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The huge challenges facing Mali’s future president
Two of Mali’s political veterans, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Soumaila Cissé, will compete in the second round of a presidential poll Sunday. The country’s new president will face huge challenges including the jihadist threat and rampant corruption.
Malians head to the polls on Sunday to vote for either Ibrahim Boubacar Keita or Soumaila Cissé in the second round of a presidential election. But the challenges facing Mali’s new president are enormous: rampant corruption, army insubordination and the jihadist threat are just a few on the list.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK), 68, an ex-prime minister with a reputation for toughness, won last month's ballot with nearly 40 percent of the vote - but fell short of a majority. He faces Soumaïla Cissé, 63, a former finance minister who won 19.7 per cent of the first-round vote.
Nearly 7 million Malians are expected to vote in the election, which is viewed as one of the most important in the country’s history.
Once seen as a model for democracy in turbulent West Africa, Mali imploded last year when al Qaeda-linked rebels took advantage of a military coup to seize control of the vast desert north, where they imposed a harsh version of sharia (Islamic law).
It took military invention by France in January to oust the al-Qaeda-linked fighters, who were seen as a threat to regional stability.
Since forcing the rebels out of northern Mali, 3,000 French troops remain in the country, although the number is being reduced as a UN peacekeeping mission is expanded.
Rebuilding the economy
The future president will inherit a country festering with corruption and an economy that’s reached a virtual standstill in the past year.
A recent World Bank report declared that Mali’s economy has “held up fairly well” in spite of the country’s turbulence and said that gold and cotton, the country’s largest exports, had boosted revenue.
“In 2012, the increases in the price of gold and cotton in international markets had a positive impact on the Malian economy”, said Cheikh Diop, a World Bank economist in Bamako.
But much rebuilding still needs to be done, particularly in northern Mali, Michel Galy, a political scientist at the School of International Relations in Paris, told FRANCE 24. Galy explained that “the Islamist insurrection followed by the French intervention destroyed much of the infrastructure in the three major cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal”.
“For the past 30 if not 50 years, nothing has been done for the North, where most of the government money vanished in corruption” he said.
“In some Tuareg villages, there are no schools, no wells, no roads, no health centres. Everything needs to be built from scratch”.
International donors, who pledged three billion euros in aid in May, insisted that the money be fairly allocated.
“Malians expect the next president to share resources across the country” said Emmanuel Dupuy, head of the Institute for European Social Protection in Paris.
“The new government will have to make the most of the country’s subsoil, decide which foreign companies can exploit it, and then distribute the profits equally.”
In June, the government signed a peace deal with the Tuareg rebels that paved the way for Sunday’s elections. The deal included a promise that the new president would negotiate with the rebels, within two months of his election victory.
“The Tuaregs now represent a small but lingering military force in Mali” Galy explains.
“They stayed neutral during the presidential campaign because they’re awaiting negotiations with the future president so that they can define the status of Azawad, the territory they claimed”.
But some experts say the Tuareg situation isn’t the biggest obstacle to national reconciliation.
According to Emmanuel Dupuy, “the president will have to make a huge effort to appease the entire Malian population, not just the Tuareg MNLA. That includes those defeated in the election.”
“The president will have to find a way of reconciling the country so that he can face up to these challenges.”
The army’s role
Even if they stepped out of the way fairly quickly after the coup, the army remains a potential threat to the stability of Mali’s new government.
“The real challenge” said Dupuy, “lies in reminding the army of its duties and responsibilities to protect Mali’s sovereignty”.
But Malian forces are not the only military presence in the country. 3,000 French soldiers remain as a UN peacekeeping force is expanded.
“The president will have to show that his army can handle the same missions as foreign troops, and will have to make sure these tasks are equally divided between the international and Malian forces”.
But Dupuy said that the youth, rather than the army, may be the government’s strongest opponent.
“There are concerns that this surprise election, organised in a rush under pressure from the international community, won’t be able to face challenges such as growing urbanisation, and an increasingly young population”.
“Youth discontent may manifest itself in other ways than a coup. I think both IBK and Cissé, know that if they are elected, they won’t necessarily make it to the end of their five-year term”.