On Sunday, July 29th, the people of Mali crowded around voting stations to vote for a new president amid dire security concerns. President Keita was in for the running against 23 other candidates in a country that has been haunted by violence and ethnic conflict for years, and the days leading up to the vote were no different. In the northern and central parts of the country, armed assailants attacked the voting stations, as well as each other. Armed attacks successfully halted the voting process in 3% of the voting stations, according to the International Crisis Group.
If the violence did not bode well for the elections in general, it was particularly unhelpful for President Kieta’s campaign. In the past, Kieta has frequently been criticized for his failure to keep the peace in Mali. According to Reuters, critics have cited the growing number of deaths from the “…jihadist attacks, ethnic killings and armed forces abuses,” that have been actively occurring throughout Keita’s presidency. To many, the violence on Sunday was but a reflection of President Keita’s term.
Keita himself admits there is a long way to go. According to Reuters, he told the people before the elections: “There is still a lot to do. That’s why I am soliciting the Malian people to give us another term…”
Reuters later quoted the United Nations Representative for Western Africa and the Sahel Region, as he pled for responsibility among the candidates, “We cannot afford a political crisis in Mali on top of the security crisis the country is already facing.”
The fact that Malians were able to vote throughout the last week gives some hope for the political future of Mali. However, history has long proven that direct democracy–the system which Malians use–doesn’t work in large, diverse countries. And Mali is plentiful in cultural diversity. There are over ten ethnic groups in the country, and many of them are violent towards each other, and some towards the government.
The Tuaregs and Arabs frequently clash, as do the Dogons and Mali military forces, just to name a few ongoing feuds. In situations like this, the key to promoting peace can often be found in strategic representation. A proportional mode of election similar to that of Denmark would best ascertain that all groups are represented fairly in the government. If the Fulanis, Dogons, Senufos and others were to have proportional political representation in a democratic government, this would help prevent fighting among the groups through the facilitation of more peaceful means of problem-solving. Proportional representation also tends to motivate more citizens to vote, which could help stabilize the government and lessen the violence.
The turmoil of the past week has deep roots, reaching far back into the history of Mali’s unstable political system, and the rise of Islamist extremism in 2013. That year, Islamist militants were able to claim an enormous swath of northern Mali, and they imposed Sharia law there, with the aim to force the area to break from Mali. With French assistance, Mali was able to force the militants back that same year. However, a new group Islamic group surfaced in 2015: the Macina Liberation Front (FLM). According to Human Rights Watch, the FLM, Al Qaeda and Al-Mourabitoun were allegedly responsible for the murder of numerous civilians in Mali in 2015. And just last year, the regional elections were postponed on account of armed attacks against U.N and Malian forces, an attack claimed—according to Al Jazeera—by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, a group associated with Al-Qaeda.
More recently, and in addition to this, the International Crisis Group claims that government forces set fire to 300 Dogon combatants’ motorcycles last month, provoking the promise of retaliation from them, despite having agreed to a cease-fire with the government on July 2nd. The Tuaregs and Arabs were also involved in violent altercations amongst each other, with the Arabs taking the additional step of targeting the Mali military.
Although the relative success of last week’s votes gives hope for the future of a democratic system in Mali, the country continues to face immense security problems heading into the month of August. The rise of violent Islamist groups, in addition to the already unstable social and political situation, increases the risks to civilians who plan to make their final votes. Government forces are corrupt and use unethical means to address problems, provoking more hostility against the government. If Mali is to stabilize and fix its current security problems, a focus on proportional representative government is needed, and military, as well as governmental positions, need to be purged of corrupt employees.
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