Islamists who have divided Mali beg for help
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DAKAR, Senegal -- The radical Islamists who control northern Mali appear incapable of managing basic services -- including electricity, water and schools -- and in some cases are asking for the return of state functionaries to run them, according to a delegation that went to the region for talks recently.
The Islamists, who are allied with al-Qaida, appear to have gained a firm military hold in the north, and have subdued the local population with a brutal application of Shariah law, including public beatings, amputation and a stoning death. What is left of the Malian army, divided by a military coup, has made no move to dislodge them after five months of occupation, and a talked-about West African regional intervention has yet to coalesce.
But the Islamists' grasp on administering the vast desert region, which is larger than France, seems much less secure, members of the delegation said. The delegates -- members of an unofficial group of concerned citizens called the Coalition for Mali -- unexpectedly found themselves listening to demands from the Islamists that the government in Bamako send back bureaucrats to run state services.
"They asked for the state to resume its functions, because it's too complicated for them to manage," said Daouda Maiga, who used to run a state development program in Kidal, a region of nearly 70,000 people before the Islamist takeover emptied it. "They are not used to running things."
About 400,000 people have fled the north since the Islamist takeover, creating a vacuum of talent that the Islamists have apparently been unable to fill.
"Five months after the state, its services, and NGOs were all forced out, there is a strong need for state services," a report issued by the coalition said last week, referring to nongovernment organizations. "The new masters have themselves come to realize that they cannot replace the state."
The Bamako government still controls the southern rump of Malian territory, while the north is in the hands of radical jihadi factions that took over last spring, after a military coup in the capital left the Malian army rudderless and unable to defend the vast northern region.
While Western governments have expressed concern about the Islamist takeover, fearing a potential Talibanization of a big chunk of West Africa, little concrete has been done so far to counter it.
In Mali, officially there are no relations between the two parts of the divided country. But the Bamako government recently instituted a new Department of Religious Affairs, in what has been interpreted as a nod to the Islamists who control the north.
And individual citizen initiatives, like the trip organized by the Coalition for Mali, have been on the rise. The delegation -- which included Malian elected officials, development specialists and members of nongovernment organizations -- made the trip from Bamako two weeks ago.
First Published September 2, 2012 12:00 am