Roundup on the High-Level Meeting on Mali and the Sahel at the United Nations General Assembly

On 26 September, a “High-Level Meeting on Mali and the Sahel” took place on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. The meeting focused heavily on the issue of the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Here are a few relevant links:

  • The conclusions of the event (English and French). Key quote: “Participants welcomed the progress in operationalizing the Joint Force and condemned the attack of 29 June against its Headquarters in Sévaré. They expressed solidarity with the Joint Force and concerned countries. They welcomed the European Union’s commitment to rebuild the Headquarters. Participants affirmed that mobilizing adequate support for the full operationalization of the Joint Force was critical to its success and called upon Member States to provide the necessary support to the Joint Force as per the recommendations of the Secretary-General contained in his report of 16 October 2017 (S/2017/869) and resolution 2391 (2017). They encouraged the members of the Group of Five for the Sahel to establish a political and strategic framework for the Joint Force. “
  • United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’ remarks (French and English). Key quote: “My longstanding position is that the G5-Sahel Joint Force is an important demonstration of regional ownership.  It needs a strong mandate and sustained and predictable funding.”
  • Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s remarks (French). Key quote: “The Malian state has modest resources, which do not allow it to implement all of the engagements accepted in the Accord within the prescribed period. That is why I reiterate my call for the rapid and effective mobilization of the resources promised by our partners.”
  • High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini’s remarks (French). Key quote: “Together, you are stronger. That is why we have decided to invest a lot in the G5 Sahel.”
  • On Twitter, Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Alpha Barry called for “speed in partners’ support to the G5 Sahel so that the joint force becomes operational on the ground.”
  • Here is a brief readout (French) from Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ismaël Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech (French) to the entire General Assembly is also worth reading.

Here are a few relevant tweets:

Advertisements

Mali: Another Look at the Presidential Election Results

The “Les Afriques dans le Monde” project at Sciences Po Bordeaux has posted some useful maps and charts on Mali’s presidential elections.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • It’s really striking to see the pie charts that include abstentions. The visuals really underscore the weakness of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s second term mandate.
  • The post highlights that of more than 65,000 new voters added to the rolls for the 12 August runoff, approximately half of them were in Gao and half in the diaspora. These are the kinds of numbers that have raised eyebrows in Mali.
  • The maps showing vote share by region are also extremely useful. The map of the first round highlights how well IBK did in the north (especially Kidal and Gao) and how poorly he did in Mopti (which also had, far and away, the highest number of polling place closures due to violence. Interestingly, as the authors note, IBK’s main rival Soumaïla Cissé had his best score in Timbuktu (20%), and his second-best in Gao, so this is not a story of Cissé doing well in south and IBK doing well in the north – rather, it’s the story of two candidates with significant northern support amid a divided south, where the share of votes going to other candidates was much higher. Cissé had minimal support in the south, actually.
  • The map of the second round reinforces these patterns. IBK dominated Kidal, but Cissé preserved a substantial vote share in Timbuktu (increasing, actually, to 26% there) and Gao. Only in those two regions, moreover, was the share of people voting greater than the share of people not voting. In the south, again, Cissé had relatively little support. Moreover, abstentions reached 70% in Segou, Bamako, and Sikasso.
  • I would reiterate what I’ve said before, namely that IBK is in some sense not really the president of Mopti (and even, one could argue, Segou). The violence was so severe, and the abstentions so high, that I take the outcome there as a rejection of the process itself.

Mali: Poor Relations Between IBK and the Cherif of Nioro Continue

In the lead-up to Mali’s presidential election in July and August, some of the country’s most prominent religious leaders publicly broke with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK). One of these men, arguably the most influential Muslim figure in the country, was the Cherif of Nioro, Mohamed Ould Cheicknè or Bouyé (whose name is transliterated numerous ways, even in the Malian press). In the first round of the elections, the Cherif endorsed Aliou Diallo. In the second round, the Cherif endorsed IBK’s opponent Soumaïla Cissé. As I wrote then, “One takeaway is that key Malian religious leaders appear confident that they can break with IBK and come out okay even if he wins a second term.”

In a recent interview, the Cherif recounted his history with IBK and with Malian politics generally. There are a few notable points:

  • He considered himself apolitical under President Amadou Toumani Touré (in office 2002-2012) until the controversy over the proposed family code (which the Cherif and other leaders saw as harmful to Islam) circa 2009. The family code debate influenced his thinking even after the fall of Touré in the coup of 2012, and the Cherif came to support IBK as someone who had been, in his eyes, wronged by Touré and who could “take the country forward.” Endorsing IBK in 2013 was the first time the Cherif had supported a presidential candidate, he says.
  • The Cherif said that IBK deceived him and the Malian people, and that IBK’s first term revealed an autocratic personality. The Cherif recounted a story about one of his sons being harassed and beaten over a toll, and how the affair escalated into a political confrontation between his family and IBK after it appeared to the Cherif that the harassment had been “a sort of political score-settling” connected with his son’s own political activities.
  • The portion of the interview posted online ends there, from what I could find. But the fact of the interview itself being given and published stood out to me in and of itself. Who knows how the relations between IBK and the country’s Muslim leaders will play out over the next five years, but things are not necessarily off to a great start in the second term.

