peter tinti

politics, culture and security in west africa

Category: ecowas

After war and two elections, Mali has a president

CS Monitor

Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita wins runoff, paving the way for $4 billion in aid.

Bamako, Mali: Malians weary of war and two rounds of elections sighed with relief Tuesday night when it was announced early that they had a president. The former finance minister, Soumaila Cisse, conceded defeat to the former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, despite some qualms.

Mr. Cisse had charged voter irregularity in the hours after Sunday’s runoff vote. But Mr. Keita’s lead was so great in the initial polling that he decided not to contest the outcome and instead visited the winner’s home last evening — and later today announced that he was creating Mali’s first serious opposition party.

That now leaves the West African country with Keita as president, a tough veteran and member of the political elite who is known in Mali as “IBK.”

Keita is regarded as a wily negotiator, a friend of the military, and the choice of the French, the former colonial power, whose troops entered Mali in January to stop the advance of radical Islamist forces at the invitation of the acting Mali government.

Keita was the favorite to win after scoring more than twice the percentage of votes, 40 percent, than did Cisse, who came in at 19 percent. Under Mali election rules (as in France), a runoff is held unless one candidate wins an outright majority.

Last evening, French President François Hollande phoned Keita to congratulate him.

The clear victory also now opens the path for some $4 billion in aid that was tied by donor nations to the completion of fair elections.

A US State Department spokesperson said the elections meant the US government would begin to “normalize our foreign assistance to Mali,” along with more than 100 other states that attended a pledge meeting in May.

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Malians grateful to put elections behind them, after a coup and war

CS Monitor

A runoff vote for president on Sunday saw torrential rains, mud, and long lines in Bamako. But the vote was peaceful and orderly.

Bamako, Mali: Ballot-counting is under way in Mali after voters took to the polls Sunday in the final round of presidential elections that are widely seen as a first step to rebuilding the war-torn West African nation.

Mali forged ahead July 28 with a first round of elections despite calls for a delay by some local politicians and several prominent international NGOs that said it was too early. In January Mali saw a French-led war against Islamic radicals that itself followed a military coup last year.

The July vote saw a record turnout but not an outright majority winner, setting the stage for a runoff between former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumalia Cissé.

Yesterday’s vote was orderly and peaceful. In the morning, Malians in Bamako braved torrential downpours in the early morning to cast their votes. In muddy courtyards throughout the city, long lines seemed to favor male voters but represented a mix of Mali’s diverse population.

Most women, many with a child in tow, wore new, colorful wax-print outfits purchased for the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Other women dressed in all black with their faces veiled by a niqab, a growing trend among women in some neighborhoods. Businessmen in suits stood next to men in flowing traditional robes, rubbing elbows with youth in skinny jeans and fashionably tight t-shirts.

Results are expected to be finalized as early as Wednesday.

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Battered Mali will vote again Aug. 11 as two veterans face off

CS Monitor

Western nations have linked the elections – which follow Mali’s brief war to oust Islamic militants in the north – to $4 billion in assistance.

Bamako, Mali: Mali’s first elections after French troops arrived in January to drive out Islamic radicals did not yield a first-round winner. The West African nation will put together a runoff vote on Aug. 11.

The two contenders for Mali’s top job, neither of whom received a clear majority of votes, are Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former prime minister, and Soumaila Cissé, the former finance minister.

The United Nations has called the elections – the first since the brief war with radical Islamists, and the first for president since a coup toppled Mali’s twice-elected government in March 2012 – a critical first step in putting the war-torn county back together. They also linked them to the release of $4 billion in aid.

Mr. Keita, known locally by his initials, IBK, and who is rumored to be the preferred choice among some French and international diplomats, secured 39 percent of the first-round vote on July 28, which saw a record turnout of 51 percent.

Mr. Cissé, a veteran political insider who has run for president before and has served as head of the West African Monetary Union, took 19 percent. Both men are firmly entrenched in Mali’s often-maligned political class.

