Mali: On Moussa Timbiné, the New President of the National Assembly, and a Bit of Context

On May 11, following legislative elections held in two rounds on March 29 and April 19, Mali’s 6th National Assembly selected Moussa Timbiné the body’s new president. Timbiné replaces Issaka Sidibé, who served in the position from 2014-2020.

Timbiné, 47, belongs to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s Rassemblement pour le Mali (Rally for Mali, RPM). He was a founding member of the party in 2001, coming from a background in student union activism and then working his way up the ranks of the party as a youth leader and then an elected official, rising to become second Vice President of the Assembly in its last iteration. He is ethnically Dogon and Songhaï, hailing from the Bandiagara administrative district of the Mopti Region, central Mali. In parliament, however, he represents the capital Bamako’s Commune V. A longer biography of Timbiné can be found here (French).

Timbiné is seen as a close ally not just of Keïta the father but also the president’s influential son Karim. (Notably, outgoing National Assembly President Sidibé is Karim Keïta’s father-in-law.) Observers see the Keïta family’s strong hand in putting forth Timbiné, whose candidacy as speaker was a bit of a surprise; until a day before the vote, the RPM’s designee had been another deputy, Mamadou Diarrassouba, who represents Dioïla in the southern Koulikoro Region.

Ironically, moreover, Timbiné had recently nearly lost his own seat. After the second round of voting, provisional results gave the barest of victories, 50.4% to 49.6%, to an opposition  candidate, Boubou Diallo. Diallo belongs to the Union pour la République et la Démocratie (Union for the Republic and Democracy, URD), the country’s foremost opposition party, whose leader Soumaïla Cissé was kidnapped on March 25 and is still in captivity. Indeed, the overall results from Bamako at first appeared to be a bloodbath for Keïta’s RPM there, with the party losing all but one seat (Karim Keïta’s) of the nine it held going into the elections. On April 30, however, Mali’s Constitutional Court reversed the results from various constituencies; by the revised figures, RPM gained ten seats, including four in Bamako, of which one was Commune V. RPM came out with 51 seats total, giving it the largest bloc in the National Assembly but falling well short of a majority. In any case, for those who regard the election results as compromised, Timbiné’s installation as president of the assembly is symbolic and symptomatic.

The scope of Timbiné’s victory within the assembly also raises questions about how much of an opposition there really is in Mali. Timbiné received 134 votes out of the body’s 147 members, against 8 votes for former Prime Minister Moussa Mara. Reportedly, some or even all of the URD members even voted to support him (or were given instructions to cast blank ballots, depending on which account you read). The URD deputies’ behavior angered many of the party’s supporters, prompting party leadership to issue what reads like an apology. In any event, the RPM’s losses in the election and its minority share within the new assembly do not necessarily mean that President Keïta and his allies have lost their grip on the chamber.


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: 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.

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: Soumaïla Cissé Courts Religious Leaders in Advance of the Second Round

On 12 August, Mali will hold the second round of its presidential elections. The top two vote-getters – the incumbent, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), and the runner-up from the previous election, Soumaïla Cissé – will face off. As I mentioned here, Cissé has something of an uphill climb ahead of him in this short interval between the first and the second rounds. Having scored just 18% to Keïta’s 41%, Cissé has to quickly assemble a diverse coalition in order to win.

In this context, it is worth commenting on Cissé’s visit on 6 August to the town of Nioro du Sahel (map) to see the figure who is arguably Mali’s leading religious personality – Mohamed Ould Bouyé Haïdara, better known as the Chérif of Nioro. “Chérif” here is simply the French transliteration of the Arabic sharif, meaning a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. More immediately, the Chérif is the son of Shaykh Hamallah (1893-1943), one of the most prominent and controversial Sufi shaykhs in colonial West Africa. Hamallah’s story is too complicated to retrace here – see Benjamin Soares’ book for more.

After his visit to Nioro, Cissé announced that he had received the Chérif’s formal support for the second round. Cissé commented on the Chérif’s “aspiration…to see the country definitively get out of the crisis that we have known during these recent dark years.”

With the Chérif’s support, Cissé can also expect that of Mahmoud Dicko, president of the High Islamic Council of Mali and another key Muslim leader in the country. In January of this year, Dicko (who leans Salafi, but is sometimes accommodating toward Sufis and their interests) stated that he would follow the Chérif’s lead when it came to the 2018 elections. Both the Chérif and Dicko, it will be recalled, backed IBK in 2013, partly through a movement called Sabati 2012 (which is itself, we should note, again supporting IBK this time).

At this time, an IBK victory still seems more probable to me than a Cissé victory, although the endorsements of some of the major, still undecided candidates from the first round could make a big difference one way or the other. In any case, 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. Even if IBK wins re-election, then, one should not assume that he has a massive mandate, either from ordinary Malians or from the country’s political, social, and religious elites.


