When an incumbent President in an African country begins to tinker with his country's constitution, you know there is personal ambition at work.
When it is the term of the presidency that he wants to change, then you know there isn't an ounce of patriotism in the old clod.
For why should someone who sought and obtained office under certain restrictions – say two terms of office – suddenly realise that what attracted him at the beginning of his term no longer serves the interest of the country he has sworn to serve?
When General Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who had earlier served as head of state for three years (1976-79) tried to acquire a third term to add to his full two terms that ended in 2007, his fellow countrymen asked him, “What have you forgotten to do in your two terms that you now need a third to accomplish What can only be done in twelve years and not in eight?” And they showed their “greedy” oga the door.
Nearby, in Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, having had a good twelve years in power, read the diplomatic cables he received from Nigeria and returned them to the files. It had nothing to do with him. If the Nigerians didn't want Obasanjo any more, it didn't mean that the Senegalese also didn't want Wade any longer. So Wade went ahead and altered the constitution.
But 85-year-old Wade had miscalculated badly. The Senegalese didn't trust him. They thought Wade was grooming his son to take over from him after Wade had served a third term and retired – either to his villa or his mausoleum.
And guess who led the fightback? Wade's own former Prime Minister and former Interior Minister, Macky Sall. Mr Sall had been responsible for Wade's election campaigns in the past and had developed high hopes that his “old man” would return the favour and help him take the mantle once Wade needed it no longer.
However, not only did Wade not want Sall to take over the mantle, he didn't even want Sall to run the government – as Sall's constitutional duty required him to do. When Sall objected to a business transaction that Wade's son had embroiled the government in, Wade Senior took the side of Wade Junior. And Sall was dismissed!
The Senegalese looked on aghast. Was this the Abdoulaye Wade in whom they had reposed so much trust? The allegedly saintly figure who was reputed to be so ascetic that the effects of #self-sacrifice' could be noticed on his physical form?
Alas, it had all been a mirage. Wade was in fact conflating government business with family business, as is only too common in African countries where the media are not vigilant and Members of Parliament are only interested in the slice of the “action” the presidency will allow to fall into their laps.
Fortunately for Senegal, the sacked Prime Minster, Mr Sall, had enough integrity to be able to resist any attempts at blackmail that Mr Wade and his family could have tried on him. Thus, he was able to mount a full-scale election campaign to face Wade and denounce Wade's policies. The Senegalese listened to him and although the election went to a second round, it was he who was able to obtain the support of the other opposition candidates who had fought against Wade in the first round and show Wade the door.
To his credit, Wade conceded defeat very early on Sunday, as soon as it became clear that he had lost. Thus, the tension that had marked the early part of the election before the run-off, did not lead to any stand-offs. And anther election was added to those Senegal had held in which power had been transferred peacefully from one party to the other. It also added to the growing list of African countries in which the opposition has been able to take over from the ruling party without the intervention of violence. Well done, Senegal.
In neighbouring Mali, however, something very confusing has happened. The President, Amadou Tamani Toure, has served his full two terms and was due to hold elections on 29 April 2012 and hand over power to whoever won the election. And yet Malian soldiers thought it opportune, a just one month before the election, to overthrow Toure.
It doesn't make sense because he had shown no apparent signs of hanging on. Indeed, Toure is popular in Mali precisely because he appears to be a man of honour who goes by the rules. When he seized power from President Moussa Traore in 1991, he became an instantaneous hero by refusing to stay in power for any length of time, but organising elections and handing over to the winner, Alpha Konare. Meanwhile, Toure became a sort of lionised figure in Africa, being sent ion peace missions to countries in which military action was causing disorder, by ECOWAS and the African Union.
Eventually, however, he succumbed to calls from home to lead the country, and he managed to win elections to the presidency – twice. His term, according to the constitution, would have ended in April. But he has been deposed.
The language of the “young officers” who have constituted a junta in Bamako shows, however, that he was not popular with some areas of Malian society. But who can please everyone in a large country like Mali?
The only concrete thing that has emerged from the charges made by the new junta against Toure is that he did not provide adequate resources to fight the insurgency by Tuareg rebels, who have been fighting to establish their own “Azawad”
state in the north of the country. But this is not a fair accusation. What are 'adequate resources' in a country as poor as Mali? Besides, the Tuareg have given trouble to every government of Mali – and also in Niger and Mauritania – since the 1960s.
They are a nomadic tribe whose ability to survive in and operate within the Sahara Desert, in conditions which no modern army can endure, are legendary/ To expect President Toure to have been able to defeat them is quite simply, unrealistic.
But an even worse situation has occurred amongst the Tuareg, as far as the government in the south is concerned. Many of the Tuareg went to fight for Col Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and when Gaddafi was overthrown, his Tuareg soldiers we5re able to capture and transport to Mali and elsewhere, vast amounts of powerful weapons. They've been using these arms to harass government troops, and one or two outposts in the north have fallen to them.
If the new junta thinks it can succeed against them, it is entertaini9ng an illusion. It would be a better idea to negotiate with the Tuareg and see how far they are prepared to compromise from their demand for full secession and statehood.
Meanwhile, E$COWAS and the AU have done the right thing in reading the riots act to the junta and suspending Mali from both organisations, until the junta hands over to a popularly elected government. This idea that some soldiers can just get up and take power into their own hands just because they have disagreements with the authority in power must be dispensed with in West Africa.
It remains to be seen whether ECOMOG and the AU are prepared to use Mali an an example of a coup that has been thwarted by action by Africa's regional and continental bodies. Both organisations could have the Tuareg at their beck and call, and it would be a good idea to use them to make the point that military power without a civilian mandate behind it, will be rendered null and void in Africa for good.