The announcement of the totals eased tensions in the capital of Bamako, which had grown steadily last week after Col. Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration, held a chaotic press conference stating that Keita was likely to win the first round outright.

When only a third of the votes had been counted, several news outlets began reporting a Keita victory as all but inevitable.

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Election turnout high in Mali on the heels of war and French-led intervention

CS Monitor

Final results may be known as early as tomorrow, as Malians shrug off a coup and chaos and vote with new ‘biometric’ cards.

Bamako, Mali: Still recovering from a radical Islamist insurgency months ago, Mali plunged ahead Sunday with elections that France and the United States had called for as a condition to release some $4 billion in aid.

Ballot counting is now under way after voters in the West African country turned out in unusually large numbers yesterday, with an outcome expected as early as tomorrow.

These presidential elections come 16 months after a military coup in Mali and six months after a French-led military intervention to liberate the desert north from rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda.

Yesterday’s vote is seen as a critical first step for a poor, landlocked country once wrongly considered a model of democracy. And the vote came amid concerns by local officials and several prominent international NGOs that hastily planned elections might further destabilize an already divided nation.

Others warned elections might put civilians at risk of attack from armed rebel groups in the north.

In the neighborhood of Lafiabougou, in the capital Bamako, lines had formed before polls had opened.

At a separate polling station across town in Hippodrome, a steady stream of voters arrived late into the evening.

APEM, a network of 2,100 Malian election observers, said that 96 percent of polling stations had opened on time and that turnout was “high.” Polls closed without reports of any major incidents.

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Mali Holds Elections After Year of Turmoil

New York Times

Under pressure from France and other Western powers, Mali held a presidential election on Sunday that some observers said the country was not ready for and that risked excluding thousands of its citizens.

Voting went off peacefully, nonetheless, in an election that Mali’s numerous donors deemed crucial to restoring the country’s stability after more than a year of turmoil: an Islamist takeover in the desert north in the spring of 2012; a military coup in the capital; French military intervention to forestall Islamist advances in January; and the flight of nearly 200,000 inhabitants beyond Mali’s borders.

Mali, a poor West African desert nation, has been ruled by a makeshift, unelected government since March 2012, with no parliament, few functioning state institutions and a weak, military junta-approved president. Billions of dollars in aid have been promised by international donors but only if the country has at least the appearance of democracy. That meant proceeding to a hasty election that some of the country’s politicians, research institutes like International Crisis Group, and even the country’s electoral commission warned might be premature.

Still, all over Bamako, the capital, on Sunday, long, orderly lines formed, and citizens dipped their fingers in dye to show that they had voted. Many suggested that, however imperfect, the election would put an end to months of uncertainty.

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High turnout in Mali’s first election since coup

The Independent

As Malians go to the polls, hopes are high the election will bring a better future.

Bamako, Mali – The West African nation of Mali voted in presidential elections on Sunday just 16 months after the country descended into chaos in the wake of a coup led by mid-ranking army officials.

Sunday’s polls are seen as an essential first step for a country once considered a model of democracy, and come just six months after France intervened to liberate northern Mali, a vast desert expanse that fell under the control of rebel groups linked to al-Qa’ida.

The run-up to the elections saw several of the 27 presidential candidates barnstorming across the country, filling local stadiums along the way.

Despite calls for a delay by some local politicians and several prominent international NGOs, Mali forged ahead with elections that the international community, particularly the US and France, had been calling for as a condition to releasing nearly $4bn dollars in pledged aid and assistance.

Yesterday, Malians went to the polls in large numbers. The election observers said in a statement that 96 per cent of polling stations had opened on time and turnout was “high”, without giving further details. Unless a candidate garners more than 50 per cent of the votes outright – an outcome that most observers see as unlikely – a second round run-off will follow on 11 August.

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Mali votes: Views from street

Al Jazeera

As Malians go to the polls, hopes are high the election will bring a better future.

