Mali: How Did IBK Win Re-Election?

Yesterday, 16 August, Mali’s Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization announced official results from the second round of Mali’s presidential elections. The first round, held 29 July, narrowed the field to two candidates – incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) and long-time opposition candidate and former Finance Minister Soumaïla Cissé. The first round results gave IBK approximately 41% of the vote to Cissé’s nearly 18%, leaving around 41% of the electorate undecided. The second round was held on 12 August. The official results from the second round give IBK 67.17% to Cissé’s 32.83%. Turnout is estimated at 34.5%, which is dismayingly low but which is also in line with turnout figures from previous Malian elections, especially in the second round.

How did IBK win, especially in the face of Mali’s terrible problems? Three factors occur to me so far, though the list is surely non-exhaustive.

First, and most immediately, the opposition did not rally around Cissé in the second round. As I discussed here, in Francophone West Africa’s two-round systems, an opposition candidate hoping to oust an incumbent almost always needs a wave of endorsements and alliances between the first and second rounds if that candidate is to win. That bandwagon effect did not happen for Cissé – the lower-scoring candidates almost all stayed neutral, with some of them professing open derision for both IBK and Cissé. Fourth-place finisher Cheick Modibo Diarra, for example, said on 10 August in a communiqué (French), “My belief remains that neither the one nor the other corresponds to our ideal of change. To replace Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta with Soumaïla Cissé is not an alternation, it is not change for us, it is nothing more and nothing less than a game of musical chairs.”

Diarra, a former acting prime minister, may not be in the best position to denounce games of musical chairs – but the sentiment he expressed may have been more widely shared by voters. Clearly, if we go by official results, many people saw no point in voting; insecurity in northern and central Mali can explain some of the low turnout, but some of it should be attributed to apathy/cynicism/disgust as well. Cissé was unable to convince sufficient numbers of elites or voters that he represented a credible alternative to the political status quo. There is a broader fatigue, it seems, with the whole political class, and IBK benefits from that fatigue in the sense that he won almost by default. The devil you know, etc.

Second, it’s worth according a role – although I’m still thinking through how big of one – to current Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga (let’s call him SBM). Since SBM, a former intelligence chief and defense minister, was appointed in December 2017, various observers have seen that appointment in the context of the then-upcoming elections. According to these theories (and here I’m mixing in some of what I heard on short trips to Bamako in January and March of this year), SBM’s appointment had a triple purpose: (a) removing a potentially formidable competitor from the field of presidential candidates, (b) appointing someone seen as more competent and well-connected than the cycle of short-lived prime ministers IBK had run through since 2013, and (c) appointing someone from the north (Gao) with a mandate to making the political and logistical arrangements necessary to have a credible and victorious election throughout the whole country and especially in the north. The north is obviously not the most populated part of the country, but it seems IBK was keen to (a) have the election take place there at all, at least to an extent that would satisfy foreign powers, and (b) to win there, likely to argue that he had a truly national mandate. SBM, through visits to the north and the center, as well as through numerous visits abroad, may have played a key role in convincing various elites (domestic and foreign) that a second term for IBK would be better for them than any realistic alternative. Worth noting too, with regard to the north, is that many of the leading politicians there, despite past or current involvement with rebellions and past or current tensions with the central government, are nevertheless members of the ruling party. In any case, SBM’s appointment seems to have both accelerated and clarified some of the intra-elite agreements that have allowed IBK to take a second term.

Third, we obviously have to take the issue of fraud very seriously – or, because “fraud” conveys a narrow sense of same-day ballot-box stuffing and tampering with vote tallies, let’s use the broader term of manipulation. It’s hard to sort through all the allegations (example) that voter blocs were bought and paid for (especially in the north), that backroom deals were struck, etc. But the allegations are widespread (as is the satirical commentary), and Cissé himself has rejected the results (even before they were published). A rejoinder might be that opposition candidates in West Africa (and in Africa more broadly) regularly call foul when official results are released – but that doesn’t mean those candidates are always wrong! The question, really, is to what extent IBK’s people used the levers of incumbency to make deals that predetermined or influenced the outcome. It’s hard for me to say, but I think two points stand out: (a) if IBK’s people did manipulate the process, they were not confident enough about their power/position to blatantly rig the results, especially in the first round; and, relatedly, (b) if IBK’s people did manipulate the process, they were careful to ensure that it would still be credible enough for the international community to accept the outcome. The domestic arena is not the only one that matters, after all.

