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People line up to receive their voter identification cards in Senou June 29, 2013. Mali is scheduled to hold presidential elections on July 28. REUTERS/Adama Diarra (MALI - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Image: Reuters

Presidential elections in troubled Mali

Peter Hille / mc
July 8, 2013

Twenty-seven men and one woman are running for president in Mali. Observers doubt the poll on July 28 will be free and fair, but the hope is that aid from abroad will tip the scales and help to make it credible.


Is my name on the electoral roll? Many of the seven million Malians who are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections have been asking themselves that question. On election day, July 28, a number of them will be forced to leave the polling station without being able to cast their ballots.

The coup in Bamako and one and a half years of war drove hundreds of thousands of Malians from their homes. Town halls, police stations, municipal offices have been destroyed, records and files lie scattered on the ground or have been burnt to ashes.

Frustrated voters

Unsurprisingly the elections are proving difficult to organize. The head of the Malian electoral commission, Mamadou Diamoutani told DW there were a number of unresolved problems." There is a lot of frustration around and I am worried about those who will not be able to exercise their right to vote," he said. It was uncertain how they would react on polling day, or the day after.

Entwicklungsminister Dirk Niebel (FDP, r) wird am Donnerstag (09.08.2012) in Bamako, Mali, vom malischen Übergangspräsidenten Dioncounda Traoré (M) begrüßt. Bei den Gesprächen in der Hauptstadt ging es um eine Lösung des Konflikts in dem westafrikanischen Krisenstaat. An diesem Freitag läuft ein Ultimatum ab, bis zu dem die malische Übergangsregierung konkrete Pläne und einen Fahrplan zur schnellen Bildung einer «Regierung der nationalen Einheit» vorlegen soll. Foto: Jörg Blank dpa
Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore (center) with German Development Minister Dirk Niebel (right)Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Diamoutani said Mali needs more time to prepare for this election, but the international community is determined that it should take place as soon as possible. Germany, like many other nations, wants to be able to work, at long last, with a democratically elected government in the North African country. That is why Germany,  along with the European Union, is supporting preparations for an election in July. Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel told DW that it was important that these elections "take place quickly, but above all that they are credible." German diplomats say they have emphasized this point in talks with Malian officials.

Return of the mayors 

One expert from Germany helping to prepare for the election is Henner Papendieck. Before the fighting broke out, he was running a development project in northern Mali. Now he confers regularly with Malian politicians in the capital Bamako. What can one do, who can do it and when?

These are the questions he discusses with Malian MPs, ministers or traditional leaders. He then makes recommendations for aid organizations back in Germany. One suggestion was that local mayors, currently holed up in refugee camps, should be helped to return to their towns and villages before the election so they can be present when voting cards are distributed. "There are about 20 mayors in refugee camps in neighboring Mauritania and Burkina Faso. If  these 20 were to return then the elections would be much easier to conduct and there would be a much more relaxed atmosphere," Papendieck said.

Henner Papendieck hat 17 Jahre lang das Nord-Mali-Programm der Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, vormals GTZ) geleitet. Nun ist er als freier entwicklungspolitischer Berater tätig. Er ist bei seiner Arbeit im Norden Malis zu sehen. Zugestellt von Dirke Köpp
Henner Papendieck (left) worked for the northern Mali program of the GIZ agency before becoming an independent development aid consultantImage: Barbara Rocksloh-Papendieck

German aid for Mali for 2013 and 2014 will total around 100 million euros ($128 million). The German development ministry says the funds will be used for agricultural projects, improving drinking water supplies and for furthering good governance. Papendieck said that Germany's 100 million euros looks rather modest when compared to the total of three billion euros pledged by international donors.

Mali needs a "big shot in the arm," he said. All the institutions that are being created by Mali - such as the Commission for Dialogue and Reconciliation founded two months ago - lack funding. "They have no means whatsoever, people are not being paid - the whole system is empty, hollow," Papendieck said.

The rule of law

Northern Mali is far from secure. In many areas people are still terrified of being attacked by Islamist groups and these militants could interfere with the running of the elections. The United Nations has ordered the deployment of more than 12,000 blue helmet troops to Mali in order to shore up the fragile peace. Germany is dispatching 150 Bundeswehr troops to the country in support of the mission. They will assist in the creation of a new Malian police force.

Edelgard Bulmahn, Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, steht am Dienstag (27.07.2004) im Sitzungssaal des Bundesverfassungsgerichts (BVG) in Karlsruhe vor Beginn der Urteilsverkündung zur Juniorprofessur. Laut dem Urteil des Gerichts verstößt die bundeseinheitliche Einführung der Juniorprofessur gegen das Grundgesetz und ist damit nichtig. Damit gab das Gericht einer Klage Bayerns, Sachsens und Thüringens statt. Foto: Uli Deck dpa/lsw
Social Democrat Edelgard Bulmahn says Germany ought to be doing more to support the Malian police forceImage: Picture-alliance/dpa

Edelgard Bulmahn is a German Social Democrat MP and former minister. She said Germany's contribution to the UN mission is far too small. "I had hoped for more," she told DW, "because police training is very important if the rule of law is to be properly implemented and preserved." The former minister added that "the judiciary and the police are key players and have a decisive role in securing and sustaining peace in Mali. That's why I would have like to have seen a bigger commitment."

The opposition MP also accuses the German government of spreading its development aid too thinly. It tries to help too many countries in too many sectors with the result that just "rain drops" arrive in the partner countries instead of genuine support. The government should finally summon up the courage to focus its development aid on specific regions, one of which should be Mali, both before and after the elections, she added.

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