The modern state of Mali emerged in 1960, when its imperial plunderers ceased to formally govern the country. However, outside interference and exploitation continue to increase unabated up to the present day. The national bonds of Mali have been fragile since its creation. Tuaregs in the north, representing a good tenth or so of the population, have vigorously resisted attempts at integration into the structure of the Malian state, and their campaign has grown more and more successful over the years. They scoff at the idea that Mali's northern border disputes will ever be resolved, given the incompatibility of rigid state borders with their lifestyle. The battle of the army of Mali against the Tuaregs has provided a pretext for military cooperation between the Mali government and other nations, such as Algeria and the United States.
The first iteration of Malian government, led by Modibo Keita, was developmentalist in character, organized around the creation of a state-governed cotton industry. However, in 1968, the fledgling popular government was overthrown by military coup. In 1981, under the military leadership of General Moussa Traore, Mali was a test case for the IMF structural adjustment program, a move which hobbled the Malian economy. This meant that the vanishingly small part of the development budget which went to infrastructure development in the North--17%--was decreased by new fiscal constraints. Even when military rule ended, democracy was ostensibly restored, and infrastructure spending in the north shot up to 48%, Mali was saddled with a 3 billion dollar debt. 60% of its fiscal receipts went towards debt servicing. Meanwhile, life for the Tuaregs worsened as a series of droughts disrupted their pastoralist lifestyle and forced some of them to seek a bare-bones survival in the cities. Large parts of the north of Mali are Saharan desert, and any disruption in the water supply means death. Gaddafi's Libya also absorbed a large population of Tuareg
Mali's economy is largely export-driven and relies on a few main industries: agricultural exports(mostly cotton), gold mining(an industry which employs up to 40,000 children), iron mining, and outside development money. 80% of people in the country are employed in agriculture. Many of these people's livelihoods are under threat by the plundering of the land and water by private industries. The state formally owns all the land in Mali, and has used this as a pretext to become a sort of land dealer, giving 50-year leases to outside investors like Libya, China, and Senegal. This development plans disrupt the fragile balance of survival that many Malian people depend on; there are no environmental impact studies done, cattle routes are disrupted, land is expropriated and homes flattened in exchange for a few hundred dollars. It is interesting to note that many of these development projects were being funded by the "Malibya" development corporation and paid for the largesse of the Libyan state under Gaddafi. I do not have any information on the effect that NTC rule in Libya will have on these development initiatives.
For the 162,000 hectares of land deals approved for allocation thus far – 0.6 % of Mali’s cultivable land, according to the FAO – the government will be paid 292 million dollars by investors from Libya, the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the US-funded Millennium Challenge Account
Those responsible within the government maintain that the country could not make use of this cultivatable land without foreign investment, but local farmers state that they are afraid of being chased off their ancestral land and of becoming ‘landless’ like farmers in Brazil.
War on Terror, War on Tuaregs
I mentioned in the OP that Toure was overthrown for not being "proactive" enough, in the eyes of the Malian military, in fighting off the MNLA, which had taken control of about a third of the country and was advancing on cities in the Niger River area. This was sort of close to the truth, but the fuller story seems a lot more complicated.
First of all, the Mali military is not only fighting Tuaregs, although they make up the bulk of the resistance. Another important faction is the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM), a group of combat veterans coming out of the Algerian Civil War and formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Like most of the "al Qaeda" that the US quixotically chases after, its connection to any sort of greater organization is tenuous outside of the coincidental name. Ayman al-Zawahiri only formally inducted AQIM in the al Qaeda fold in 2006. The more relevant connection would be to the Afghan War against the Soviets; many leaders in AQIM are alumni of this US Mujahideen training program.
The US State Department gave Mali 5 million dollars and sent in 300 'military advisors' under the pretense of fighting AQIM. Mali's military budget is about 70 million dollars and their national budget is about 1.5 billion dollars.
The US government has worried that the turmoil in Algeria would spread across the Sahara into places such as Mali. In 2002, the Bush administration set up the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI), which became, in 2005, the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative (and later Partnership, the TSCTP). The point was to take the military forces from the seven 'willing' Saharan countries and train them to fight their various foes, some of whom might be offshoots of al-Qaeda (AQIM, however, was not formed till 2006, when this military interchange was already fairly advanced). With the trans-Sahel project, the US government put in US$500 million over five years, mainly for military hardware, as if the militaries of Ghana and Nigeria, which joined up, need more funds.
Although, the State Department is not the only one involved; from April to June this year, 300 US Special Forces 'advisers' trained the Malian military at three of its bases. These Sahelian initiatives are now run through AFRICOM, the US African Command, set up in October 2007. It operates a programme called 'Joint Task Force Aztec Silence'. The Cowboys are playing Cortés in the desert. The 'silence' after Aztec is chilling.
The battle with the Tuaregs, as mentioned previously, has been ongoing since the inception of the Malian state, taking place in three major waves, starting in 1962, 1990, and 2006. The new commitment to development in the North that led to such an increase in infrastructure spending was a response to the 1990 rebellion, which President Alpha Oumar Konaré realized could not be solved through military means. The 2006 rebellion, handled by Toure, was similarly met with insincere promises of increased development laid out in the Algiers Accord. Hopes for peace were dashed in 2009 when the military moved to kill Tuareg leader Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, who was not part of the Algiers Accord.
Since then, Toure had been biding his time, waiting for more counterterrorism funding to come in from the US to fight "the al-Qaeda threat" before making his move. As long as he kept up the pretense of helping Washington's insane, misguided crusade against anything that calls itself al-Qaeda, he could expect his forces to steadily grow until they were ready to subjugate all Tuareg resistance.
Touré is playing a double game: he has pledged to start a 'total struggle' against the terrorists, but won't release his troops unless they are better equipped and trained by the United States. It wants air power (a reminder of the time when the Italians bombed the Berber with the view that the bombs 'had a wonderful effect on the morale of the Arabs', according to the Italian air commandante in charge of the 1911 operation). Touré is using the AQIM threat to consolidate his power, and to bring in the cash. More money is on offer for counterterrorism than for development.
Coup and Beyond
Apparently, though, this game of waiting and attrition was not enough to assuage the fears of the Malian military. Toure's strategy was essentially crippled by the Libyan revolt, which empowered the Tuareg rebels with a new arsenal, an influx of battle-trained veterans from both sides of the Libyan civil war, and called into question the lucrative development deals Libya had been working out with Mali.
In a country that is being exploited on all sides by outsiders, a non-military solution to this intractable rebellion has been made impossible by the structural constraints on the Malian economy. The Malian military has made their intention clear: to solve the Tuareg problem once and for all with decisive violence and "restore democracy" once the Tuareg have been forced to submit. The Tuareg resistance is highly invigorated and extremely successful, though. I do not think the military solution will work in 2012 if it did not work in 1990. As early as one month ago, 130,000 people had been displaced by this war, and now wander lost, separated from their land, their homes, their families, their livestock.
The perfunctory US condemnation of this coup belies the role of the West in causing the conflict, from its decades-old training of AQIM leadership to the World Bank's crippling of Malian development through the SAP, from its massive grant to the Malian military at the expense of civil society to its patronization of a sham democracy whose corrupt liberal leaders allowed the country to be exploited at every turn.