Hopefully, the availability of more precise voting data in the coming days and weeks will shed further light on these questions and on other mechanics of IBK’s victory. For now, though, Malians and outsiders will be pondering what the next five years will bring for the country.

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A Look at Allegations of Fraud in Mali’s Presidential Elections (First Round)

Last week, I looked at the results from the first round of Mali’s presidential elections (29 July), discussing what those results say about the top two candidates’ prospects in the second round (12 August). Those candidates are the incumbent, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), and long-time opposition candidate (and 2013 runner-up) Soumaïla Cissé.

The results give us a framework for thinking about political realities – whether the results are genuine or not, they reflect something fundamental about the balance of power in the country.* Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that there have been widespread allegations of rigging and tampering.

The question of fraud is intimately linked with questions of insecurity, as some of the key allegations concern suspected box-stuffing in the north and center of the country, where violence is rife. In other words, some of the president’s opponents accuse him of exploiting the insecurity to pad his vote totals in areas where it will be difficult to verify the integrity of the electoral process.

In this connection, it’s worth noting that in various parts of the north and the center, nearly 250,000 voters or over 3% of the electorate weren’t able to vote at all – here, for example, is the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization’s widely-circulated “list of centers and offices where voters were not able to vote.” The overwhelming majority of these voting centers are in the central Mopti region, but some are in the north.

A quick post like this can’t do justice to the complexity and seriousness of these questions, but here is some of what has been said, done, and reported about allegations of fraud:

  • AFP: “The three main opposition candidates in Mali’s presidential election [Cissé, Aliou Diallo, and Cheick Modibo Diarra] announced Sunday they were mounting a legal challenge in the country’s constitutional court alleging ‘ballot box-stuffing’ and other irregularities, after incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took the lead in the first round of the vote last month.”
  • RFI and Le Monde report on a formal condemnation of the first round’s alleged procedural problems by 18 candidates, including the top three opposition figures.
  • Le Monde, in the context of a larger article about electoral process and fraud allegations, discusses the high reported voter turnout in the northern Kidal region (88% turnout, 80% voting for IBK, compared with 43% turnout nationwide and 41% voting for IBK nationally) and in the northern Menaka region (86% turnout, 79% voting for IBK).
  • VOA/AFP have a report from the northern Gao region alleging ballot-box stuffing in nomad (i.e., Tuareg and Arab) zones, although Malian journalist Baba Ahmed criticized the report for foregrounding voices he felt are not representative of the people of Gao.
  • Le Républicain has an article on the pressures facing the Constitutional Court.

For a broader sense of the immediate politics, it’s also well worth reading Olivier Dubois’ recent article on the political atmosphere and the maneuvers of the candidates.

*After all, even if the results are based on rigging, the numbers tell us something about either how much power different factions have to rig or, at the very least, how confident they feel about their rigging.

Mali’s New Old Cabinet

On December 11, Mali’s Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned under pressure from junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo. A new interim Prime Minister, Diango Cissoko, took office. On Saturday he announced the names in his new cabinet. Maliweb has the full list here (French). The government is meant to represent the country politically, regionally, and socially.

Most press outlets are stressing that the new cabinet contains many of the same faces as the previous cabinet, which was formed in August and itself partly overlapped with the cabinet that preceded it. RFI (French) calls the newest cabinet a “government of continuity.” Key ministers – Tienan Coulibaly at Economy, Tiemam Coulibaly at Foreign Affairs, Malick Coulibaly at Justice, General Yamoussa Camara at Defense, General Tiefing Konaté at Interior Security, and Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly at Territorial Administration – remain unchanged. The last three (all military men) are “seen as close to the former junta,” AFP reported in August. Dr. Yacouba Traoré (bio in French here), head of the recently created Ministry of Religious Affairs, also retains his position.

The biggest changes, RFI suggests, are (1) the departure of people close to ex-PM Diarra and (2) the addition of “three new Songhai, Arab, and Tamashek (Tuareg) ministers,” i.e. representatives of northern Malian communities. RFI goes on to list reactions by Malian political actors. AFP (French) suggests that the addition of northern ministers could boost the government’s efforts at dialogue with Ansar al Din, part of the Islamist coalition that controls territory in northern Mali.