Bamako, Mali - The West African nation of Mali is holding presidential elections on Sunday, in what many see as a crucial first step to stabilising a country rocked by 16 months of war and political turmoil.

The vote takes place amid lingering security concerns and a chaotic voter registration process, prompting many to question if Mali is ready to hold free and fair elections.

Some commentators fear a rushed vote may risk further destabilising an already divided nation. Despite calls for a delay by groups such as the International Crisis Group and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Mali’s interim government and the international community are determined to go forward with the vote, as $4bn in reconstruction and development assistance is on hold until Mali elects a government deemed legitimate by the international community.

At the centre of the debate are biometric identification cards known by their local acronym, NINA. Mali’s electoral officials and their international counterparts claim that more than 80 percent of the 6.8 million cards have been distributed, a number widely disputed locally.

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Will ‘historic’ ceasefire help put Mali back together again?

CS Monitor

A new deal brokered between Mali’s government and ethnic Tuaregs by the EU and UN diplomats along with regional players may be a key first step.

Conakry, Guinea: After months of destabilization caused by war, Mali has signed a ceasefire with separatist Tuareg rebels who hold towns in the remote north – clearing the way for national elections to be held in July.

“The agreement provides for an immediate ceasefire, paves the way for the holding of presidential elections nationwide and commits the parties to discussing sustainable peace in Mali,” said a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after 10 days of negotiations in nearby Burkina Faso.

Under the deal, Malian troops would gradually begin to occupy the northern stronghold of Kidal, now held by various Tuareg rebels groups.

Tension between Malian authorities and Tuareg rebels have been a lingering problem since the French Army intervened in Mali last January.

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Peacekeeping force for unsettled Mali gets unanimous UN vote

CS Monitor

Resolution 2100 has French troops replaced by blue helmets and at least half the UN force will be from Africa. Al Qaeda-linked militants are still fighting in Mali’s northern mountains. 

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously approved the creation of a 12,600-strong peacekeeping force for Mali.

The pending arrival of blue helmets to the country is a sign that France, its African allies, and the broader international community are eager for the next phase of an intervention that began in January as a limited air campaign against Islamist rebels, but quickly escalated into a full-scale ground war.

Resolution 2100, proposed by France, calls for a force that would consist of 11,200 troops as well as 1,440 police to stabilize a country rocked by political instability and war over the last year.

Though the French-led intervention initially succeeded in driving the rebels from the towns and cities once under their control, serious questions remain regarding the extent to which northern Mali has actually been secured.

In the wake of several attacks – including suicide bombings – on Mali’s northern cities, both outside analysts and Malians wonder if the Islamist rebels have been defeated.

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30-minute interview with “This is Hell”

I had the pleasure of being on WNUR 89.3FM Chicago‘s “This is Hell,” three days ago, but due to spotty internet access am only just getting the chance to post and listen to it now. It was a thirty-minute, live phone call that I fielded somewhere between Niono and Markala as French armored vehicles were prepping to move north, and it was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. The questions were intelligent, well-researched and to be perfectly honest, caught me a bit off-guard as I’m used to doing radio interviews that put the ball on a tee for me. You can listen by streaming or downloading by clicking here, my segment starts during the 48th minute.

In Mali, French forces move north amid plea for faster African deployments

CS Monitor

Malian troops have entered the key garrison town of Diabaly after French airstrikes pushed out Islamist rebels. But many residents wonder if they’re gone for good.

NIONO, MALI: As Malian troops enter Diabaly, a garrison town of 35,000 recently abandoned by rebels in response to French air strikes, France’s foreign minister has warned his African counterparts that “African friends need to take the lead” in the ongoing military campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali.

The Malian Army’s inability to hold Diabaly was just one of a string of military setbacks that prompted France to mobilize more than 2,000 troops on the ground and to call for West African nations to accelerate troop deployments to Mali. Islamist rebels gained control of the town – just 270 miles from the capital city of Bamako – only days after France intervened Jan. 11 to stem an ambitious rebel push southward to the town of Konna, in central Mali. Diabaly, with its relative proximity to Bamako, has since come to be viewed as a second frontline of a conflict that was originally envisioned as a limited air campaign to support Malian troops.

