Mali is gearing up for its first presidential election since the March 2012 coup that toppled Amadou Toumani Touré and prolonged a period of dire humanitarian concerns and threats to the country’s previous development gains.
Some observers view the fact that a vote taking place is enough reason to be satisfied, but how successful must the July 28 poll be for donors to feel the same way?
The election, many donors argued during the international donor conference for Mali held in May in Brussels, is the most straightforward path to bringing back stability and some semblance of democracy to the war-torn country. Donors then pledged a total €3.25 billion for Mali’s reconstruction if a roadmap to democracy is fully implemented.
Mali was caught up in a whirlwind of events starting in the 2012 coup. The power grab brewed an Islamist insurgency in the north that in turn led to France sending in troops to stem growing threats to the peace and stability in West Africa.
EU, US election support
The EU has announced the resumption of more than €200 million in budget support for Mali as early as February 2013. Brussels has allocated some €17 million for the election and has deployed observers to ensure the vote is clean and fair.
“The campaign takes place in good conditions, including in the north. The European Union has sustained with the government and the leading candidate to support an inclusive, transparent process and peaceful political dialogue,” a spokesperson for the EU delegation in Bamako told Devex. The bloc agreed in July to resume aid as soon as there is a political settlement to the current crisis and constitutional order is restored. The EU is also committed to addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel.
Meanwhile, the United States — as of 2011, the country’s top donor according to the OECD-DAC — is providing technical assistance to election bodies and poll watchers, educating voters, promoting a code of conduct among political parties and helping Malian civil society organizations prepare for election monitoring.
A U.S. Agency for International Development official told Devex that the agency launched a transition initiative program in January meant to support the country’s move toward democracy and long-term development programs.
“In line with the stated U.S. government’s foreign policy objectives in Mali, the program’s overall goal is to assist in the implementation of Mali’s “Roadmap for Political Transition,” which includes free and fair elections, national reconciliation, and the re-integration and stabilization of northern Mali,” the official explained.
Such measures are meant not only to aid Mali’s political transition, but are also seen as a way to build donors’ confidence in resuming stalled development programs in the country. The EU, for instance, noted that its disbursements are subject to several conditions, including full implementation of the roadmap and public financial management reform.
While some programs were able to resume in February, some still “require the political commitment of a future elected government,” while “the successful completion of the electoral process is an essential guarantee of success for most programs,” the EU spokesperson explained.
U.S. assistance, meanwhile, is being constrained by law. Government officials refrained from using the term “coup” when former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was recently removed from power by the military. Section 508 of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act requires the government to cut aid to governments toppled by a coup.
But while most donors are eager to push through with the election, some observers believe Malians are not yet ready for a vote.
Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow John Campbell, for instance, sees the election as a rushed event that may well pave the way for violence.
“I do not think Mali is ready for the elections. … First of all, I don’t think the technical preparations for the elections have proceeded far enough to essentially ensure a level playing field for all of the parties involved. And I would question whether the security is good enough for elections to proceed, especially in the North — with the terrorist attacks,” Campbell told Devex. He suggested a delay of one or two months for better results.
The process is an opportunity for Mali to prove to the international community that it can in fact hold free and fair polls. Campbell, an expert on U.S.-Africa relations, described past elections as “essentially a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic by the political elite who ran the country and were increasingly isolated from the Malian people.”
Though past election processes in the country were considered relatively free of corruption, the former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria argued: “That’s very different from thinking about elections as providing a genuine choice for people to make in terms of their own governance.”
“I would not be surprised if [voter] turnout particularly in the north is quite low. [But] if that happens, what you’re going to have is a government in Bamako in which people in the north don’t particularly feel like they have a stake in it. [And] that doesn’t solve anything,” Campbell asserted.
Still, the current interim government headed by Dioncounda Traoré may not have much option but to proceed with the vote, especially with €3.25 billion for the country’s recovery and reconstruction hanging in the balance.
Lorenzo Piccio contributed reporting.
Stay tuned for further in-depth analysis on the Mali election in next week’s Development Insider newsletter.
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