The shake-up in Bamako has left many people wondering about the prospects for political stability there as well as for a planned armed intervention in the north. Bruce Whitehouse takes on those issues in this piece, which I highly recommend you read.

Roundup on the Change of Prime Ministers in Mali

Yesterday, after having been arrested by soldiers, Mali’s Interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned from office. Since the March 21-22 military coup, there have been competing centers of power in Bamako, but as Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group told Reuters, “What is really clear now is that the military junta is the one that is in control.” In a move that underlined that point, Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the March coup, appeared on state television to comment on Diarra’s resignation, saying, “Some weeks ago he (Diarra) said if anyone wanted him to go, he would tender his resignation, not to the president, but to us. So yesterday, we saw that it was necessary for him to go.” Interim President Dioncounda Traore has named a “longtime civil servant,” Diango Cissoko (alternative spellings exist), as the new prime minister.

The “second coup,” as Dr. Gregory Mann calls it, has already generated much coverage and commentary – indeed, Mann’s piece is a great place to start. So rather than analyzing events myself, I think I can add the most value by rounding up the most pertinent articles. Since the conflict between Diarra and the soldiers appears to have centered on the issue of a foreign military intervention in Mali, I’ve included several articles on that topic.

Videos/Malian Reactions

Analyses of/Sources for Bamako Politics

  • Pre-coup: El Watan‘s piece (French) with a section entitled “Diarra, the Most Criticized Man in Bamako.”
  • NYT: “Mali’s Prime Minister Resigns After Arrest, Muddling Plans to Retake North.”
  • RFI’s interview with Professor Michel Galy (French).
  • Biographies of Cissoko: official and unofficial (French).
  • Dr. Jay Ufelder, “The Coup Trap.”

Statements by Foreign Governments/Bodies on PM Diarra’s Ouster

  • United Nations.
  • French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See also RT, “France Urges Foreign Military Intervention in Mali after PM Arrest.”
  • US State Department. As Andrew Lebovich commented on Twitter in response to the statement, “So the State Department is going to keep talking about elections in April 2013, or soon after, in Mali.” Let me speak bluntly: I think any election that took place in or around April 2013 would lack integrity and would exclude much of the country, most notably much of the north. Insisting that Mali hold elections in spring 2013 could do more harm than good.
  • UK Foreign Office.

Analyses of the Intervention Debate

  • Reuters: “US, France Differ over How to Deal with Explosive Mali.”
  • Colum Lynch: “[US Amb. to the UN Susan] Rice: French Plan for Mali Intervention Is ‘Crap’.”
  • Wall Street Journal: “EU Moves Closer to Mali Training Mission.”

Newspaper Op-Eds on Intervention in Mali

Relevant Twitter Feeds

Bate Felix, Baba Ahmed, Fabien OffnerDavid Lewis, Peter Tinti, Andrew Lebovich, Hannah ArmstrongTommy Miles, Phil Paoletta, and Dr. Susanna Wing.

Mali’s Islamist Coalition Responds to External Intervention Discussions

Plans for an external military intervention in war-torn Mali are gathering momentum. Mali’s interim government has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base a 3,000-strong force in Bamako. The European Union is “considering requests to support West African-led military intervention in Mali and to restructure the country’s beleaguered army.” France and the United States have urged the United Nations Security Council to approve ECOWAS’ plans, and France and the African Union have said they will support ECOWAS logistically. Even Algeria “may have to accept the deployment of West African troops in its crisis-hit neighbour Mali contrary to its traditional stance against foreign intervention and focus on internal security, analysts say.”

As Reuters points out, uncertainty about who really rules in Bamako – coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, civilian President Dioncounda Traore, or Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra – could efforts to retake Mali’s Islamist-held north. But many powerful actors are pushing for a military campaign of some kind.

These developments have not gone unnoticed in the north. The Malian press has transcribed a phone interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Islamist coalition that rules northern Mali. I have not been able to find an in-depth profile on Hamaha, but this comment on him from AFP is notable:

Malian national Omar Hamaha, one of the main Islamist commanders in the north, is a case study in the bridges between [Ansar al Din, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, the main players in the Islamist coalition].

He is known as the second-in-command to the AQIM boss in charge of Gao. But during the seizure of Timbuktu in April, he referred to himself as the chief-of-staff of Ansar Dine, and now says he holds the same position in MUJAO.

