Mali Elections: Counting Polling Place Closures from the First Round (Regional and Cercle-Level Data)

Hopefully this post doesn’t duplicate work that has already been done elsewhere, but I have not seen anyone go through and give the cercle-level data from the Malian government’s list of polling place closures from the first round of the presidential elections. Let me restate, for clarity: when Malians voted on 29 July, 871 polling places were closed “for various reasons” (mostly connected to insecurity), according to the government. Those closures were concentrated in one region – Mopti, in the center – and even within Mopti they were concentrated in certain administrative cercles, especially the ones that had already been deeply affected by violence.

So here are some figures on the closures (hand-counted by me, so it’s possible that some mistakes crept in, particularly with Mopti cercle and Tenenkou cercle):

Regional Level

Mali has ten regions (formerly eight). The closures affected four of those regions:

  • Mopti: 729
  • Timbuktu: 101
  • Segou: 39
  • Koulikoro: 2

Both of Koulikoro’s closures were in one cercle, Nara, so I won’t go through that in the counts below.

Cercle Level – Mopti

Mopti has eight cercles (see the Wikipedia map here). The closures affected seven of those cercles (the unaffected cercle was Bankass, the southeasternmost cercle):

  • Mopti: 193
  • Tenenkou: 190
  • Douentza: 154
  • Koro: 58
  • Youwarou: 58
  • Djenne: 50
  • Bandiagara: 26

Cercle Level – Timbuktu

Timbuktu has five cercles (unless my information is out of date since the reorganization from eight into ten regions, in which case I hope readers will correct me; in any case, the Wikipedia map is here). The closures affected four of those cercles:

  • Tombouctou (Timbuktu): 47
  • Gourma-Rharous: 40
  • Niafunke: 12
  • Goundam: 2

Cercle Level – Segou (39 Total)

Segou has seven cercles (Wikipedia map here). The closures affected two of those cercles (the two that border some of the worst-hit areas in Mopti)

  • Niono: 32
  • Macina: 7

I may draw some more conclusions from this data in other posts or pieces, but the immediate and obvious conclusion is the Mopti was the worst affected by far, and that the broad north-south band from Niono in Segou up through Mopti (particularly the western half of the region (Tenenkou, Mopti, Youwarou, Djenne, although obviously Douentza was very bad as well) and then into the Timbuktu region was the main corridor of electoral violence in the first round.

The second round figures are here, although I have not yet seen a cercle-level breakdown of closures. But in the second round as in the first, Mopti was far and away the region with the most closures.


Northern Mali’s Interim Authorities: Serious Problems Emerge

In late February, different factions in Mali agreed on a timetable for the installation of “interim authorities” in the three northern regions, Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The interim authorities are mentioned in the 2015 peace accord (.pdf, French, p. 18). Per the accord, the authorities should have been installed three months after the signing of the accord, or around September 2015.

Given that the different factions were not even prepared to install the interim authorities until now, one can see how serious the obstacles to a durable political settlement are in northern Mali. The problems with the interim authorities closely parallel the problems surrounding “joint patrols,” which I wrote about for Global Observatory in January. The joint patrols are another important provision of the 2015 agreement. The problems for both the interim authorities and the patrols include continued disputes even after so-called agreements, as well as the threat of major violence against the actors attempting to implement those agreements (the joint patrols became the target of Mali’s deadliest-ever suicide bombing in Gao in January).

Regarding the interim authorities, “The government statement said…that the interim authorities would be instated in Kidal on Feb. 28 followed by Gao on March 2 and Timbuktu on March 3.”

The authorities arrived in Kidal, Gao and Menaka as scheduled (over some objections in Gao), but armed groups are already preventing the interim authorities from undertaking their functions in Timbuktu:

Armed groups took over parts of Timbuktu on Monday to prevent Malian interim authorities from being installed there under a peace pact meant to end years of lawlessness, the defense ministry said.

Residents reported sporadic gunfire across Timbuktu on Monday. Banks, schools and shops were shuttered up.


The main Tuareg faction involved in the resistance was the Council for Justice in Azawad, as Tuaregs call the Sahara desert that is their traditional homeland.

The Council itself was only formed in October 2016 (French), reflecting a key obstacle to peace: the proliferation of armed groups. The Council reportedly (French) represents the Kel Ansar, one the Tuareg confederations in Mali. Led by a former cabinet minister, the Council decries (French) what it sees as the Kel Ansar’s exclusion from the peace process. As with other armed groups, the Council can act – and now is acting – as a spoiler.

Other problems are not hard to foresee. If the joint patrols are a precedent, the interim authorities will themselves be targets for violence before too long. I say this not to advocate pessimism about the ultimate prospects for peace (after all, the first joint patrol recently did occur), but just to point out that the situation is very difficult and tense.

