Ibrahim Boubacar Keita wants to be Mali's new head of state. He has already tried twice, unsuccessfully. But now, his chances at winning the presidential runoff election on August 11, 2013, are better than ever.
Hundreds of supporters gathered around the campaign office of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The frontrunner in Mali's presidential race had made himself scarce during the past weeks. Just days before the runoff elections on Sunday (11.08.2013), he reappeared. His supporters cheered and clapped as he emphasized his ambitions: "I demand a clear majority, a majority that will not need a discussion!" According to Keita, only one thing matters now: He wants to become president of this West African country.
The 68-year-old has a good chance of winning. He studied history, political science and international relations in Dakar, Senegal and Paris, and then worked for non-governmental organizations such as "Terre des Hommes," a Swiss children's group. This past July 28, he received 39 percent of the votes from his party RPM (Rally for Mali). Opponent Soumaila Cissé received only 19 percent.
IBK, as some people call Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is especially popular in the south of Mali and in the capital of Bamako. In the opening round of voting, he finished first with an absolute majority in all capital districts.
He is particularly popular with young people, who say Keita is honest and fair and gets things done for his country. "Yes, correct, I voted for IBK," said taxi driver Isaa Konaté, proudly pointing to a poster of his favorite candidate glued to the rear window of his taxi. "IBK is someone who has a lot of experience. I trust that he really will work hard for Mali."
IBK plays the "dedication to his home country" card well. He was Mali's prime minister from 1994 to 2000, and the country's parliamentary speaker from 2002 to 2007. But he doesn't talk much about his accomplishments.
"He is a man who exudes tranquility. He signals this with his entire body - which is very important to us," said journalist Hamidou Konaté, head of a local radio station in Bamako. According to him, exactly this will help create trust in times of crisis - which Mali hopes to overcome with the election.
IBK is the antithesis of political turmoil. He has been involved in politics for almost two decades, including two failed bids at the presidency. Because he is already 68, his participation in the runoff election this Sunday is likely his last shot at the presidency.
Keita is also internationally well-connected. "He's well known within the donor community and has always maintained contact with us, even when he wasn't serving in government," said Richard Zink, head of the European Union delegation in Bamako.
These good contacts might be more important than ever, as since the overthrow of the government in March 2012, the economy has stagnated and investments are on hold. At a major aid conference in Brussels during May of this year, the EU agreed to give Mali 520 million euros ($694 million) for the years 2013 and 2014. This is money the country needs badly in order to get back on track.
Negotiation with northern separatists
Many people within the country are also hoping for more. They want a permanent peace treaty with the northern separatist group MNLA, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. There haven't been any attacks in the northern city of Kidal for more than two weeks, but the eponymous region remains unstable.
At the top of the to-do list is a stronger Malian army. A group of soldiers staged a coup under the claim that the government did not support them enough in calming separatist attempts in the northern part of the country. IBK is said to be on good terms with the army.
Journalist Konaté smirks about this a little. "They all have good connections," he said. According to him, politicians learned from the last coup d'etat what even a notoriously weak army is capable of. IBK followed a two-fold strategy regarding the coup, according to Konaté: "He condemned the coup while visiting with the usurper."
During this visit, Keita distanced himself from former President Amadou Toumani Touré, the target of the military coup. For many Malians, ATT - Touré's nickname - in his final years represented stagnation, corruption and slow decay of the country. Distancing himself from the country's old leadership in time could become the decisive factor for Keita in Sunday's run-off.