Mali elections go smoothly, but problems remain

In a runoff presidential election on August 12, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita easily beat engineer Soumaila Cisse. Keita, of the Rally for Mali party, got 78 percent of the runoff vote, to about 22 percent for Cisse, of the Union for the Republic and Democracy. The turnout was about 46 percent of registered voters. Mr. Cisse readily conceded Keita’s victory, in spite of complaints of irregularities in the election.

Many felt that insisting on an early presidential election while the country was still very unsettled because of a rebellion, starting in January of 2012, by Tuareg separatists in the North of the Country, the subsequent takeover of much of the north, including the towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao in the North, by Islamist forces, some with Al Qaeda links, a military coup d’état in March of 2012, a French and allied African intervention earlier this year. However, the election went ahead and things appear to be fairly calm in its wake. Keita will now replace interim President Dioncounda Traoré.

In the first round of the presidential election on July 28, Keita got 39.23 percent and Cisse 19.44 percent. To the surprise of some, Dramane Dembélé, whose Alliance for Democracy in Mali is said to be the largest political party in the country, only got 9.59 percent. No fewer than 27 other candidates shared the rest of the presidential vote. The most visible candidate on the left, Sheikh Oumar Mariko of the Marxist Partí Sadi, got 2.40 percent.

But who is president-elect Keita? He was the prime minister of Mali from 1994 to 2000 and the president of the Malian parliament (National Assembly) from 2002 to 2007. Twice, he ran unsuccessfully for president, the last time in 2007, when he was beaten by Amadou Toumani Touré, the man the military overthrew last year.

Like many politicians and officials in “Francophone” African states – mostly former French colonies where French is the lingua franca-Keita was educated in France, as well as Mali and Senegal, and has strong links to the former colonial power, among other things, through his election in 1999 as vice president of the Socialist (Social Democratic) International, Keita shares a political bond with French President Francois Hollande whose Socialist Party also belongs to the International. The Socialist International of today is a very mixed bag of groups, mostly centrist rather than socialist, but including also some with real revolutionary credentials. Yet it is not expected that Keita will govern from a radical left-wing position.

A discordant note was sounded when it was revealed that concomitant with the elections, Malian army Captain Amadou Sanogo, whose coup in March last year opened the door to the Tuareg-Islamist seizure of the whole of the North of the country, is no longer a captain but has been bumped upward to Lieutenant General.

Elections or no elections, Mali’s main problems remain the same: In addition to the separatist and jihadist tendencies in the North, Mali has among the lowest indicators of quality of life anywhere in the world or even in Africa. It has no seaports and little industry, and is dependent on export of raw materials, including gold, to the industrial world. It is financially and economically dependent on France, which has substantial control over the currency of Mali and other francophone West and Central African states.

If Keita plans to do anything about all of this, he is going to have to act boldly, in spite of the way he finds himself boxed after his electoral triumph by the divisiveness in his own country and the overweening French influence and control.

Photo: A woman completes her ballot behind a privacy screen as others wait in line to vote, at a polling station in Bamako, Mali, Aug. 11. Many voters trudged through red muddy roads in Mali’s rainy capital to choose their next president. Thomas Martinez/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.