First, what happened in Mali strikes me as an unfortunate reminder of just how fragile democracies—especially new ones—still are in the Sahel. I’m not just talking about how easily they break. I’m talking about how perilously they function. Elections and good constitutions get countries such as Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria the stamp of “democracy” in the international eye. But to the average citizen—or say, your average civil servant, like a soldier—they still seem a lot like something else: a regime that benefits only a few. Part of that is simply a lack of resources—even if you redistribute, there’s a small pot to share. And if you look for more resources, say from international aid, someone overseas is probably—in the very least—helping to dictate your priorities. Meanwhile, big pockets of poverty persist and may take generations—not voting cycles—of economic growth to overcome. The idea of elective and representative democracy inceased the demand for public services and development in Mali—and the government wasn’t able to deliver fast enough. And in fact, a 2011 report from the UN Development Program in Mali found that corruption there had actually increased—not decreased—when the government and the economy began to open up. (…)
I think Mali will bounce back—democratic aspirations are a hard thing to shake from people who have grown accustomed to them. The threats in the region, however, are around to stay.