like you're in prison and, the next day, you're free. Looks like something really special and it's big victory for Senegal's people. People - they wake up now about democracy, about liberty, about freedom and I'm very pleased. Yeah.

LYDEN: Joining us to talk about this is NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Welcome back to the program, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings from Dakar, Jacki.

LYDEN: It's great to be with you. Let's start by talking about Mali. Who are the coup leaders? Remind us. And are they in control of the entire country?

QUIST-ARCTON: They are clearly not in control of the whole of Mali. First of all, there is a rebellion happening in the north and even in the capital, Bamako, where they seized power last week. The outgoing ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure is still in hiding, so they don't have him in hand, although they have arrested some of his ministers and officials.

And these coup leaders, led by a captain called Amadou Sanago, are junior and middle ranking officers. Last week, Jacki, they were disgruntled, mutinous soldiers who were firing in the air and who, apparently, when the defense minister went up to the military camp just outside the capital, Bamako, were furious with him.

And it seems that what started as a mutiny sort of ballooned into what has become a coup d'etat. But Mali is in limbo and in confusion, although the military, who have taken over, say they're in charge.

LYDEN: What's their primary grievance, Ofeibea?

QUIST-ARCTON: Their main problem, they say, is that President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was, after all, a coup leader himself - 21 years ago, Jacki, I was in Mali witnessing him coming to power, but they say that he has not looked after the army, that he has sent them up to the front in the north to fight against Tuareg rebels who've crossed back from Libya, where they fought for Moammar Gadhafi, armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons.

The soldiers say they don't have the same sort of weaponry to be able to put down the rebellion or to be able to counter the rebels and they blame that on the president. They say that they are under-resourced, that they don't even have enough food for the troops who are there and that they are being killed willy-nilly whilst Bamako, the capital, did nothing to support them.

LYDEN: And where is the ousted President Amadou Toumani touring now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Big question mark. We're told by his side that he is safe and that he is in a place of hiding. We're told that he is being protected by the presidential guard, the Red Berets. He used to be a paratrooper. He was a parachute captain when he came to power 21 years ago, and later a general. He handed over power a year later and was elected about 10 years later, so he's seen very much as a soldier Democrat.

But the soldiers who have seized power say he has not done enough. He's been incompetent. His government has not been properly prepared for this rebellion and that's why they felt that they had to take power.

LYDEN: Ofeibea, how are the people of Mali responding? Things had been pretty stable. He had only a month to go in office. What's going on?

QUIST-ARCTON: Most people are appalled that there's been a coup d'etat in Mali. Coup d'etats are going out of fashion in Africa, and suddenly, a country with democratic tradition over these past two decades has suddenly gone the wrong way. So they're saying, look, if the soldiers had grievances, what they should have done was sat around the table with the president and the government.

LYDEN: Ofeibea, tell us what's happened. The U.S. has suspended military aid to Mali, hasn't it?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. It suspended all but humanitarian aid and the U.S. is the top bilateral donor to Mali. And, of course, it has been training the Mali military. The coup leader has had training in the U.S.A. because of the threat of terrorism in the vast, poorly policed Sahara Desert area. So this is of great concern to the White House, the fact that there is a rebellion going on in the north and possibly al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and who is in control of this country.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about two very different changes of government in West Africa. With us is NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

Let's turn our attention, Ofeibea, from Mali to the elections in Senegal, where you are. How did the public respond to the news that President Wade had conceded?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, Wade's supporters are grieving and mourning whilst many Senegalese - because Macky Sall, the president-elect, won by at least 60 percent, we're being told, of the provisional results. They have been absolutely jubilant. Even before President Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat, Macky Sall supporters were out on the streets. You could hear horns blowing. They are ecstatic because what they say is, after 12 years of Wade, they wanted change and they feel that that has finally happened.

But there was a lot of concern leading up to the elections, Jacki, because President Abdoulaye Wade had sought a third term in office. There were violent protests, six people killed and the Senegalese asking themselves, is this what we've come to? This is a country with a democratic tradition. Why is President Wade trying to spoil that reputation?

LYDEN: Well, you did speak about the violence on this program just last month. Do you think that this runoff election was considered to be fair?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, yes. Everybody does believe so, but what is the priority now, Jacki, is for Macky Sall, who has made all sorts of campaign promises, saying that he is going to help with the rising cost of living, with job creation in a country where youth unemployment is high, that he is also going to bring down the presidential term from seven to five years. That was another problem amongst the Senegalese. He's now got to deliver on all of this.

He's also got to deliver to the coalition alliance that supported him, the all-but-Wade coalition, because, of course, they're going to be looking for government posts and for positions in the administration. He's got to now satisfy both the Senegalese people whose expectations are high and, of course, the political class that supported him.

LYDEN: That was NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, and she joined us from Dakar, Senegal. Ofeibea, thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA DREAM AGAIN")

YOUSSOU N'DOUR AND AYO: (Singing) Wake up, stand up, Africa. (Unintelligible).

LYDEN: As we heard, musical star Youssou N'Dour is among those in Senegal who are celebrating the victory of President-elect Macky Sall. N'Dour had been a candidate himself before he threw his support behind Sall. The singer has been a leading voice for democracy and human rights in Senegal and across Africa and he's infused his music with that message throughout his career.

Here's N'Dour's duet with German-born Nigerian singer, Ayo. It's called "Africa Dream Again."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA DREAM AGAIN")

AYO: (Singing) You'll see (unintelligible). Wake up, stand up. (Unintelligible). Oh, stand up tall. Stand up tall. You'll see. You will dream again.

LYDEN: That was the Senegalese singer and musical star, Youssou N'Dour, along with Nigerian singer, Ayo. The song is "Africa Dream Again."

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