After the election in mali: old president, old problems

In Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita enters his second term in office weakened as the winner of the presidential election. The country is becoming more unstable.

A country in high tension: Securing the vote count in Bamako Photo: reuters

It’s official: The victory of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) in the presidential election in Mali has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. With 67.17 percent, the 73-year-old will remain in office for another five years.

Compared to challenger Soumaila Cisse, who received 32.83 percent, Keita has more than twice as many voters – but the turnout was not even 35 percent. Keita is entering his second term in office in a battered state.

Mali’s opposition in particular is making this clear. Five years ago, when both were in the runoff, Cisse and his family congratulated IBK on its victory long before official results were available. Such common ground is no longer conceivable today.

The opposition also rejects the court-confirmed result. This shows what observers were calling for even before the runoff election: mediation between the two camps was urgent.

Three difficult areas of conflict

For IBK has far more tasks ahead of it than reaching agreements with political opponents. According to Baba Dakono, a Bamako-based expert with the South African Institute for Security Studies (ISS), there are three major, interconnected areas of conflict.

"The first is violent extremist terrorist groups. Then there is local conflict in the region around Menaka, as well as in central Mali – and finally there is organized crime." This is despite the fact that compared to 2012, when Mali’s north collapsed from Tuareg rebellion, coup d’etat and Islamist occupation, there are about four to five times as many soldiers in the country, including thousands of foreign combat troops.

Baba Dakono, security expert

"The equation that more soldiers will bring more security doesn’t add up"

The equation that more soldiers will bring more security doesn’t add up, Dakono says. "It’s not just about security problems, it’s about vulnerabilities of the state." These occur throughout the country, he says.

But the public focus, he says, is solely on northern and central Mali, where armed clashes make the problems visible.

Central Mali spiraling out of control

From central Mali, Abdramane Diallo, secretary of Tabital Pulaaku Mali, an organization that represents the interests of the Fulani ethnic group, keeps getting more horror news. "It started in 2016 and it’s worse than ever. It started with an anti-terror fight that has become a local conflict."

At the center of the conflict, he said, is Amadou Koufa, founder of the Macina Liberation Front and a confidant of Mali’s main underground Islamist leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Tuareg whose Ansar Dine group merged with other movements last year to form the Support Group of Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

The GSIM, which consists of 17 separate movements, regularly claims responsibility for attacks on army patrols. It has also spread to previously peaceful southern Mali.

Since Koufa himself is Fulani, people keep talking about Fulani terrorists – a statement Diallo is massively annoyed by: "It sounds as if all Fulani are terrorists."

According to researcher Baba Dakono, local communities have three options: "They can collaborate with the radical groups, collaborate with Malian national forces, or leave the region. In fact, that is not a choice. So many people find themselves in this situation involuntarily."

Abdramane Diallo feels forgotten by the government and makes serious accusations: "When the terrorists came, the army left."

In addition, there are conflicts between the Fulani, who mostly raise and keep livestock, and sedentary farmers, who are Bambara or Dogon, depending on the region. Disputes over pasture and arable land were once traditionally resolved with dispute mediators. Today, there are armed militias on both sides.

Out of Dogon country

Dagalou Guirou has also experienced this. He used to run a hotel in Banani in Dogon country. Until a few years ago, he was able to make a good living from tourism – the Bandiagara rock massif is a Unesco World Heritage Site. "It all started with the collapse of the north. Now it’s arrived in Dogon country." Four months ago, he packed up the bare essentials there, had to leave his elderly mother behind and is now living with a friend in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

"It even happened that someone was murdered in the market," he recalls. Often, he says, it is not clear who is responsible. Guirou also laments the lack of security forces. In the villages, there are only the traditional hunters for self-defense.

Nevertheless, for Baba Dakono, a stronger presence of the state is not enough to end the crisis. "The state must also be able to act and take care of the concerns of the population. A symbolic presence is not enough."

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