Toward a Second Round in Mali’s Presidential Elections

Mali, like France and many other Francophone African countries, uses a two-round system in its presidential elections. If no candidate obtains more than 50% in the first round, the top two vote-getters face off in a second round.

Mali, which held an election on 29 July, now finds itself in this situation. The first-round results, released on 2 August, show incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) obtaining 41.4%, meaning he has fallen short of a first-round victory. He will now face runner-up Soumaïla Cissé, who obtained 17.8%, in a second round on 12 August.

Here are more results. The possibility of rigging, of course, should not be ruled out, either with these results or with the second round.

And here is a bit of background on the candidates.

I think this could go either way, although I lean toward thinking that IBK will win – a prediction Bruce Whitehouse made some time ago.

On the one hand, second rounds are very dangerous for West African incumbents, because it gives the normally fragmented opposition a chance to rally around a single candidate. That’s how Abdoulaye Wade came to power in Senegal in 2000, and it’s how Macky Sall won there twelve years later.

On the other hand, Cissé will now have to build a complicated and diverse coalition in order to win. If we assume (perhaps wrongly!) that endorsements from other candidates would more or less translate into the migration of their supporters into Cissé’s column, he would need the support of not just the third- and fourth-place finishers, but of a host of minor candidates as well.

For perspective, let’s compare Cissé’s situation to those of Wade in 2000 and Sall in 2012. In 2000, Wade scored 31% in the first round while the incumbent scored 41%. In the second round, the incumbent’s score held steady while Wade’s shot up to nearly 58.5%. A good part of that gain came from the third-place finisher,* whose nearly 17% score in the first round seems to have largely migrated to Wade’s column. In other words, Wade and the third-place finisher had nearly 50% of the vote between them, whereas Cissé and Diallo don’t even crack 30% in the case of Mali in 2018. Similarly, in Senegal in 2012, Sall scored around 26% in the first round to the incumbent’s 34%. The third place finisher* got 13%, and his endorsement put Sall at roughly 40% without even factoring in the lower-placing candidates and their supporters; Sall eventually got nearly 66% in the second round while the incumbent’s tally was virtually unchanged.

Again, Cissé is starting with much lower vote totals, both for himself and for the other politicians who could help him build a winning second-round coalition. The good news for Cissé from the Senegalese comparison is that in both cases, the Senegalese incumbents couldn’t improve – at all – on their first-round scores. But in Mali in 2018, the incumbent just has to convince a few of the minor candidates to get on board with him – if everyone’s putting their fingers to the wind, the idea of sticking with the incumbent may seem more attractive and practical than joining an unwieldy coalition with a candidate who couldn’t clear 20% on his own. Or, to speak more darkly, the incumbent just has to rig in a way that gives himself a plausible second-round total.

Is it possible that voters will think differently now that it’s just two candidates, and not be bound by their first-round choices? Of course. But it’s worth underscoring that IBK and Cissé faced off before, in 2013, and IBK won decisively (77.6% to Cissé’s 22.4% in the second round). In fact, Cissé actually performed worse in 2018 in the first round than he did in 2013 in the first round – 17.8% in 2018 versus 19.4% in 2013. Much has changed – or, rather, not changed – in Mali since 2013, and many voters who saw IBK as a promising candidate in 2013 may be disillusioned with him after five years of insecurity and a few serious scandals. But can Cissé expect a thirty-point swing on that basis? All IBK has to do is pick up less than 9% of those who didn’t vote for him in the first round, and a combination of endorsements, incentives, and any remaining distaste for Cissé among the undecideds could be enough to pull IBK across the finish line. More than 40% of the electorate, after all, is in some sense now up for grabs. It’s worth underscoring, too, that neither IBK nor Cissé is any kind of fresh face – both men are veteran politicians who have held major offices on and off since the 1990s and who are now both well over 65. So voters may not see Cissé as a change agent.

There are many, many other issues to write about in connection with the first round – violence, concerns over process and fairness, statements by various candidates, etc. – but I’ll stop here for now, and hopefully pick up some of those other threads next week.

*Moustapha Niasse in both cases

Sources for Following Mali’s Presidential Elections

Mali is holding presidential elections today. Key contenders include the incumbent, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and the runner-up from the last elections in 2013, Soumaïla Cissé, but there are also twenty-two other candidates.

If you’re following the news and proceedings today, here are some key sources to use.

A few backgrounders:

A few sites providing frequent updates and extensive coverage, mostly in French:

And here are some important Twitter accounts, in no particular order and in a very incomplete fashion: Olivier Dubois, Baba AhmedMorgane Le CamJoe Penney, Andrew LebovichAurelien Tobie, Jigi, and Mikado FM.

If you have other suggestions, please mention them in the comments.