A glance at Mali’s 2013 presidential candidates

Ready or not, here it comes: the first round of Mali’s presidential election is less than two weeks away. Despite the many technical and political difficulties plaguing the vote’s organization (see a recent analysis I wrote on the International Foundation for Electoral Systems website), a postponement now looks unlikely.

Malian and UN officials keep saying this election won’t be perfect, which is a little like saying that a Metallica concert won’t be quiet. The real question, of course, is whether Malians will regard its outcome as legitimate. The answer will depend in part on the degree to which voting takes place in the northern region of Kidal, where the governor (responsible for organizing the voting) recently returned for the first time since 2011 — only to head back to Bamako a few hours later, amid reports that Tuareg leaders had asked him to leave. It will also depend on how many people turn up at the polls nation-wide, and how many of those are turned away due to logistical failures.

While we wait to see what happens, let’s consider Mali’s field of presidential candidates. In the interest of completeness I’ve researched all 28 of them, and written a brief profile of each below. My purpose is not to identify and comment on the likeliest winners — I’ll save that for my next post — but to make some observations about Mali’s political system.

Note, for instance, that the vast majority of these candidates represent parties that they themselves founded. Mali’s political parties tend to be fan clubs for individual politicians, and their membership exists for patronage; political platforms and ideologies are at best secondary concerns (though they do seem to be getting more emphasis now than in previous elections). Several candidates have switched parties multiple times before establishing their own.

These candidacies also illustrate the strong links between Mali’s current crop of aspiring leaders and its previous generation of leaders. Five of these presidential hopefuls have close personal or political connections to President Moussa Traoré (1968 – 91); three served in governments of President Alpha Oumar Konaré (1992 – 2002); six served in governments of President Amadou Toumani Touré or “ATT” (1991 – 92 and 2002 – 12), and five others belong to parties that supported ATT politically. Five of these candidates last year ran afoul of the junta, which detained four on suspicion of corruption and treason before releasing them without charge, and forced another to resign from office.

Below, in alphabetical order, are the individuals approved by Mali’s constitutional court to enter the race.

  1. Jeamille Bittar (Union des Mouvements et Associations du Mali, b. 1967) Born in the Segou region, of Lebanese and Malian ancestry; earned a master’s in engineering in the USSR. Wealthy and influential businessman, head of Mali’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, active in economic, civil society, and political circles. Former VP of the Parti pour le Développement Economique et Social (PDES), which strongly backed ATT during his rule.
  2. Haïdara Aïchata Cissé a.k.a. “Chatto” (independent candidate, b. 1958)         Native of Bourem (Gao region) and the field’s lone female. Former Air Afrique union activist; now an outspoken parliamentarian and PDES member. Running independently since her party decided not to enter a candidate. Rose to global attention in 2012 by speaking out in the media against the Islamist and separatist rebel takeover.
  3. Soumaïla Cissé a.k.a. “Soumi” (Union pour la République et la Démocratie, b. 1949) Born in Timbuktu; trained as software engineer. Joined President Konaré’s ADEMA party and headed three different ministries under Konaré between 1993 and 2000. Started his own party in 2003 after unsuccessful bid as ADEMA’s presidential candidate; chaired the West African Monetary Union (2004 – 11).
  4. Youssouf Cissé (independent candidate) A jurist and complete unknown, lacking a campaign website or even a Facebook page; with the exception of a couple of appearances on ORTM, he has been ignored by the Malian media.
  5. Dramane Dembélé a.k.a. “Dra” (Alliance pour la Démocratie en Mali – Parti Pan-Africain pour la Liberté, la Solidarité et la Justice/ADEMA-PASJ, b. 1967) Geologist and ex-Director General of Mali’s Ministry of Geology and Mines (2005 – 10). Won the nomination of Mali’s most powerful party despite never having held elected office before. Was on executive committee of powerful AEEM (Association des Élèves et Etudiants du Mali) student union in early 1990s.
  6. Cheick Modibo Diarra (Rassemblement pour le Développement du Mali, b. 1952) Former NASA astrophysicist and ex-head of Microsoft Africa; served as interim prime minister from April to December 2012; forced to resign by junta. Married to daughter of former President Moussa Traoré.
  7. Siaka Diarra (Union des Forces Démocratiques, b. 1963)              Koulikoro native and English professor; took over the UFD party from the late Demba Diallo. Has never held elected office.
  8. Tiébilé Dramé (Parti pour la Renaissance Nationale/PARENA, b. 1955) Foreign minister during ATT’s transitional government (1991 – 92). Founded PARENA in 1995; ran unsuccessfully for president in 2002 and 2007. Brokered the Ouagadougou Accords in June 2013, and is advocating a delay of the vote.
  9. Housseini Amion Guindo a.k.a. “Poulo” (Convergence pour le Développement au Mali/CODEM, b. 1970) Bandiagara native raised in Sikasso; former history teacher; has represented Sikasso in Mali’s National Assembly since 2005. Left Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s RPM party to create CODEM in 2008.
  10. Cheick Keita (Union pour la Démocratie et l’Alternance) A colonel in Mali’s customs service and political unknown.
  11. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta a.k.a. “IBK” (Rassemblement pour le Mali, b. 1945) Koutiala native; served as President Konaré’s campaign director, then foreign minister, then prime minister (1994 – 2000). Left ADEMA to form his own party, then became speaker of the National Assembly (2002 – 07). A contender in the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections.
  12. Sibiri Koumaré (Sira) A political unknown with only a Facebook page for publicity; lacks any mentions in the Malian press.
  13. Alhousseini Abba Maïga (Parti pour un Nouveau Afrique/PANAFRIK, b. 1976) The field’s youngest candidate; a Songhai with little name recognition, no strong party base and a skeletal website. His platform centers on appeals to youth voters and Pan-Africanism.
  14. Choguel Kokalla Maïga (Mouvement Patriotique pour le Renouveau, b. 1958)     Gao native who ran for president in 2002, then served as ATT’s minister of industry and commerce (2002 – 04). Backed ATT’s reelection in 2007.
  15. Moussa Mara (Yelema, b. 1975) Probably the best-known member of a new generation of leaders who came of age during Mali’s post-1991 period. Elected mayor of Bamako’s Commune IV as an independent in 2009; founded the Yelema (“change,” in Bamanan) party in 2010.
  16. Dr. Oumar Mariko (Solidarité africaine pour la démocratie et l’indépendance/SADI, b. 1959) Physician born in Bafoulabé (Kayes region); secretary general of AEEM student union in early 1990s. Founded the radical leftist SADI party in 1996, and previously ran for president in 2002 and 2007.
  17. Dr. Soumana Sako a.k.a. “Zou” (Convention Nationale pour une Afrique Solidaire – Faso Hèrè Ton, b. 1950) Holds a doctorate in development economics from the University of Pittsburgh and has worked for the UN, the African Development Bank and the US Agency for International Development. Viewed by many as a solid technocrat during a stint as finance minister under President Traoré (1986 – 87), he was ATT’s prime minister during the 1991-92 transition to democracy, and made a short-lived presidential bid in 1997.
  18. Niankoro Yeah Samaké (Parti pour l’Action Civique et Patriotique, b. 1969) Mayor of the town of Ouéléssébougou; holds a master’s in public policy from BYU and is vice president of Mali’s League of Mayors. Best known abroad as “the Mormon candidate,” though his affiliation with the Church of Latter-Day Saints is generally ignored by the Malian press.
  19. Mamadou Bakary Sangaré a.k.a. “Blaise” (Convention Democrate Sociale – Mogotigiya, b. 1954) Career-long civil servant and political activist. Founded the CDS in 1996 and ran for president in 2007.
  20. Konimba Sidibé (Mouvement pour un Destin Commun, b. 1956) Deputy from Dioïla; ex-cabinet minister (1991 – 92). Split from PARENA this year to form his own party.
  21. Modibo Sidibé (Forces Alternatives pour le Renouveau et l’Emergence, b. 1952) Former inspector-general of Mali’s national police; headed up the ministries of health and foreign affairs under President Konaré. Was ATT’s secretary-general of the presidency before becoming his prime minister (2007 – 11).
  22. Dr. Hamed Sow (Rassemblement Travailliste pour le Développement, b. 1952) French-trained production engineer, minister of energy under ATT. Currently an adviser to Prime Minister Django Cissoko.
  23. Mountaga Tall (Congrès National d’Initiative Démocratique/CNID, b. 1956) Lawyer; founded CNID in 1991; placed 3rd in the 1992 presidential race. After boycotting the 1997 poll, ran again in 2002. Has represented the city of Ségou in Mali’s National Assembly since 2002.
  24. Racine Thiam (Convergence d’Action pour le Peuple, b. 1975) Another young hopeful with scant political experience and a fledgling party. Has a French business degree and worked most recently as communications director for Orange Mali, one of the country’s two cell phone networks.
  25. Oumar Bouri Touré a.k.a. “Billy” (independent candidate) Deputy from Goundam (Timbuktu region), loyalist of former president ATT and the PDES party.
  26. Oumar Ibrahim Touré (Alliance pour la République, b. 1957) Twice a cabinet minister under ATT (2004 – 2010). Left ADEMA in 2003 to join Soumaïla Cissé’s URD; founded his own party in 2013.
  27. Cheick Boucadry Traoré a.k.a. “Bouga” (Convergence Africaine pour le Renouveau – Afriki Lakuraya/CARE, b. 1962) Has never run for office or served in government, but his father Moussa was Mali’s president for 23 years. Bouga’s CARE party backed ATT during the latter’s presidency.
  28. Ousmane Ben Fana Traoré (Parti Citoyen pour le Renouveau) Onetime ATT ally and adviser to the presidency; affiliated with the UK-based International Liberal federation.

