Today, 4 September 2013, the new president of Mali will be inaugurated. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was voted into office in August with an overwhelming majority. It had been a high-risk election, held against the background of a multidimensional crisis with regional consequences.
With Keïta’s accession to power, efforts to resolve the complex crisis facing Mali enter a new phase, which will be decisive in terms of consolidating the security and political gains of the past months.
The transition period, which is now coming to an end, had two main functions: to manage the crisis in the north and to organise countrywide elections. The first aim was partially accomplished through the military intervention of France’s Operation Serval and the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). As to the second, a preliminary peace agreement was signed between, on the one hand, the Malian transitional government and, on the other, the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), which had taken control of the Kidal region after the military intervention.
The Preliminary Agreement for the presidential election and inclusive peace talks, signed on 18 June in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was to be implemented in two stages. First, it had to create conditions allowing presidential elections to be held across the country, including in the Kidal region. Second, after the election, it had to ensure the continuation of an inclusive dialogue that would lead to the signing of a final and comprehensive peace agreement.
The presidential election passed the crucial test on 28 July and 11 August 2013, when its two rounds of voting took place. Given the political, logistical and security challenges, the presidential elections were considered successful both nationally and internationally. First, the entire country was able to participate, although the voting in Kidal turned out to be largely symbolic. Second, no major security incidents were reported during the polls. Third, participation rates in the first and second rounds exceeded all predictions, amounting to 48,98% and 44,41% respectively. While analysts initially feared that the president-elect would lack legitimacy, Keïta, leader of the Rally for Mali (RPM), was elected with an overwhelming majority of 77,62% in the second round. And while there was concern about post-election protests calling the results into question, Keïta’s rival, Soumaïla Cissé, representing the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD), conceded defeat even before the announcement of the provisional results.
In terms of the challenges ahead, Keïta urgently has to address the thorny security issues in northern Mali, including the problem of Tuareg armed groups, as well as Arab and Songhai militias. In this regard, the inclusive dialogue, a central part of the reconciliation process, will deal with the following themes: the administrative and institutional organisation of Mali, particularly in the northern regions, the strategy for regional and local integrated development, and the reorganisation of the defence and security forces, as well as the socio-economic disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for the northern armed groups. The inclusive dialogue will also discuss the improvement of administrative, economic and political governance, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and their resettlement, and the protection and promotion of human rights, justice and reconciliation.
According to the Preliminary Agreement, the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission plays a central role in the dialogue process, which should lead to a final comprehensive peace agreement. Keïta also plans to organise a national conference on northern Mali. This conference, which will be a prelude to negotiations for the final comprehensive agreement, will lay the foundations for dialogue and reconciliation.
To fully address the security issue, Keïta, with the support of external partners, will also need to tackle the reform of the defence and security sectors, a theme that figured prominently in the election campaign. The development of regional cooperation will also need to be adequately taken into account to address the security dimension of Mali’s problems.
Other major challenges are consolidating the political gains and continuing the installation of democratic institutions, including the renewal of the National Assembly. The deputies’ mandate, which had expired over a year ago, was extended to allow the Assembly to serve until the next parliamentary elections. However, ever since the transitional government announced that the first round of these elections would take place on 27 October 2013, the Malian political class has been divided.
Part of the political class, especially supporters of the United Front for the Protection of Democracy and the Republic (FDR), feel that the elections should be held as soon as possible. Others, especially those close to the coalition led by Keïta, believe it is important to use the pre-election period to better address those aspects that proved problematic during the presidential election, including the question of voters who recently turned 18, refugees and internally displaced people. The next steps in the democratic process will largely depend on the ability of the government to create the conditions for a constructive working relationship with the opposition. In addition, in some areas of Mali, especially in the Kidal region, the parliamentary elections could lead to violent power struggles between or within communities.
Finally, the new president is expected to start showing results in terms of the country’s economic recovery. The Malian economy was badly affected by the security and institutional crisis. On 15 May 2013, a high-level conference of donors for the development of Mali was held in Brussels, at the end of which €3,25 billion was raised to finance a ‘2013–2014 plan for the sustainable recovery of Mali’. The introduction of good governance practices remains the cornerstone for the mobilisation of these external resources. The success of the economic recovery, beyond the support of the international community, also depends on the ability of the new government to create conditions for the development of economic activities in peripheral regions.
The success of the presidential election is a victory for Mali and its partners. However, it should not overshadow the important challenges that lie ahead. The full implementation of the Preliminary Ouagadougou Agreement must remain a priority for the new Malian authorities and external partners. Close attention must be paid to the post-election talks, as well as to defence and security sector reform, the organisation of parliamentary elections and economic recovery.
Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, Senior Researcher, and Baba Dakono, Junior Fellow, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Dakar
Republished with permission from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Africa. The original story can be found here.