Mali: A growing democracy story

AT A GLANCE:

Election date: April 29 (first round), second round if needed May 13

Main candidates: Prof Dioncounda Traoré (ADEMA)

Ibrahim Boubacar Kéïta (RPM), former Prime Minister

Soumaïla Cissé (URD)

Modibo Sidibé (Independent), former Prime Minister

Soumana Sacko, former Prime Minister

Registered voters: 6.2 million (2007)    Current population: 15.8 million

The story of Mali’s presidential election this April was meant to be one of continuity in its refreshing democratic progress, but a fresh flare-up of an increasingly familiar rebellion by the nomadic Tuareg tribes, threatens to tear up this script.

President Amadou Toumani Toure, the man credited with rescuing the country from decades of military dictatorship, is due to step down at the expiry of his second term in April with a handful of candidates in a tight race to succeed him.

A whispering campaign to extend his term seemed to have deservedly come a cropper, with President Toure reinforcing his democratic credentials even further with a rousing national address at the end of 2011 where he reiterated the need to hold “regular, free and transparent” elections.

The Tuareg tribes are demanding further autonomy for the north, and have taken up arms for the third time in an increasingly bitter fight with the army.

Tens of thousands of refugees have so fled the clashes into the neighbouring countries, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation caused by drought that seems to have sneaked up on the region.

Mali has also had to grapple with terrorism, and its perceived softer stance on militants, including a willingness for prisoner exchanges, has earned it tough criticism from neighbouring countries.

Fighting

The April 29 election will also have a referendum component that seeks to review the constitution.

Preparations are well on course, but what impact the fighting in the north will have, remains unseen. The minister for Land Administration and Local Districts, Mr Kafougouna Koné, has admitted that there is uncertainty, despite putting on a brave face.

“The role of my department is to prepare the elections. Things are going well,” he said, adding that in case of a problem, it would be up to the Constitutional Court to decide whether the elections would go on.

But civil society says there should be no room for uncertainty over the election.

“Government must give means to the army to fight against rebels and secure the north so that people can vote,” Mr Ibrahim Sango, the president of APEM, a network of not-for-profits assisting the electoral process in Mali, said.

Mr Sango said that in 1992 when there also were rebel attacks in the north, elections still went on. The role of the military, at times given to dabbling in civilian politics, also remains up in the air.

Contentious

The voter list has also been contentious, but most parties remain optimistic that there will be a consensus. Concerns also linger over voter apathy--only 33 per cent of the 6.2 million registered voters came out at the first round in 2007, and even lower (10-12 per cent) in the second.

Whoever succeeds the hugely popular Toure has a lot to do (He belongs to no party, but was elected with strong backing from other parties, and with a 71 per cent landslide). 

The security question remains most pressing, but poverty and food insecurity would not be too far down the to-do list.

His record on putting up new infrastructure is commendable, while agriculture, including through irrigation, have not been ignored.

A favourable operating climate for small industries has also been fostered, while job creation initiatives for the youth are also taking shape.

Mali, however, remains one of the poorest countries in Africa, while drought has led to a developing humanitarian crisis.

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