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Election fever rises in France's 'Little Bamako'

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-07-23

In the lead-up to Mali's July 28 presidential poll, campaigning has reached a fever pitch in the eastern Parisian suburb of Montreuil, also known as "Little Bamako". But France's Malian immigrants know there are challenges ahead.

The Malian 2013 presidential campaign is in full swing in the capital of Bamako. Thousands of miles away, in the eastern Parisian suburb of Montreuil – also known as “Little Bamako” – election fever is rising.

Men gather in little groups, animatedly discussing the latest political developments back in their homeland. A woman in colourful traditional clothes hands out campaign leaflets. Another volunteer dressed in a boubou – or traditional West African robe – emblazoned with his party’s insignia, tapes a poster on a notice-board.

“I'm putting up the poster of our future president – Soumaila Cissé,” he says grandly, referring to the 63-year-old former Malian prime minister who’s running for president in the July 28 poll.

Nanaïssa Mahamane, a supporter of Dramane Dembélé – a 46-year-old former engineer-turned-presidential candidate – hands out campaign brochures.

“He's young, he will listen to all Malians, he's the answer to our questions,” says Mahamane about her preferred candidate. “I use my free time to go to different Malian hostels, to talk about his programme and the good policies he has for our country.”

More than a year after the March 2012 military coup, which sparked a perfect storm of crises that saw northern Mali fall to a motley mix of separatist and jihadist groups, Mali is en route to the restoration of democracy.

The July 28 poll would not have been possible without the French military operation, which began in January.

In Kidal, Tuareg separatists clash with black residents

But the security situation in Mali is still precarious. A number of Malian officials, experts, and international analysts have warned that the country is not ready for elections.

Their calls for a poll postponement, however, have been overlooked by an international community impatient to see this West African nation return to constitutional order. France, which sent more than 4,000 troops to Mali under Operation Serval, is pushing for the election to go ahead as the former colonial ruler seeks to wind down its military presence.

But Mali remains a deeply divided country more than a year after a Tuareg separatist group declared the independence of northern Mali before promptly losing ground to jihadist groups – including AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

On Friday, Malian troops were deployed in the northern town of Kidal after attacks by lighter-skinned Tuareg separatists on black residents killed at least four people.

Residents said Tuareg youths took to the streets of the desert town late Thursday to target black African residents, firing shots and burning vehicles. Calm was briefly restored after UN peacekeepers made some arrests, but violence resumed on Friday.

‘There are many problems with the organisation of this election’

Thousands of miles away from Bamako, Montreuil’s residents of Malian origin complain about the lack of electoral organisation back home.

With just days to go before the landmark poll – the first since the March 2012 coup - many Malians say they have still not received their voter cards.

In the courtyard of Foyer Bara, a hostel for immigrant workers in Montreuil, a group of residents air a list of complaints.

“Thousands of Malians live in France, but a third of them still don't have their cards. It's the same situation in Mali. There are many problems with the organisation of this election - I think it should be cancelled. They should do another one later on,” says an exasperated Foyer Bara resident.

This hostel for Malian immigrants was built in 1968. Local officials estimate that around 6,000 Malians live in Montreuil alone.

Moro Macalou has been here for more than three decades and he has witnessed many Malian presidential campaigns in Montreuil.

“This campaign is different from the other ones because it's taking place after we were occupied and after a war,” says Macalou. “Secondly, the date of the election was chosen quickly and so the candidates didn't have time to prepare.”

As D-Day approaches, this corner of Mali far from the homeland is getting caught in election fever. But this time, the customary electoral enthusiasm is dampened by the enormous challenges confronting their loved ones back home.

Date created : 2013-07-19

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