Mali appears at first glance to be one of the most improbable democracies in existence -- life expectancy is at 45 years, infant mortality is higher than 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, it's literacy rate is 46%, and according to the CIA World Factbook, "is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income."
Not only that, its predominantly Muslim. Your average Democracy skeptic (both liberal and conservative) might therefore be disinclined to think of Mali as an area where Democracy is likely to thrive. But they'd be wrong:
Mali's young democracy is thriving with all of the attendant institutions, including a legal system, however still imperfect, and a free news media that includes 42 privately owned newspapers and 124 private radio stations, the most popular medium in a highly illiterate country. It also is essentially free of human-rights abuses, according to a 2003 State Department report.
The reason I label the post "must-read" is because it covers alot of crucial points about the importance of Democratization around the world--and the American interest in it. Not only is West Africa a key conduit for oil (and one not predominantly under the thumb of OPEC), but it also is a frontline in the war against Islamic extremism. At the moment, the West African brand of Islam is quite moderate. However, as we've seen so many times in the past, US hostility (or even indifference) can drive impoverished and poor citizens to radicalism and violence. The continued instability of the region (made worse by the rapid worsening of the situation in the Ivory Coast) only compounds the problem.
And of course, to top it all off, China has taken an interest in Africa as a region in which to expand its hegemony--primarily because the US has traditionally showed such little interest in Africa in the past. As Stephanie Giry notes in the November 15 2004 edition of The New Republic:
China's efforts don't bode well for African democracy--or for Washington. As the diplomatic wrangling over Sudan shows, China's march into Africa will, at best, complicate African and U.S. efforts to bring good governance and human rights to the continent. At worst, it will hurt the fight against terrorism and weapons proliferation.
The United States must do everything in its power to support fledgling Democracies like Mali. This is a clearcut case where US moral, economic, and realist interests all come into line. Morally, the US must provide direct support to nation's which have overcome the odds to choose the liberal path. Economically, the US needs a stable and secure West Africa to protect our oil interests. And strategically, the US needs to check both Chinese hegemonic ambitions and resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, a cause which could be greatly aided by making Mali a showcase of how Muslims and the third world can benefit if they ally with the United States and align with our values.
Read Professor Drezner's post. It is one of the clearest examples of how democracy can flourish in even the most hostile environments, and offers hope to those of us who believe that all citizens of the world have a future in a liberal, tolerant, modern democratic state.