Ber, Mali

On Monday and Tuesday, Malian and Burkinabe soldiers moved into the village of Ber (map), in the Timbuktu region. AP calls Ber “a focal point in recent weeks of fighting between two of Mali’s ethnic minorities — Tuaregs and Arabs.”* RFI (French) has more detail on Tuareg-Arab clashes in Ber, or more specifically, clashes between the Movement of Arabs of Azawad (MAA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). An MAA commander (French) has stated that Arab forces forces in Ber, however, did not act on the MAA’s orders. Whatever the case, residents reportedly called on troops to pacify the village. Troops have since made a number of arrests – in one account (Arabic), these arrests targeted Arabs and raised fears in the Arab community that a “wave of new arrests” of Arabs would follow.

Events in Ber highlight, first of all, the uncertainties surrounding information coming out of northern Mali (what happened? who made decisions? who acted in whose name?) and the narratives that compete for the spotlight. These events also call attention to community-level conflicts elsewhere in northern Mali (see this article, in French, on intra-Arab fighting in Anefis, north of Gao). In my view, if you combine Tuaregs’ and Arabs’ widespread fear of communal violence, the actual occurrence of communal violence, and the competing narratives that emerge from violence, you create conditions for (adding to) long-lasting grievances and mistrust in these communities. Reported abuses by Malian soldiers against Peul, Tuaregs, and Arabs further exacerbate fear and anger.

*It’s worth mentioning that Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, is an Arab from Ber.

Africa News Roundup: Davos and Africa, Arrests in Mauritania, Darfur Talks, and More

Reuters: “At Davos, Bankers Close in on Africa.”

French and Malian soldiers may take Gao soon.

Timbuktu is apparently something of a ghost town at the moment.

AFRICOM: “AFRICOM Commander Addresses Concerns, Potential Solutions in Mali.”


“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st). [Original story in Arabic here – six of them seem to have been subsequently freed (Arabic).]

Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.


Somali security forces will not be able to replace African troops until the international community provides “predictable” funding for their training, according to the United Nations.
“The withdrawal, whether it’s Ethiopian or Amisom, is contingent upon adequate replacement by the Somali forces,” Augustine Mahiga, the UN sectrerary-general’s special representative to the Horn of Africa nation, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The pace at which Somali forces are being trained is not as fast because there hasn’t been predictable funding.”

Sudan Tribune: “The Sudanese government and a rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have agreed on an agenda to negotiate a peace deal, an international official told the UN Security Council (UNSC).”

IRIN: “Chad’s Health System Struggles to Combat Malnutrition.”

What else is happening?

Mauritania: A Fraudulent AQIM Arrest?

On September 28th, Mauritanian authorities told news outlets they had arrested seven members of AQIM three days earlier. This appeared to count as another success in Mauritanian authorities’ campaign against terrorism; during the summer, officials arrested at least four AQIM suspects on charges of killing Christopher Leggett, an American aid worker.

From the beginning, however, local witnesses disputed Nouakchott’s account of this new arrest.

Timbuktu, Mali

Timbuktu, Mali

Soldiers apprehended the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) suspects last week in the desert near the border with Mali and Algeria, said the official on condition of anonymity.

“The men were armed, they numbered seven and they were travelling in vehicles that included a truck used by AQIM terrorists,” he said.

But a city councillor in the Malian city of Timbuktu, Dina Ould Daya, said those arrested were members of his family — all civilians, and not Islamists — who were arrested on Malian soil en route to repairing a broken truck.

They were arrested on Friday, Ould Daya told AFP, and they included Elly Ould Natmo, a master mechanic, as well as four apprentices, a 16-year-old youth and a deaf mute.

“They are relatives,” said another member of the family, Sidi Mohamed Oudl Amed. “I acknowledged they had some weapons, because here in the desert, when you travel far, you take a gun, because you never know.”

The arrests took place near Lemgheity, where in June 2005 an attack by the group — then known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat — left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead.

Over at The Moor Next Door, Kal now concludes that the arrestees were not AQIM fighters. He points us to an article at Taqadoumy (French) which repeats the account about the broken truck and adds that Malian authorities had reported the men missing prior to their arrest. Taqadoumy goes on to speculate that this incident could lead to strikes by young Malian Touareg men on Mauritanian vehicles that cross into Malian territory.

I respect Kal’s knowledge of Mauritania deeply, but I can’t offer an opinion without seeing more evidence. Hopefully more reports and information will emerge as time passes.

Accusations of fraudulent arrests in the Sahara call to mind the work of Jeremy Keenan, a British anthropologist who claims Algerian security forces framed AQIM’s precursors for the kidnapping of a group of European tourists in 2003 (h/t Jacob Mundy). With this, too, I state no opinion. The very fact that events in the Sahara are so contested, though, raises a lot of questions about counterterrorism efforts there – about the political motives of Sahelian governments and other groups in the region, about the viability of US partnerships with different actors there, and about political relationships between different countries in North and West Africa.