Mali’s New Cabinet

Following his re-election in August, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) retained Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga (SBM), whom I and others have accorded a significant role in IBK’s victory. But the president did reshuffle the cabinet. The list of the thirty-two members can be found here. A good analysis of the new cabinet can be found here (French), but I also want to highlight and amplify a few things:

  • During his first term (2013-2018), IBK regularly reshuffled his cabinets and fired four prime ministers, three of whom spent less than a year in the position. So no one’s job is exactly safe, even SBM’s.
  • There is a great deal of continuity in this cabinet. Only twelve people left the cabinet altogether. Some prominent ministers have been retained, such as Salif Traoré (see a bit of biographical data here) as Minister of Security and Mohamed ag Erlaf as Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (who took a bit of heat during the elections, one should add). Another retention is Nina Wallet Intalou, Minister of Crafts and Tourism and someone associated with the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a rebel movement that played a central role in the 2012 rebellion and its aftermath. Yet another retention is Tierno Amadou Diallo, Minister of Religious Affairs, who (if I am correct) has been one of the few ministers to survive all the cabinet reshuffles since 2013.
  • Another form of continuity is familiar faces coming back, just in new positions. This is the case with Tiéna Coulibaly, now Minister of Justice but previously Minister of Defense. It is also the case with Tiémoko Sangaré, previously Minister of Mines and now Minister of Defense.
  • In terms of new entrants, the appointment of Kamissa Camara as foreign minister has been widely hailed in Mali and abroad, for two reasons: (1) because of her strong reputation, including in Washington, where she worked for the National Endowment for Democracy and other institutions [for full disclosure, I have been in contact with her several times and where she has helped me with my research, although I do not believe she has ever met] and (2) because the appointment of a young woman is seen by many as an exciting development for Mali, for Africa, and for female representation in government generally.
  • In terms of party politics, the above-mentioned analysis notes that of the thirty-two cabinet members, twenty represent political parties. A total of seven parties are represented in the cabinet, and six of those belong to the presidential coalition. Another analysis floats the idea that the prominent party ADEMA-PASJ is something of a loser in this reshuffle, losing two seats and gaining only a symbolic prize with Defense – according to the writer, it is actually IBK who manages that portfolio.,

A readout of the new cabinet’s first meeting can be found here.

Mali: Roundup of Coverage of IBK’s Inaugural Address

On 4 September, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) was sworn in for his second, five-year term as president of Mali. The text of his address can be found here (French). He laid out seven key themes:

  1. “Reinforcing national cohesion”
  2. “Fighting terrorism”
  3. “Restoring values”
  4. “Reforming the state”
  5. “Unleashing private [sector] initiative”
  6. “Fighting poverty”
  7. “Promoting youth”

Here is some of the coverage the speech has received:

  • Reuters: “Hundreds of supporters and local politicians attended the ceremony in the capital Bamako, which followed Keita’s landslide victory last month in an election marred by militant attacks and claims of fraud by his opposition rival.” See also VOA‘s short piece.
  • Jeune Afrique: “[IBK] gave his oath…in front of more than 3,000 people. While the opposition continued to contest this investiture, IBK gave a speech on unity, while calling for ‘loyalty’ to advance the implementation of the peace accord.”
  • Mikado FM has an interview (French) with Chadian diplomat Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the United Nation’s MINUSMA mission in Mali, speaking on IBK’s inauguration and the future.

Worth noting, too, is that one of IBK’s first decisions of his new administration was to retain Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, whom many (including me) have credited with helping IBK win re-election.

Honestly, with the elections and swearing-in over, it seems Mali is back to roughly where it was a few months ago – same status quo, same players, same problems.

On a related note, I was a guest a few days ago on Derek Davison’s podcast, discussing Mali. The episode is here, and Derek’s excellent world affairs blog, And That’s the Way It Was, is here.

 

Roundup of Congratulatory Statements from World Leaders to Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on His Re-Election

On 16 August, Mali’s incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was proclaimed the winner of the country’s elections. On 20 August, the Constitutional Court certified the victory.

Congratulatory phone calls and statements came from a variety of other world leaders. I’ve rounded up some of the readouts and texts, leaning partly on a previous roundup at Jeune Afrique. Here they are, in roughly chronological order

  • Senegalese President Macky Sall, phone call, 16 August.
  • Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, statement, 16 August. (Note: Keita’s first trip after winning re-election was to meet Ould Abdel Aziz in Mauritania.)
  • Chadian President Idriss Deby, phone call (I think; the text is unclear), 16 August.
  • Former French President François Hollande, phone call, 16 August.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, phone call, 17 August.
  • Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, statement on Twitter, 17 August.
  • Moroccan King Mohammed VI, statement, 17 August.
  • Burkinabé President Roch Marc Kaboré, phone call, 17 August.
  • European Union, statement by the spokesperson, 20 August.
  • U.S. Department of State, statement by the spokesperson, 20 August.
  • UK Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin, statement, 22 August.

As I say in a forthcoming piece, I think opposition candidate Soumaïla Cissé has almost no chance of overturning the outcome. With Paris, Brussels, Washington, London, and the whole sub-region recognizing Keïta as Mali’s president, I think it’s a done deal.

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.