Mali′s president to face 23 contenders in July 29 vote | Africa | DW | 27.07.2018
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Mali's president to face 23 contenders in July 29 vote

Terrorism in the north, ethnic tension in the interior, high unemployment and a population boom. Mali's new president will face numerous challenges. One woman and 23 men will be vying for the job on July 29.

The presidential candidates have been busy traversing the vast country and some have even traveled abroad to address Mali's diaspora, which represents almost half a million votes.

Some candidates have received — or bought — the support of artists. Internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Salif Keita has endorsed veteran opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

Cheick Modibo Diarra's supporters waited for hours in central Sikasso, in the south of the country, where the 66-year-old was campaigning for votes. Diarra was acting prime minister in Mali's transitional government after the 2012 coup. Before that, he worked for the US space agency NASA.

Seydou Diallo is one of Diarra's supporters. He places great hopes in the man whose style some Malians find too American.

"When I go vote, it will be for Cheick Modibo Diarra. He inspires me. In my opinion he is the candidate for change," Diallo told DW.

"He is a new face, he has ideas and can cope with the current situation, whether it is about employment, training or other things."

A profile picture of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is seeking re-election on July 29 2018

Dissatisfaction and disappointment

There is a shortage of work in Mali. The country is placed 175th out of 188 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Young people in particular – 66 percent of the population of close on 18 million is younger than 25 – complain about poor schooling, the lack of jobs and prospects.

Dissatisfaction with the political climate is high in some places, as shown by, for example, a recent survey (the 'Malimetre') conducted by Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).

"This survey shows that young people in Mali especially are disenchanted with politics. That is evident here on the streets of Bamako and in other regional cities such as Sikasso and Kayes,” said FES country director Phillip Goldberg.

Soumaila Cisse with his finger pointed

Opposition candidate Soumaila Cisse previously served as finance minister

UN peacekeeper support

The disappointment is apparent in many conversations. Yet for incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita there was no doubt that he would run for re-election.

In 2013, IBK – as he is known in Mali – triumphed in a run-off against Cisse. After the coup the previous year and the occupation of the north by militant Islamist groups over several months,  Keita reconciled and stabilized the country.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) also contributed. Some 13,300 of its soldiers, including almost 700 Germans, are still in the country. Since the mission was deployed, 169 soldiers have been killed.

It would appear that, without MINUSMA, an election in Mali would not be possible.  MINUSMA has, for instance, offered to use its aircraft to transport the candidates to dangerous locations such as Kidal and Timbuktu.

Martin Nadon, the director of electoral affairs of MINUSMA, explained.

"MINUSMA neither organizes the election, nor is it responsible for security. We provide support only in respect of the security and organization," Nadon said. "If there are areas where voting cannot take place on July 29, measures will be taken by the ministry to deal with the situation."

Two UN helicopters being loaded in an Antonov cargo plane for transportation to Bamako in Mali

France has about 4,000 troops stationed in Mali and other parts of the Sahel region to fight Islamist militants

Fictitious voters

Supporters of President Keita celebrated outside the Sheraton Hotel in the capital Bamako, where he unveiled his election platform to invited guests. In essence it is pretty much a summary of the last five years.

"The situation today has nothing to do with the past. That has been overcome," said Keita.

He listed successes in road construction and agriculture, which accounts for about 40 percent of the country's gross domestic product. But is that enough to warrant his re-election?

The task of voter registration has been slow. Supporters of opposition candidate Cisse claim that a second electoral roll with 1.2 million fictitious voters exists. 

Mali has some 8.5 million eligible voters, according to the government.  It is entirely unclear how high voter turnout will be and how many voters in the north will make it to the polling stations, due to the precarious security situation.

Seydou Diallo in Sikasso is determined to cast his vote. "The new president will surely have his ambitions and ideas. But in the end it is the people who have to take the country forward every day," he said. 

Bram Posthumus contributed to this report.

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