Mali: IBK and Cissé Work the Crowds

In Mali, official campaigning began on 7 July for the 29 July presidential elections. Of the 24 candidates, two have received the most international media attention so far: incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (“IBK”) and 2013 runner-up Soumaïla Cissé.

The rivals are competing to draw the biggest crowds (French, and see also here). IBK’s campaign launch reportedly drew some 60,000 attendees, whereas Cissé’s team claims to have attracted 30,000-50,000 at their event.

Crowd size is not the best metric to go by, I think, when assessing likelihoods of victory, but it does matter – if nothing else, the candidates are keen to project the image of popularity and momentum, and crowd size may give a rough indication of the amounts of money different candidates are raising. For IBK, the optic of drawing big crowds has added importance, in that he presumably hopes to counter opponents’ portrayals of him as a weak, distracted, and unpopular manager of the country. I imagine his people are keen to connect his name and his candidacy to some visible enthusiasm.

Two other quick election notes:

  • Cissé picked up some solid, though likely not game-changing, endorsements (French).
  • Local administrators’ strike ended on 4 July and officials are once again, or at least theoretically, distributing voters’ cards.

Mali: Quick Notes on the Presidential Candidates

On 4 July, Mali’s Constitutional Court released its final list (.pdf, French) of 24 candidates for the 29 July presidential elections. Here they are (pp. 9-10):

  1. Ibrahim Boubacar KEITA
  2. Aliou DIALLO
  3. Choguel Kokalla MAÏGA;
  4. Harouna SANKARE
  5. Housseini Amion GUINDO
  6. Mamadou Oumar SIDIBE
  7. Soumaïla CISSE
  8. Dramane DEMBELE
  9. Moussa Sinko COULIBALY
  10. Cheick Mohamed Abdoulaye Souad dit Modibo DIARRA
  11. Niankoro Yeah SAMAKE
  12. Modibo KONE
  13. Daba DIAWARA
  14. Mamadou DIARRA
  15. Mohamed Ali BATHILY
  16. Mamadou TRAORE
  17. Modibo SIDIBE
  18. Hamadoun TOURE
  19. Modibo KADJOKE
  20. Adama KANE
  21. Kalfa SANOGO
  22. Madame Djénéba N’DIAYE
  23. Oumar MARIKO
  24. Mountaga TALL
This list revises a 30 June decision from the Court that only recognized 17 candidates (.pdf, French, p. 9). The Court had invalidated some candidacies on technical grounds, given that candidates need to have the official support of either ten parliamentary deputies or of five elected municipal officials from each of Mali’s regions and from Bamako (see the .pdf, p. 3). To state the obvious, then, in the interval between the first decision and the second, seven of the excluded candidates were able to correct these technical problems to the Court’s satisfaction. Some of those seven are big names (French) – a former prime minister (see below), two former ministers, etc. Eight other candidacies, however, were definitively invalidated (see here, French).
Here are a few notable candidates among the 24:
  1. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (“IBK”) is the incumbent president.
  2. Soumaila Cisse was the runner-up in the 2013 presidential election.
  3. Dramane Dembele placed third in the 2013 election.
  4. Modibo Diarra (one of those initially excluded by the 30 June decision) was acting prime minister from April-December 2012, in other words amid the jihadist/rebel occupation of northern Mali.
  5. Moussa Sinko Coulibaly is a retired general.

Many of the others have serious resumes too, including various former ministers, mayors, and other experienced politicians. At least ten of the 24 candidates for this year’s elections also ran in the last election in 2013, although most of them performed quite dismally (French).

I have no real sense of the incumbent’s chances, although my gut feeling is that he will win. This is not necessarily due to popularity – on two short trips to Bamako earlier this year, it seemed to me that he was relatively unpopular, at least in the capital – but perhaps more due to various elites’ calculations about the future. And in that vein, as always, it’s worth keeping an eye (French) on Prime Minister Maiga.


Mali: Election-Related Strike Continues

On 25 June, two Malian unions – the National Union of Civil Administrators (Syndicat national des administrateurs civils, or SYNAC) and the Free Union of Workers in the Ministry of Territorial Administration (Syndicat libre des travailleurs du ministère de l’Administration territoriale, or SYLTMAT)* – declared a week-long strike (French).

