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Mali's army dumps another government, this one led by ex-NASA scientist

Cheikh Modibo Diarra, an astrophysicist who has worked for NASA, abruptly resigned today as Mali’s interim prime minister following his arrest last night by the country’s powerful army.

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In this still frame made from video, Mali's Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra resigns during a broadcast on state television from Bamako, Mali, Tuesday, Dec. 11, following his arrest last night by the country’s powerful army.

ORTM Mali TV/AP

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It seems not even a rocket scientist can prevail amid the crisis that currently grips Mali.

Just ask Cheikh Modibo Diarra, a trained astrophysicist who has worked for NASA and Microsoft, and who abruptly resigned today as Mali’s interim prime minister following his arrest last night by the country’s powerful army.

Mr. Diarra appears to have fallen victim to a power struggle in Mali fueled by uncertainty over possible foreign-backed intervention to reclaim the country’s north, seized last spring by Islamist gunmen.

But the real loser could be Mali itself, with political turmoil likely to alienate foreign partners whose help is crucial to reuniting the country and boosting its economy.

“Diarra’s resignation under military duress underlines the army’s continued influence in politics, and will strike a further blow to the international community's willingness to support a speedy intervention in the north,” says Roddy Barclay, an Africa analyst at Control Risks, a British risk assessment firm.

In addition, crucial foreign development aid frozen after the March coup will remain so until democracy is restored, Mr. Barclay says. “As long as the crisis lasts, the more prolonged the hardships and suffering of ordinary Malians will be.”

Roots of overthrow

The crisis began last winter when Tuareg rebels overran the north. The government’s failure to contain them prompted frustrated Army officers to oust the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré, last March.

Islamist militants allied with the Tuareg in a marriage of convenience seized the chance to sideline them. Today, leaders fear Mali might become another Afghanistan – a semi-failed state and regional base for armed groups.

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