However, AQIM’s presence was also an early sign that, more generally, something was wrong in Mali.
Behind an image of democracy, endemic corruption and slapdash governance paved the way toward crisis, writes Yacouba Kone, Mali country manager for the British charity Christian Aid in a September report.
Malian democracy failed to serve ordinary people, Mr. Kone writes. “Rather, it was the entrenchment of a narrow elite that based its power more on patronage and less on popular support, in a bid to control the central government and the economy – both licit and illicit.”
According to Mr. Mara, the cozy relationship between power and personal interest was reflected in a quiescent political establishment.
“In ATT’s regime, everyone had something, so no one contested,” Mara says, using a common nickname for Amadou Toumani Touré, the former president first elected in 2002. “Political parties and civil society didn’t play their role.”
The result was a weak state that appeased rebellious Tuareg in Mali’s north by pulling back the Army, save in time of revolt, and allowed corruption and drug trafficking that in turn helped fund Islamic militancy.
“We had a feeling of impotence,” says Abdel Kader Sissoko, a former senior official in the northern regions of Kidal and Gao who retired last year. “The administration had neither the means nor the opportunity to combat drug trafficking.”
Last March, Army officers frustrated by the government’s inability to contain Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) ousted Mr. Touré.
Overnight, Islamist militants who had partnered with the MNLA in a marriage of convenience sidelined it instead, and today control northern cities.