On 2 July, the unions announced that the strike will continue indefinitely (French). Their demands center on their living and working conditions, and they charge the government with failing to respect past agreements. The strikers are concerned in large part with their own physical security, and in an 18 June letter to the government they decried threats, kidnappings, and attacks on local administrators (prefects, sub-prefects, etc.) going back to at least 2014 and the time around then-Prime Minister Moussa Mara’s ill-fated visit to Kidal. They accuse the state of failing to protect them – the 8 May 2018 kidnapping of a prefect and his driver in Tenenkou (central Mali, in the heart of the conflict zone there) is one major concern for the strikers. Revealingly, they also complain that the state is turning more and more to traditional authorities and groups like youth and hunters’ associations, rather than to its own formal chain of command.

As noted last week, the strike is a major problem for the upcoming 29 July elections, because it inhibits the distribution of voters’ cards, which was already lagging before that. A combination of insecurity and logistical snags could really cut into turnout, which in turn could reduce the election’s legitimacy.

Another union/civil society group, the Association of Former Activists and Supporters of the National Union of Malian Students (L’Amicale des anciens militants et sympathisants de l’Union nationale des élèves et étudiants du Mali), has attempted to mediate (French) between the strikers and the prime minister’s office, but so far without success.

*The unions’ names, as reported in the media, vary a bit from source to source. I went with the names listed in the second link below.

Mali: PM Maiga’s Visit to France and Return Home

The government in Bamako is facing numerous problems at the moment: alongside the long-running violence in the north and center of the country, there are the rapidly approaching 29 July presidential elections. Added to that are serious allegations, and in some cases confirmations, of mass, extrajudicial killings by Malian soldiers.

Amid these crises, Prime Minister Soumeylou Maiga is striking a higher profile than the president, especially overseas, and so it is worth watching Maiga’s actions amid this multi-faceted security and political crisis.

The Malian journal 22 Septembre (French) reports on Maiga’s visit to Paris earlier this week, where he held closed-door meetings. Maiga was accompanied by several ministers, and met, among other senior French officials, his counterpart Édouard Phillipe.

Then, RFI (French) notes, Maiga cut his visit short to return home due to a strike by prefects and sub-prefects, which had affected the distribution of voters’ cards – a major issue in the preparations for the elections.

Finally, it is well worth reading this interview (French) by RFI with Maiga, in which he comments on his France trip, the human rights violations, his recent trips to northern Mali, the record of President Keita, and the French presence in Mali.

Mali: A Few Details on the Mass Graves in Mopti

In April of this year, Amnesty International reported allegations that six bodies had been found in a mass grave near the village of Dogo in the Mopti Region of central Mali. Villagers accused Malian security forces of perpetrating the killings following a mass arrest. This month, RFI (French) reported new accusations by villagers in Nantaka and Kobaka, Mopti, that another mass grave containing twenty-five bodies had been found. Again, security forces are accused of killing detainees, in this instance following a mass arrest on June 13; in this case, as in other instances, the accusation is that security forces conducted executions on an ethnic basis, targeting the Peul ethnic group (all twenty-five bodies are reportedly those of Peul villagers).

Central Mali is the site of a multi-faceted conflict involving state security forces, ethnic-based militias and hunters’ groups, jihadists, bandits, and others. Security force abuses are one driver among many in the conflict, especially as reports grow of collective punishment of the Peul – who furnish some recruits for jihadists, but who are now facing ethnic profiling by the state and by other ethnic groups.

Yesterday, the Malian Ministry of Defense and Former Combatants posted a statement (.pdf) acknowledging the involvement of FAMa (Malian Armed Forces) in “grave human rights violations” in Nantaka and Kobaka. The Ministry is directing the military to open a formal investigation.

Nantaka and Kobaka are located (.pdf) just north of Mopti city, on the Niger River.

More at Reuters and Studio Tamani (French).

Niger: States of Emergency Extended in Diffa, Tahoua, Tillabéry

In Niger, the cabinet met yesterday and issued its communiqué (French). Two notable, though unsurprising, items include the extension of the state of emergency covering Diffa and the partial state of emergency covering two departments in Tahoua ((Tassara and Tillia) and five departments in Tillbéry (Ouallam, Ayorou, Bankilaré, Abala, and Banibangou). For context, here is a map of Niger’s regions.

