Mali: Analyzing the Legislative Results from Kidal

On March 29 and April 19, Mali held legislative elections. Among the results, the outcome in the northern region of Kidal is worth a close look, given Kidal’s centrality to the peace process and the ongoing conflict.

Mali’s National Assembly has 147 seats, and some 22 of those (I’ve seen various counts) were won outright in the first round. That category included the four seats in Kidal, won with what RFI (French) calls “North Korean scores.” Here are the winners and their reported vote totals and percentages (French):

  • Abeïbara: Ahmada ag Bibi, 2,724 votes (91.53%)
  • Kidal: Choghib ag Attaher, 11,592 votes (74.6%)
  • Tessalit: Aicha Belco Maiga, 10,070 votes (87.3%)
  • Tin-Essako: Mohamed ag Intalla, 2,384 votes (97%)

Reported turnout (French) was over 85% in Kidal, in contrast to reported turnout of less than 13% in the capital Bamako.

Here is a map of Kidal’s administrative cercles, which double as electoral constituencies:

These four deputies from Kidal (see here, French) include three incumbents who won re-election – Ahmada ag Bibi of Abeïbara, Mohamed ag Intalla of Tin-Essako, and Aicha Belco Maiga* of Tessalit. The first two figures are particularly well known. In addition to their long careers in electoral politics, they are both prominent hereditary leaders within the Ifoghas clans of the Kel Adagh Tuareg confederation; ag Intalla is, in fact, the aménokal or head of the confederation. Such combinations of electoral capital and hereditary capital have been common in the north since the advent of multiparty politics in the 1990s. Both men are also, moreover, senior leaders within the ex-rebel coalition the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA); ag Intalla’s brother Alghabass is the Secretary General of arguably the most important bloc within the CMA, the High Council for Unity of Azawad (HCUA). Both ag Bibi and ag Intalla won massively in the previous elections in 2013 (see here, pp. 46-47).

The only upset this year, then, was in the city of Kidal itself. In 2013 (see previous link, p. 47), the CMA did not yet exist but its components did, and their preferred candidate lost; the winner that year was Ahmoudène ag Iknass, who hails from the Imghad (former “tributary” or “vassals,” considered free but not “noble” within the Kel Adagh) Tuareg. The Imghad likely represent the majority of voters in Kidal, and so ag Iknass’ victory could be interpreted as demographic destiny coming to fruition after years of Ifoghas dominance. Yet the (future) CMA leaders also felt that ag Iknass was installed by their political enemies, namely the antecedents of the movement that since 2014 has been called the Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group and Allies (French acronym GATIA). Ag Iknass has been seen as close to GATIA’s leader El Hajj ag Gamou, who is himself Imghad; for example, ag Iknass was one of two main representatives (French) for the coalition of movements called the Plateforme, of which GATIA is the leading member, in negotiations with the CMA in 2015.

One crude but plausible reading of this year’s election in Kidal is that CMA forces wrested the seat back from GATIA. I have not been able to find much information yet about the incoming deputy, Choghib ag Attaher, but if he is the same man mentioned here (French), he was a Vice President of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (French acronym MNLA, another key bloc of the CMA) as of 2014. And if he is the same man described in these leaked U.S. Embassy Bamako cables (here and here), then he is a hereditary ruler within one fraction of the Idnane, another prominent Tuareg clan sometimes considered to be nobility. A writeup (French) after his election victory describes him as a tribal chief from a major family, a local RPM official, and “a product of the youth of Kidal.”

Notably, the electoral power struggles in the north do not really play out along party lines – all four of the deputies from Kidal belong to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s Rally for Mali (French acronym RPM) – but ag Iknass, the outgoing deputy from Kidal city, previously did too. This year, however, ag Iknass ran (French, p. 108) on the list of ASMA-CFP (Alliance for Solidarity in Mali-Congress of Patriotic Forces, led by former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga). It seems the real contest was over who would be the RPM candidate for Kidal rather than which party would win. Party affiliations play out differently in different parts of Mali – in contrast to Kidal, the RPM was nearly wiped out in Bamako (French) in these elections.

What does all this mean for the future? For one thing, ag Attaher’s victory would seem to further consolidate the CMA’s position in Kidal, with a corresponding weakening of GATIA’s position. Beyond that, another obvious conclusion is the relative continuity among key actors – the CMA’s deputies will remain key interlocutors with the government in Bamako, and being from the same party has not and does mean that the Kidal elites are always positively disposed toward the government. Finally, the CMA’s seemingly regained ability to dominate the elections in Kidal underscores that the demographic majority will not always buck the preferences of the long-time elite.

*Who is Songhai, for what it’s worth, while the other three are Tuareg. Her Facebook page is here.

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