In his third try to be elected President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected President in the August 11th second round of the elections. Keita had been in the lead after the first round, but as there were 25 candidates, none had received the needed 50 percent of the votes. Thus a second round with the two frontrunners was needed. Keita, a former Prime Minister, ran against Soumaila Cissé, a former Finance Minister.
Recent political leaders in Mali are known by their initials. The outgoing President, already out by a military coup in March 2012, Amadou Toumani Touré was known as ATT. (ATT is a mountain bike in French). Keita is known by his initials IBK, and always refers to himself in the third person “IBK thinks that…” IBK, 68 years old, spent some 30 years in France, first as a university student and then for 26 years as a university teacher in Paris. He returned to Mali only in 1986, during the last stages of the military dictatorship of Moussa Traoré who was finally overthrown in 1991.
Following the overthrow of Traoré, there were fairly democratic elections in 1992, though there were no real political parties. Electoral preferences are largely based on ethnic/tribal grounds and some Sufi-Islamic associations. The winner of these first democratic elections was Alpha Oumar Konaré who had been a mid-career student at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies in Geneva where I used to teach. His studies at out Institute with its emphasis on popular participation and the need for planning marked Konaré’s administration. But practice fell short of theory. IBK was chosen by Konaré first as Foreign Minister and then as Prime Minister from 1994 to 2000.
IBK ran for President in 2002 and again in 2007, loosing both times to ATT, who as a “consolation prize” had named him President of the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007. IBK ran his 2012 campaign on the theme of “change from the old system” — though, in fact, he was at the heart of the ‘old system’.
IBK’s opponent in the second round, the 63 year old Soumaila Cissé, also had studied in France and then worked there first for IBM and then large French corporations. He returned to Mali in 1984 and became Konaré’s Finance Minister from 1993 to 2000. Then from 2004 to 2012, he was director of l’union économique et monétaire oust-africaine (UENOA) based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. UEMOA is an effort, largely unsuccessful, to coordinate the economic policies and practices of the states of West Africa. Cissé has experience as an economic administrator and based his campaign on the need for jobs, especially for the young, and increasing economic opportunities for women, basically through micro-finance loans.
IBK calls himself a socialist and is a member of the Socialist International where he has developed good relations with the French President, Francois Holland and the French Foreign Minister. It is not clear to me what is socialist in IBK’s campaign program, but his socialist contacts will help him in his dealings with France and the European Union.
France, the USA and the European Union secretariat had called for early elections so that there could be a legal government after the military coup, the division of the country by the Islamic forces holding the North followed by the French military intervention. While funds are necessary, the problems facing Mali — finding the balance for degrees of autonomy and of integration of different ethnic populations, of uneven agricultural development, of inadequate infrastructure especially education and health — need more than just funds for their solution. Mali has suffered since Independence in 1960 by being a land-locked country with few natural resources beyond agriculture, and military-led governments that were largely self-interested and often incompetent. In addition, there have been long-lasting droughts which have lowered agricultural and livestock production and increased tensions among ethnic groups.
The tasks facing IBK are many and difficult. The government administration and services — never very strong — have largely stopped working and must be restructured. The role of the army and the police needs to be reconsidered and put into practice. Relations with the north of the country need to be harmonized, and new local leadership needs to come to the fore. The role of Islam as a religious/political ideology needs to be discussed calmly and with good will.
IBK has been around long enough to know all the issues. The key question remains: will he be able to deal creatively and fairly with them.
Rene Wadlow is the Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.
See these previous Toward Freedom articles by Rene Wadlow on Mali: