Mali: Opinion - Mali Votes Amid Coronavirus Fears, Jihadist Threats

A campaign billboard on a busy street in Bamako, Mali (DW/)

Mali's parliamentary election has exposed voters to unnecessary risks. And Europe's recently announced deployment of more boots on the ground will not solve the country's security crisis, says DW's Dirke Köpp.

Voters in Mali had to make a choice on Sunday, one that may be likened to choosing between a plague and cholera.

Asking Malians cast their ballots in the country's parliamentary election, on one hand, exposed them to risks of contracting COVID-19 or becoming a victim of a jihadist attack.

On the other hand, staying at home and not casting their ballots handed power for at least the next five years to lawmakers who do not represent the general populace.

Democracy at a high price

The election had been postponed twice -- in 2018 and 2019 -- due to strikes and political disagreements.

Other contributing factors to the suspensions were the country's security situation, which began after the fall of former President Amadou Amani Toure in 2012, and the subsequent ransacking of half of the country by jihadists.

Cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, recorded in the past weeks also added salt to the country's wounds.

At risk

Several opposition politicians and prominent members of civil society had spoken out against holding the vote.

Before President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita addressed the nation last week, many people were hoping he would call off the elections. Instead, he only announced a nighttime curfew.

Many voters, not wanting to take unnecessary risks, chose not to vote.

Low voter turnout

Mali had reported its first coronavirus death just hours before polling stations opened. And just two days earlier, the main opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, was kidnapped in the north of the country, presumably by jihadists.

These incidents provided sufficient justification for Malian authorities to postpone the vote. But they didn't.

By noon on polling day, voter turnout was estimated at 7%. The announced measures against the spread of the coronavirus in many polling stations left much to be desired, according to observers.

And security was not guaranteed everywhere: the head of an electoral office was kidnapped by gunmen, the army had heavy battles with jihadists, almost 300 polling stations remained closed -- either for security reasons or because the government had no control over the locations of these polling stations.

There is some uncertainty surrounding the next step in the two-part election because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tense security situation. If the second-round vote -- planned for April 19 -- is scrapped, the risks taken by voters in the first round would have been in vain.

More foreign troops in Mali

Eleven European countries, including Germany, announced last Friday the deployment of a special commando unit, dubbed Takuba, which will go on the offensive against the Islamist terrorists. Germany pledged political support, but not boots on the ground. Not everyone was happy.

Although, one needs to question Germany's support for another special unit to Mali. In addition to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), there is already the African G5 Initiative, the French-led military operation, Barkhane, and the EU training mission, EUTM. None of these missions have been able to deescalate the security threats for ordinary Malians.

Contrary to a situation you would expect the high presence of foreign troops would bring, it has become increasingly dangerous, and traditional structures and power relations are increasingly being destroyed.

Instead of sending more military personnel, Europeans should consider finding non-military solutions, along with their Malian counterparts.

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