31 July 2018

Mali: Numerous Challenges Await Mali's New Government

Photo: Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
Security is tight outside polling stations.

The assessment of the Mali elections by the European Union's chief electoral observer, Cecile Kyenge, is that there were no grave incidents. But the poll was not problem-free, says DW correspondent Katrin Gänsler.

Various observer groups noted the theft of ballot boxes in northern Mali and attacks on polling stations, as well as attempts at intimidation. It is not yet clear how many of the 23,000 polling stations actually opened.

However, in the country of nearly 18 million people, the extent of the irregularities was not as grave as initially feared. But, despite numerous military missions in Mali, large parts of the country are still unstable and insecure.

European soldiers are nowhere near as present anywhere else in Africa as they are in Mali. France alone has 4,500 soldiers stationed there, as part of Operation Barkhane. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is comprised of around 13,300 soldiers, 700 of them German. They are also part of the European Union Training Mission Mali (EUTM), which has 580 soldiers in Koulikoro, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Bamako, involved in training the Malian army.

The list goes on. The number of national and international soldiers stationed in Mali today is four or five times what it was at the beginning of 2012, at the time of a Tuareg rebellion and the subsequent occupation of the north by Islamist groups.

MINUSMA seen as a foreign body in many places

Every now and then positive reports come out of the north, although these are often quickly overshadowed by fresh attacks. One reason for that is that MINUSMA has far too little support among the population. While its contribution towards organizing the election - with the transport of election paperwork, for instance - was seen in a positive light, in Goa, however, MINUSMA appears to be a foreign body and is widely mocked. It protects only itself, people say of its heavily fortified Camp Castor near the airport.

But not only that: Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused the Malian army of increased violence, including unlawful shootings. And that although more than 60 percent of the soldiers have taken part in EUTM training which includes increasing awareness of basic human rights.

Developments in central Mali are particularly problematic. Until five years ago, the region around the city of Mopti was still relatively secure. As in the south, land alongside the Niger river is widely used for agriculture, Mali's main source of income which amounts to about 40 percent of gross domestic product.

However, ethnic uprisings have been taking place increasingly since 2015. Last week alone, 17 people were killed in Djenne. While attacks in the north mainly target the international forces, here the main victims are the local population. As with the start of the Tuareg rebellion in 2011, this conflict has been ignored for way too long.

As a result, the government has lost much trust, which was still in evidence during elections in 2013. Today there is little trace of the optimism that prevailed then.

Trust in the fight against terrorism and ethic conflict is as important as well-trained soldiers. Once this trust has gone, people will join those groups that promise the greatest protection at any given time to ensure their survival. The government, by contrast, continues to lose influence.

As hard as it is in some regions of the country, the government has to show more presence. That requires more security, the basis for development. Investment in infrastructure is also important. Malians have long complained not only about the lack of security, but also about everyday hardships. The school system is ailing; young people - 66 percent of the population is under 25 - cannot find jobs or support for business ventures. Hospitals in many places are rundown, if such facilities exist at all.

The new government will face numerous challenges. One must be clear right from the start: It has to recognize crises and conflict at an early stage, take them seriously and involve the population in the solution. Only then will it find support. In order to create lasting peace, that is indispensable.

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