The Tuareg mercenaries of West Africa may have failed to save Qaddafi’s crumbling government last year, but they have had one success—toppling the democratic government of Mali, described by the FT as “one of west Africa’s most stable countries.” According to an FT report, this Tuareg revolt, carried out with weapons brought back from their stint in Libya, surprised many in the international community. Apparently the stable democratic institutions in Mali weren’t strong enough to weather the fallout from an unrelated civil war in a nearby country.This casts serious doubt on the mainstream press, NGO and foreign policy establishment line on Africa. For years, liberal media outlets have defined the Africa narrative as “the triumph of democracy”— the spread of democracy would resolve the continent’s many tribal, religious, development, and governance issues by promoting good governance through electoral institutions. This reflects the standard do-gooder line of our time: secular pluralist democracy is a panacea that can overcome African backwardness.Maybe. But recent history implies that democracy may be more effective at reforming a state that is already strong and effective than at building a state amidst chaos and tribal and ethnic war.The Mali coup further exposes the fragility of democracy, as well as the enduring and even growing power of ethnic divides. The Tuareg insurgency was given new life by the campaign for democracy in Libya, a consequence of which was giving experienced Tuareg fighters much better weapons. The quick collapse of the Malian government shows the besetting weakness of Africa’s artificial post-colonial states, while the links with al Qaeda among some of these rebel groups show the growing strength of religious and cultural loyalties—the global trend we’ve called hot religion.Despite the earnest wishes of Western do-gooders, democracies are still very weak in Africa, while “backwards” ethnic and religious loyalties remain as strong. Many things will happen in Africa in the 21st century: the triumph of democracy and development under the tutelage of western do-gooders in an Africa which maintains its present boundaries is unlikely to be one of them.