The state of emergency in Diffa has been in effect since February 2015 and primarily reflects insecurity stemming from Boko Haram. Diffa suffered a suicide bombing earlier this month. The state of emergency in Tahoua and Tillabéry has been in effect since March 2017 and primarily reflects spillover from jihadist violence Mali, as well as a growing conflict matrix (militia-based, ethnic-based, and jihadist, to put it a bit reductively) that increasingly implicates certain border communities as well. Both states of emergency must be renewed every three months, so this renewal is essentially a routine measure, extending the states of emergency through mid-September.

[Note: no post tomorrow, given the likely Eid al-Fitr holiday.]

Mali: Amadou Kouffa’s Opening Bid for Negotiations

Mali’s “Conference of National Understanding,” which concluded in April, recommended that the Malian government open negotiations with two prominent Malian jihadists, Iyad Ag Ghali and Amadou Kouffa. Both men are part of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (The Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM), which is formally part of al-Qaida. After the conference floated the suggestion to negotiate, the French and Malian governments quickly rejected the idea. The suggestion, however, continues to evoke debate in Mali.

Apparently the jihadists are, at least theoretically, willing to consider the idea of negotiating. Recently, two emissaries from Kouffa (who is ethnically Fulani/Peul) approached (French) a prominent Peul politician, Alioune Nouhoum Diallo. Kouffa’s men outlined three preconditions for negotiations:

  1. The withdrawal from Mali of France’s Sahel-wide counterterrorism mission, Operation Barkhane;
  2. The withdrawal from Mali of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA
  3. The appointment of Diallo as mediator.

Needless to say, the first two preconditions are extremely unlikely to happen. Neither the government of France, nor the government of Mali, would agree – indeed, many would see those demands as a trap that the jihadists are attempting to lay.

But the very fact that Kouffa’s people approached Diallo bespeaks a willingness to negotiate, I think. Moreover, I think it bespeaks willingness not only on Kouffa’s part but on Iyad Ag Ghali’s, who is reportedly very close to Kouffa and who is, in a formal sense, Kouffa’s superior in the jihadist hierarchy.

Is there anything that could be negotiated? At the level of ideals, no – Mali will not become an Islamic state, Mali will not formally allow the creation of an autonomous jihadist emirate within its territory, Mali will not expel the international community, etc. But more pragmatically, perhaps Ag Ghali and Kouffa could be swayed by the offer of a path back to normalcy: a deal whereby they renounce al-Qaida in return for a seat at the main negotiating table, or whereby they could enjoy a comfortable exile somewhere far away from Mali (exile beats dying in the desert).

To me, the reason to start talking is to allow some room for creativity – the talking itself, I think, could uncover an area where genuine negotiations are possible. You can’t necessarily determine in advance exactly how the talks would go, or what the areas of compromise would be. You have to hear at least a little bit of what the other side thinks.

The counter-arguments to negotiations are, of course, serious and compelling. Some observers and players justifiably worry that opening negotiations could empower the jihadists politically or even militarily. But I don’t see negotiations and military pressure as mutually exclusive. You can still hunt these people even as you talk to them through intermediaries.

Finally, a bit on Diallo: he is a major figure, both within the Peul community (where he heads an umbrella body of Peul associations) and nationally. He was president of Mali’s National Assembly from 1992-2002, i.e. during the first decade of Malian democracy.

Last month, he gave a fascinating interview (French) where he discussed, among other things, the roots of Kouffa’s appeal – in Diallo’s view, Kouffa has benefited from his own eloquence, but also from broader socioeconomic problems such as unemployment among people educated in Arabic, rather than in French. In that interview, Diallo explained why he favors negotiations with jihadists:

Every time that the State really put itself forward, the State succeeded in halting the rebellions. So I think that a State that decides to talk straight, to speak the truth to all who are rebelling, and to speak with them, cards on the table, and to only commit itself to doing what it can do, that State can totally recover authority in central Mali, in eastern Mali. And that’s why you heard that heartfelt cry from hundreds of participants at the Conference of National Understanding who are sorry that the Peace Accord is not able to stop the bloodshed.

So, let’s talk with those who are presumed to be responsible for the bloodshed today. Let’s talk with Iyad Ag Ghali, let’s talk with Amadou Kouffa. Let’s try to know what’s necessary to do, without losing sight of the fact that the former president of the National Assembly, which I am, can only wish for a secular State, a democratic State, a State that will commit to the path of being just, being upright.