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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: IBK président, mais la boussole pointe toujours vers le nord

by Rosa Moussaoui

Low Turn-Out In Mali’s First General Election Under President IBK

IBK is President, but the compass is still pointing North.

Translated Saturday 30 November 2013, by Isabelle Métral

Voter turnout was low last Sunday in Mali’s first legislative election. There is a prevalent feeling in Bamako, the capital, – where the ambiguities of French policy are pointed out – that Kidal, the Northern town, may well enjoy a special status that might prefigure the region’s future autonomy.

From our special correspondent in Bamako.

In the lanes of Missira, a popular district in Bamako’s historical heart, this seems to be an ordinary Sunday: sitting around a brazier on which tea is warming up, old people enjoy the cooler morning air while women go about their business. Aïssatta sits on a doorstep dreamily observing their movements. She is in no hurry to go to the polling station. Maybe she will, but if so only half-heartedly. “Since this president has been sitting on his chair, he has done nothing. He has not kept his promises about the North. He did commit himself to bringing back peace, but he still has not found the solution. That’s why people are so disheartened.”

Many firmly decided to stay away from the poll a long time ago. Helpless victims to unemployment, miserable wages, prohibitive food prices, enduring ill health owing to lack of money, Malians are losing all hope of “change”. Add to this a desolated political scene, the companion face to presidentialism, and all those unscrupulous “transhumant” politicians (as they are commonly dubbed by ordinary Malians) that leave one party for another as best suits their private interests.
What with the general corruption, and the daily challenge of a hard life, Malians lost their trust in their representatives a long time ago. Nothing, not the Friday sermons nor the repeated exhortations of various religious persuasions to vote can bridge the abysmal gulf between them: Malians take no interest in this election.

Their anxiety and disillusion are nourished mostly by the situation in the northern part of the country, where jihadists, after being forced out of the towns by the French army, vanished into the wild without laying down arms. Neither did the Tuareg rebels of MNLA (Azawad’s national liberation movement) or those of HCUA (the high council for the unity of Azawad) which Ansar Dine’s jihadists joined to continue their fight. In Kidal the two groups have not yet been stationed in quarters as was provided in the preliminary Ouagadougou agreement signed in August in order to open the way to the election and a peace process.

The relatively few voters of the Tuareg region (39,000 have been registered in the whole region) had not taken part in the presidential poll. In sharp contrast to the rest of the country, voter turnout in the region last Sunday seemed markedly higher than it had been in the presidential election. “Helicopters of the Servat French force have been flying over the town. The MNLA called a boycott and a demonstration in the western part of the city, but this call has had little effect. Voters flock to the polling stations, protected by MINUSMA’s blue helmets and Malian soldiers; many see in this election an important stage out of the crisis,” a resident of the city said to us on the phone last Saturday.

The affluence may be due to the profiles of some of the candidates that stand for election in the region. In the Kida district President Keïta’s party, the RPM, has invested Alghabass Ag intalla, a former prominent member of Ansar Dine and son of Amenokal Intalla Ag Attaher, the patriarch of the Ifoghas Tuareg. In the Abeïbara district the RPM invested Hamada Ag Bibi, a former spokesman of this Tuareg Islamist group. As international warrants for arrest had been issued against these figures who had once been active on the political scene and later defected to the Malian rebellion, these were consequently repealed on October 27th. The impunity is bitterly denounced by some: “There has been a misunderstanding. Those who got IBK elected believed that he was going to wage war on the MNLA and the other armed groups. In fact IBK has no other choice but to negotiate with them under the close supervision of the international community,” explains one informant who is familiar with the ins and outs of the problem.

There is a general feeling in Bamako that Kidal might enjoy a special status that might prefigure the region’s autonomy. The ambiguity of French policy is pointed out. “In such an explosive situation where antagonist actors are standing face to face, the French have opted for a prudent strategy in favor of a gradual normalization, in order to give time to a reconciliation process,” explains a Tuareg public officer involved in the negotiations. “But the Ouagadougou accord is clear: the aim is eventually to re-establish the Malian territorial integrity and sovereignty. In this respect, unlike the MNLA, the HCUA is not in favor of a trial of strength with the Malian State. But the MNLA is torn by internal division: its hardline wing is made up of young Tuareg who are back from Libya, have never lived in Mali and still dream of an Awazad State.”

The feeling in recent weeks was that negotiations were sinking into the sand. Nevertheless they are still going on backstage. “Despite the deterioration of security, contacts were never broken; Kidal is still the problem; something like a black hole,” a Songhaï declares who was a representative for the sedentary populations in Ouagadougou last June. “There is a secret agenda, otherwise how come the French army is turning this city into a special nameless entity? Why are the French so complacent vis-à-vis the MNLA and the HCUA where former jihadists join forces? “

These questions are raised by many, with the result that distrust of the former colonial power is widespread. After applauding the launching of operation Serval, the people of Bamako are now putting their French flags away.

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