Mali: Can Soumaila Cisse Win the Top Job in Mali?

In Mali's run-off election, Soumaila Cisse will have to fight for every single vote if he is to beat rival Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and become the country's new president.

Music blares out in the Aci 2000 suburb, the new business district in Mali's capital Bamako. It's meant to keep the supporters of presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse in a good mood. They have the task of mobilizing as many supporters as possible for the second time in two weeks, so there will be a good turn out for Cisse in the run-off election planned for Sunday (11.08.2013).

That could be particularly difficult in Bamako which is a stronghold of rival candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

In the first ballot Keita, widely known as IBK, received more than 60 percent of the votes cast in Bamako's districts.

Cisse is not the candidate of the north, says Jean-Herve Jezequel of the International Crisis Group

This prompted Cisse to comment, "It is very strange that someone can win at every polling station in Bamako, without exception. I have never experienced this before."

However, this was not enough for an outright victory. Cisse managed to poll 19 percent nationwide, securing him a place in the run-off.

Many votes from the north

The majority of the votes for 63 year-old Cisse came from the city of Mopti and other places in the north. Niafunke, a small city near Timbuktu, is Cisse's home town. Jean-Herve Jezequel, an expert on Mali and Niger at the International Crisis Group (ICG), warns against labeling Cisse as the candidate of the north. "This is an over-simplification," Jezequel said. Like his opponent Keita, Cisse's main slogan is "Mali's national unity must be retained." He also wants to negotiate a sustainable peace with the Tuaregs.

However, unlike his rival Keita, he was late in demonstrating that the northern city of Kidal should be incorporated into the "national unity." It was only a few days before the first round of voting on 28 July that Cisse visited Kidal which is still controlled by the Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA).

He had been advised by party officials that visiting Kidal was too dangerous. This turned out to be a bonus point for IBK as the MNLA has called on its supporters to vote for him.

Boosting the economy

Cisse's camp prefers to focus on his abilities in the economic sector.

Soumaila Cisse on his way to a press conference in Bamako

In the 1970s, Cisse studied computer science in Dakar, later at Montpellier in France. From 1993 to 1997 he was Mali's minister of finance and economy. From 2004 to 2011 he was the head of the West African Monetary Union.

This experience should stand him in good stead as he embarks on rebuilding the county, said Modibo Kamara, Cisse's longtime friend. "If people's basic needs are not met, if there is no food, no electricity, no potable water, people will rebel against this situation. That is Soumaila's agenda," Kamara told DW.

That may sound simple but it sums up Mali's most serious problem. The CIA's World Factbook estimates Mali's per capita gross domestic product to be about 830 euros ($1,100). The infrastructure outside Bamako is considered to be extremely weak. According to the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, only one in five children has access to sanitary facilities. These are factors, many Malians believe, which contributed to the Tuaregs' rebellion.

International pressure

For the future of Mali, Cisse is in favor of foreign financial aid. He emphatically welcomed the more than two million euros pledged at an international donor conference earlier this year. Cisse and his supporters seem not to fear that donors could exert pressure and attach conditions to the funding. "We welcome every kind of aid," said Modibo Kamara.

The posters heralding Cisse's victory are ready

Accessible to voters

In public, Cisse does not seem to be as close to the people as his rival IBK. However, Cisse's private house, in the Badalabougou suburb, is not hidden from view behind high walls. Anyone who wants to talk to him is welcomed into his parlor.

In his campaign office's reception area, in the Aci 2000 suburb, there are more than 20 people sitting patiently on sofas. "You have to wait, but our candidate is a person who talks to people," said one of the staff..

Agaly Nidinkaytane is one voter who is enthusiastic about Cisse's way of dealing with people. "I like what people say about him. I've heard he actively supports respect for human rights. I like that very much."

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