In the mid-1990s, Mali was battered by a series of political crises and mired in economic troubles. Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman of the Alliance pour la Démocratie au Mali (ADEMA), had been elected to the presidency in April 1992 after the country’s first democratic elections. By then, the popular euphoria that had attended the blood-soaked demise of the regime of General Moussa Traoré (in off. 1968–1991) had given way to political contest and partisan squabbling. Three intractable problems beset the new regime, to the extent of threatening ‘national unity’ and creating a ‘virtual civil war’ (in the words of President Konaré – in off. 1992–2002). The state was financially bankrupt and was subjected to untrammelled austerity by donors, leading to widespread public discontent. In a riotous expression of popular frustration, students – a group that had been instrumental in the fall of Traoré – turned militant against the ADEMA regime, burning down the National Assembly building and President Konaré’s home in April 1993 and threatening with action the ‘interests’ of major donors such as France and the US. In the north, Tuareg rebels, in coordination with their brethren in neighbouring Niger, had launched a series of armed movements with a view to creating an independent Tuareg territory across the central Sahara at the expense of both Sahelian countries. Mali’s parlous economic situation worsened in 1994 after the CFA Franc currency was devalued by half. Amid the collapse of the public service and acute pauperisation, social anger and student agitation caused chronic government instability. An ambiance of hostile mistrust between leading politicians ensued – a dominant feature of the ADEMA’s reign to the end. In the north, despite peace talks and agreements, Tuareg violence continued unabated. Recognising that it was unable to offer full protection to non-Tuareg northern populations (Songhay and Fulani), the government equipped the self-defence groups they had set up with arms and other implements and allowed them to fend for themselves.