[This article was written by guest author Alfa Sissoko. The article was then edited by Global Voices for additional clarity and context.]
With less than a month to go before the first round of Malian presidential elections, the spotlight is on Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's (IBK) track record. The incumbent president is far from fulfilling his promises of reconciliation with Northern Mali as well as the eradication of corruption, according to popular opinion sourced on social and mainstream media.
When IBK was first elected in 2013, he ran his presidential campaign on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption, stating: “No one will be above the law.” Yet, this statement is now working to his detriment in the run-up to the election on July 29, 2018.
IBK has come up against an onslaught of accusations regarding the embezzlement of public money and his zero tolerance stance is now at odds with his track record. During the five-year term in office, IBK has been implicated in several cases of money squandering or disappearance, over-billing of government procurement, amongst other conflicts of interest.
As early as 2014, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded explanations from the former Minister of Economy and Finance, Bouaré Fily Sissoko, following the purchase of a €30 million presidential aircraft (approximately 35 million United States Dollars-USD) and the signing of a €105 million equipment contract (approximately 123 million USD) which was passed by the Ministry of Defence without a process to tender. Suspecting an over-billing offense, the international institution suspended financial aid to Mali for several months.
Advocacy groups have also urged the president to tackle deep-rooted corruption. Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch stated:
Mali stands at a crossroads, President Keita’s actions – or inactions – could usher in greater respect for human rights or a return to the problems that caused Mali’s near-collapse last year.
Transparency International notes:
The forms of corruption evident in Mali are closely associated with its on-going political and security problems, in particular, the operations of organised crime and terrorist groups on its territory. Experience-based survey data shows that corruption incidence is high across the state bureaucracy which affects social service delivery, even if this has only rarely led to repercussions for government officials implicated.
Several former and current members of Government, led by Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, still have to respond to the disappearance of 153 billion Central African Francs (CAF) (€230 million / $270 million USD) from the state budget between 2013 and 2014, as well as more than 28 billion CAF (€40 million / $47 million) being squandered in the purchase of an aircraft and military equipment.
On May 18, a complaint was filed by Mali's main opposition coalition called BIPRREM (for Bloc D'intervention Populaire et Pacifique pour la réunification entière du Mali, (English translation: Popular and Pacific Intervention Block for the Reunification of Mali).
Opposition candidate Soumaïla Cissé, runner-up in the 2002 and 2013 elections and president of the main opposition party Union for the Republic and Democracy (Union pour la république et la démocratie, URD) explained the content of the complaint and condemned IBK's track record on corruption:
Le gouvernement [a été] obligé de se séparer de ses ministres, […] mais il n’y a pas eu de sanction puisque tous ceux-ci ont été rétablis dans leurs fonctions..
The government [was] forced to dismiss its ministers, […] but there has been no punishment as they have all been reinstated in their posts. Ultimately, they were sent out through one door and came back in through another.
IBK's close relations with the French businessman Michel Tomi has also caused suspicion, according to some analysts. Journalist Frédéric Ploquin describes Tomi as the ’”King of Françafrique” whom “the highest state authorities” call “boss” and who has been subject to several police investigations, reportedly acting as an intermediary in several contracts with Mali. IBK's relations with Tomi adds to the opaqueness of his actions.
Failure to solve the conflict in Northern Mali
Malian opponent Tiébilé Dramé accuses IBK of having squandered public budgetary resources in the purchase of equipment for the army, which he claims has deterred the reduction of jihadist violence in the north of the country.
Dramé, a former minister and current president of the Party for National Rebirth (Parti pour la renaissance nationale PARENA), stated the following in reference to the 1230 billion CAF (€1875 billion) allocated by the five-year military programming law adopted in 2015:
D’importants moyens auraient été acquis pour mettre nos forces en état d’accomplir leur mission. […] Malheureusement pour les Maliens, plus le président et ses ministres parlent de nouvelles acquisitions de moyens de défense, plus l’insécurité augmente. Les Maliens ont le droit de s’interroger sur la vraie destination des centaines de milliards votés par l’Assemblée nationale pour mettre l’armée dans les conditions [de faire face à la menace djihadiste].
Significant means were reportedly acquired for our forces to be able to achieve their mission. […] But unfortunately for the Malians, the more the president and his ministers talk about acquiring new means of defence, the more the insecurity increases. Malians have the right to question where the hundreds of billions are really going, which were approved by the National Assembly for the army to be able [to tackle the jihadist threat].
Dramé has also challenged the purchase of six combat aircrafts from a Brazilian company who reportedly only delivered four, and two helicopters paid for in cash by the Malian government.
Meanwhile, citizens in the northern region continue to fear for their safety because authorities have not managed to regain total control of the north from all the insurgent groups. Despite France's intervention in January 2013 and a peace agreement signed in June 2015 between the northern rebels and the Malian government, entire areas are still under the yoke of terrorists in the north of the country.
France has been providing logistics and military support to Mali in this ongoing conflict with the northern rebels since the Malian government requested foreign military intervention at the UN in October 2012. France is still actively supporting the African-led force to assist the army of Mali in combating the insurgent militants.
While the area under the control of insurgents often shifts, militants have moved further toward the northwest part of the country with sporadic attacks in the capital city of Bamako.
With a couple of days left before the elections, the outcome of the elections is anybody's guess. However, the stakes have never been higher for the region for a country that is in dire need of stability after years of internal conflict.