What has happened to
Jihadist radical rebels now dominate the north. Their attempt to impose sharia law provokes resentment, yet among locals there is little nostalgia for what used to be one of
In the capital,
Regional leaders in the
Among expatriate Malians in
Yet back in
The putsch and the subsequent conquest of all northern
Triggers for a meltdown
When Western powers threw their weight behind the Libyan revolution last year, they failed -- in the words of the presidents of
Several thousand Malian Tuareg fighters who had served in Colonel
The Libyan regime's disintegration flooded Saharan countries with cheap weaponry, giving Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its north Malian ally
And when rebels murdered captive Malian soldiers after the fall of the remote Aguelhok garrison in late January, mobile phone pictures of the carnage reached
Television coverage of his awkward encounter with the embittered relatives of the dead troops was a blow to the image of a national leader once admired for his role in deposing the dictator
But the roots of the crisis stretch back much further than the events of the past nine months.
Over the past five years these efforts have been put under critical strain by the kidnapping activities of AQIM -- whose fighters are mostly Algerian but hide out in the north of
Western tourists and development workers were regularly seized in
Fear of kidnap deterred European tourists whose visits to see Timbuktu's historic treasures and experience the Tuareg culture had become a mainstay of the northern economy.
While legitimate business has been in crisis, it has been a boom time for the traffickers. The smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, livestock and, latterly, migrant workers, has long been a feature of Saharan life; but
Drugs are brought from
The sums of money involved are so huge that soldiers and officials at every level are easily corrupted. The scale of the activity was exposed when a plane carrying drugs into Gao was burned by its operators after a technical fault -- and after at least 10 tonnes of cocaine had been safely unloaded. One affluent area of Gao is now known as Coacainebougou.
During the final two years of his tenure Toure developed a new strategy for the north, seeking to combine development projects with a reinforced army presence. But some locals resented this, while the army was still held back from confronting the Algerian AQIM groups.
A state hollowed out
Toure had always been stronger on populist leadership than effective management, but the gap between rhetoric and delivery widened markedly during his final years in power. Year after year the government projected huge rises in cereals output, only for reality to fall well short when data was audited by the Sahel anti-drought agency. Officially, fertiliser received a 50 per cent subsidy, but many farmers at the village level had no access to the cheap supplies.
Development partners complained of inefficiency and corruption on a far greater scale than in neighbouring states.
As the money from drugs became an increasingly influential factor in
While corruption padded the lifestyles of the elite, soldiers were sent to the Sahara war short of weapons, equipment and even salaries.
When the troops' anger at these conditions boiled over on
Amid such disillusion, does
Northerners too could be attracted by the prospect of stable administration, regular salaries and development projects. And with many locals resentful of sharia, the law of the gun and the destruction of centuries of heritage by
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