Socialism and the Nation: Mali, 1957-1968
Nathan, Robert Donald Francis
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This dissertation offers a historical account of how the USRDA regime practiced politics in Mali’s first postcolonial decade. Drawing primarily on Malian archival sources, it studies the regime’s relationships with chiefs, merchants, and peasants, revealing how nationalist and socialist ideologies, practical interests, and ambitions of radical social, political, and economic transformation animated the USRDA’s political project. While nationalist and socialist ideals significantly shaped the regime’s approach to policy-making throughout the 1960s, these sat in tension with the politics of patronage that had long characterized the Malian milieu, creating a complex and chaotic political environment. This environment grew increasingly tense as the economy declined and the USRDA’s policies and institutions foundered — often in the face of resistance from merchants, chiefs, and peasants. In 1968 the military resolved this tension by a coup d’état, jettisoning the USRDA’s radical socialist ideology while conserving the Malian nationalist ideal. The era of independence was a time of intellectual ferment and political experimentation in Mali. It was characterized by the advent of territorial nationalism and radical socialism as ideals that helped the USRDA regime manage a postcolonial dispensation more fragmented and impoverished than previously imagined. These emerged from existing preoccupations with development and anticolonialism, while embodying new concerns for territorial sovereignty and political power in a one-party context. These new concerns, in turn, arose from failed efforts to forge a greater polity from French West Africa’s colonies and to establish a broad national identity binding citizens across territories as West Africans and across continents as members of a postcolonial French community. Although nationalism and socialism were the foremost features of Malian political rhetoric during this period, the regime had no clear definition of them, and was not only intent on building a true socialist nation, but also on state-building in general and the exigencies of realpolitik. Socialism, although not an amorphous catch-all, was pressed into service to support the regime’s new interest in territorial nationalism and its mundane entanglements with the politics of patronage. In this context, nationalism and socialism often served the party’s needs in ways that conflicted with the public interest.