“Remember, we are all mujahedeen. Whether a fighter is from MUJAO, Ansar Dine or AQIM, it’s the same thing,” he told AFP.

“We have the same ambition, the application of sharia. Whenever there’s an attack on one of us, it’s an attack on everyone.”

Hamaha is frequently quoted as a spokesman for the coalition in local and international media (see here, for example), where his rhetoric often emphasizes the coalition’s embrace of violence in the service of its determination to impose shari’a across Mali. In the aftermath of the Malian army’s killing of sixteen Muslim preachers earlier this month, Hamaha expressed the Islamist coalition’s rejection of mediation efforts and its objective of capturing Bamako:

He warned that the Islamists would one day attack the south. ‘‘We will plant the black flag of the Islamists at Koulouba,’’ he said, naming the hill on which Mali’s presidential palace sits.

Hamaha reiterated these messages in his recent phone interview (French), in which he expresses defiance regarding the possibility of an external intervention. My translation:

I was contacted last Saturday by the Minister of Defense for discussions. I told him that we are open to dialogue if the government is ready to submit itself to the shari’a. Plainly speaking, if the authorities are ready to apply the sharia. I was surprised that the Minister of Defense spoke to me of secularism (laicite). That impedes all dialogue with them. We are jihadists…We are ready to take the lead and to defeat all armies by the sword, whether they be from ECOWAS or even NATO…Nothing will be able to stop our advance on Bamako and the rest of Mali because we have chosen to die for the religion.

More remarks from Hamaha here (French).

The statement leaves me wondering how seriously to take the threat of the Islamist coalition’s southern advance. The Islamists’ capture of the town of Douentza (map) on September 1 certainly raised some eyebrows, and their repeated references to a southern advance indicates that the threat is not just an offhand comment. On the other hand, advancing into southern areas could stretch the Islamists thin, exacerbate the political backlash they sometimes face, and hand them military defeats. Whatever happens, ECOWAS and other external forces can expect stiff resistance from the Islamist coalition, and external forces may even find themselves initially working not just to retake territory, but to repel new attacks.

Mali’s New Government

This has been a big week for news from Africa! Along with missed transition deadlines in Somalia and the announcement of the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, this week saw the formation of a new “national unity government” in Mali. The unity government’s creation was a key demand of the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been attempting to stabilize Malian politics.

Interim President Dioncounda Traore and interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra have retained their offices.

AFP details some of the changes:

The national unity government announced by presidential decree Monday has 31 ministers of almost all political shades including four women.

Tieman Coulibaly, a member of the anti-coup Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR) party, becomes foreign minister…The new administration also includes a new ministry of religious affairs, headed by Yacouba Traore.

Among those reappointed are three military members seen as close to the former junta: Defence Minister Colonel Yamoussa Camara, Security Minister General Tiefing Konate and Minister for Territorial Administration Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.

Justice Minister Malick Coulibaly and Health Minister Soumana Makadji were also reappointed.

[…]

The communication ministry will be taken over by Bruno Maiga, a junior minister in the previous administration formed on April 24.

Coulibaly replaces Sadio Lamine Sow, seen as close to Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, the top West African mediator in Mali’s crisis.

The Malian government’s website is here (French).

Analysts are attempting to assess the relative strength of Dioncounda, Diarra, and Sanogo within the new government. RFI (French, via Peter Tinti) writes that Diarra was able to dominate the politics of selecting the cabinet: “In his new team he counts nearly fifteen of his close associates, many more than any other actor on the Malian political scene.” Do not, however, count Sanogo out as a political force.

The new government excludes the group Ansar al Din and other members of the Islamist coalition that controls much of northern Mali, where rebellion began in January. I would guess, though, that the Islamists would not have joined even had they been invited.

VOA on the government’s priorities:

Toure told VOA that the new government will move forward with plans to seek outside help to liberate the north, which has been controlled by Islamist militants for the past five months.

“We have two priorities: re-establish territorial integrity of Mali in the north, the second priority is organizing elections. The government will start working as soon as possible and try to get support from ECOWAS, from the African Union and from the United Nations.”

Whether they can achieve those priorities is another matter.

For more on the new government, see this alarmist but somewhat informative piece on the new religious affairs ministry, and also see US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s remarks from yesterday. And for an important look at how Mali got here, see this piece from Dr. Bruce Whitehouse.