POSTSCRIPT, 17 July: Tiébilé Dramé announced at a Bamako press conference today that he is withdrawing his candidacy, “because the conditions of a normal election are not present.”

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13 Responses to A glance at Mali’s 2013 presidential candidates

  1. Tod Robbins – Saratoga Springs, UT, USA – friendly wizard
    Tod Robbins says:

    A great write up! Just a quick correction: the name of Samaké’s faith is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      Sometimes I take certain shortcuts to keep from exceeding my word limit

      • Tod Robbins – Saratoga Springs, UT, USA – friendly wizard
        Tod Robbins says:

        Ah, that’s fine. But it would at least be “Latter-day Church” rather than “Ladder-day Church” (which refers to ladders…) 😀

      • brucewhitehouse
        brucewhitehouse says:

        Fair enough, I’ll make the change (even though I’m not sure “Tod” is the correct spelling of your name). Something about “ladder days” just appealed to me.

  2. Bruce, I appreciated so much this report on the candidates! I’ll pass it on to those who used to be in Mali. Allan

  3. Amadou Niang says:

    Bruce, how much does it cost you to just acknowledge “Ladder-days” was a typo? It does not take anything away from the quality of your post. I am sure you are sensitive enough, so I do not believe you chose the spelling “ladder” just to make fun of Niankoro’s faith.. If I am wrong, you will have to visit me in Utah soon and have a chat with the Church.

    You are right to affirm that Niankoro’s “affiliation with the Church of Latter-Day Saints is generally ignored by the Malian press.” The candidate himself has repeatedly claimed that his religious affiliation was not an issue in Mali. I doubt this will continue to be the case once he comes to prominence (which I hope he does) in the near future. The majority of Malians practice a moderate Islam, and they tend to be truly tolerant. However, they are not any different than Americans for whom Obama’s alleged affiliation with Islam was an issue. The man spent a lot of time and energy trying to distance himself from both his former pastor (considered to be a radical Afrocentric priest) and Islam seen as a “threat.”

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      Sorry Amadou, I guess the irony I intend to convey doesn’t always get across. “Ladder-Days” was indeed a mistake on my part, although to demonstrate that I’m not above making fun of Mormonism, let me state that a day dedicated to ladders is no more ridiculous than anything Joseph Smith ever revealed.

      As I wrote last year, Samake’s faith most likely hasn’t been an issue for him so far because he hasn’t yet been noticed as a national political figure. Once he is, I’m certain it will become an issue for a powerful minority of Malians, who will try to portray him as part of a foreign plot to weaken Mali’s Muslim identity. They will use the same techniques they used to stop the reform of the Family Code project in 2009.

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  5. alesiclari
    alesiclari says:

    Thank you for this interesting article. I would have a question, do you think that ethnical or geographical aspects will have a relevant impact on voters decisions?

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      At least since the 1990s, ethnicity has not been a strong influence on voting behavior in Mali. There is obviously some relationship between geography and ethnicity (e.g., if you’re Songhai you’re more likely to come from the north) but even that link isn’t so strong as in other African countries. Not that Malians vote as disaggregated individuals — leaders of religious and geographic communities can sway how people vote. Or at least they think they can!

  6. Thank you Bruce! It is good to have a general perspective of the candidates for the 2013 presidential election in Mali. Of course, knowing Yeah Samake personally, I do hope that he will have an opportunity to lead Mali to a brighter future. Even though, I don’t know all the candidacy’s stands for Mali. I know Yeah definitely has good intentions for his nation. Who-ever democratically chosen, I do hope that it will be a better fate for the nation. Allah ka here be! Hi to Oumou and the children.

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