Mali’s elected president must unite the country

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 19, 2013 blog post.

_____

Mali’s second-round presidential election runoff on August 11 ended without major incident. The ministry for territorial administration on Monday reported that the voter turnout was 46 percent, slightly less than voter participation in the first-round.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former prime minister from 1994 to 2000, was the winner garnering 78 percent of the vote. Supporters chanting IBK, Mr. Keita’s nickname, danced in the streets of Bamako the capital, in celebration. IBK is a venerable, tough-minded politician; part of the old guard that controlled Mali’s governing process since the early 1990’s.

Mr. Keita’s success was in large part due to support from a number of powerful Islamic imams, whose followers exceeded a million voters in the heavily populated south, which made a big difference in the outcome. IBK’s picture was plastered on billboards all over Bamako; reportedly the campaign was better organized than his challenger Soumaila Cisse, a former finance minister.

In the sparsely populated northern region, where voters trudged through rain and mud to vote, the turnout was more tepid. Polling stations in some cases were difficult to find, and many were too distant to reach without transportation. Mr. Cisse, who comes from the ancient town of Timbuktu, depended on a large turnout from the north.

Mr. Keita also received support from the military, avoiding criticism of Capt. Amadou Aya Sanogo the coup leader, who ousted former President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012. After Sunday’s election interim President Dioncounda Traore promoted Capt. Sanogo to the rank of four-star general, reportedly giving him immunity from prosecution. This will keep the military power base aligned with Mr. Keita’s new government.

During the first-round of the election, one of the twenty-eight candidates withdrew due to claims that voter identification cards were based on the 2009 election cycle, which would exclude most young voters of age in this election cycle. In addition there was concern that over 300,000 Tuaregs and Arabs from the northern region, living in neighboring country refugee camps after the Islamists takeover, would not be able to vote since identification cards had not reached them in time.

Tuareg separatists had signed a June 18 Peace Accord, which allowed the presidential elections to proceed in the northern town of Kidal, their stronghold. Although the voter turnout there was better than in the first-round, it was still substantially lower than expected. Voters in some of the outlying towns were angry with the ministry for territorial administration, claiming the identification cards had been withheld so as to concentrate power in the south.

Election Observers reported that for the most part the presidential election was fair. European Union observer Louis Michel stated, “This election, from a democratic standards point of view, is a success”, adding “It is an election that allows Mali now to start finishing the process that it has begun, the return to a normal democracy”.

French President Francois Hollande had pressed for elections to be held no later than July, wanting to pull out most of the 4,000 troops that helped oust the Islamists from the northern towns last January. Mr. Hollande after the election stated, “The vote was a victory for democracy” and that France would leave 1,000 troops to operate alongside the 12, 000 UN peacekeeping forces, until the new government could take over security matters.

Now that the election is over President Keita needs to put politics aside. Some of the first-round candidates have a diverse background representing different segments of civil society, one being a woman. He needs to seriously consider including these talented people in his new government. This is Mali’s moment for IBK to show that he can govern justly. He should not be tempted by the old ways of patronage and cronyism to fill the important government posts.

It is important that President Keita holds the National Reconciliation Conference soon, as planned, so that the northern Tuareg and Arab factions are included in the governing process, or Mali will face the resurgence of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which has pushed for independence since the 1960’s.

President Keita’s top priority must be to unify Mali, and bring together all the different ethnic factions. It is paramount that parliamentary elections be held soon, to give voters the opportunity to choose representatives from the different regions. He also needs to reach out to educated Malians living abroad to return home and serve in the ministries, to help rebuild the country.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,