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How the French got to airstrikes in Mali: A briefing from Bamako

CS Monitor

Five key questions about how Islamic militants took over northern Mali — and why the French are trying to stop them.

BAMAKO, MALI: French airstrikes in Mali last week have jolted the West’s attention. The strikes and more planned deployments by France and other African states, are designed to halt the progress of Islamist rebels in Mali, and deny radicals an Afghan-style haven for jihad against Europe. Journalist Peter Tinti has lived in West Africa for the last three years and arrived in Bamako today. Here’s his first briefer from the capital.

How did this crisis start?

It started when armed groups took over northern Mali – a vast desert expanse roughly the size of Texas – last year. Prominent among the groups are Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda who wish to establish a strict and violent version of Islamic law in the region.

Armed conflict and food shortages have driven more than 400,000 people from their home. The rising fear is that the conflict could destabilize the region, creating an ungoverned space and haven to launch terror attacks abroad.

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With French air strikes, has the war to retake northern Mali begun?

CS Monitor

Today’s expansion of the French air campaign beyond central Mali has left many wondering if the war has started – without much international coordination.

DAKAR, SENEGAL: France widened its military intervention in the African nation of Mali today beyond targets in the center of the country, sending fighter jets to the north to hammer training camps, infrastructure, and logistics depots used by Islamist rebels with ties to Al Qaeda.

“The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country, and Europe,” said France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on French television.

The French began air strikes on Friday to counter an ambitious rebel advance southward from their strongholds in the north. While France’s intervention appears to have the tacit support of the international community, the expansion of the French air campaign beyond central Mali has left many analysts wondering if a long-discussed war to retake northern Mali has begun in earnest – without much international coordination or planning.

“That’s the $64 billion question,” says François Heisbourg, special adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. “I think all of this has happened so quickly between Thursday and today that the immediate objective of stopping the two [Islamist] columns and preventing the replenishment of the frontline [Islamist] forces has been the beginning and the end all of what the French are trying to do.”

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Intervening in Northern Mali: Don’t Forget the Ethnic Dimension

Think Africa Press

While ethnicity is not a key driver of the current conflict in northern Mali, there is a real danger violence could become organised along ethnic lines.

Bamako, Mali: Northern Mali has seen conflict before, but the ascendancy of Islamist militants and the salience of organised crime – particularly the drug trade – suggest that this iteration is qualitatively different from its predecessors. Accordingly, the current diplomatic discourse emphasises a regionally-coordinated approach to defeating Al-Qaeda-linked militants and restoring the territorial integrity of Mali.

Even the best-planned, adroitly executed military campaign, however, is likely to yield adverse humanitarian consequences in the short term, providing ample opportunity for local actors motivated by a mix of ideological affiliations, economic interests, pre-existing grievances, ethnic identities, tribal networks and even personal animosities to pursue their own agendas.

Right now, the presence of ethnic and local militias might seem like a peripheral concern, but the international community may soon find that failing to marginalise or demobilise these groups could make it difficult to translate tactical military gains against Islamist militants into more strategic goals, such as regional stability. One of the key challenges for the international community therefore will be to ensure that a protracted, internecine conflict does not emerge from the fog of war. While ethnicity is not a key driver of the current conflict in Mali, there is a real danger that violence could become organised along ethnic lines.

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African Leaders Prepare for Military Intervention in Northern Mali

Voice of America

BAMAKO — High-level delegations from the United Nations, West African bloc ECOWAS, and the African Union met with Malian leaders Friday to develop a coherent strategy for tackling the crisis in northern Mali, where al-Qaida linked militant groups have taken control.

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore urged representatives from ECOWAS, the African Union, European Union, United Nations and other key partners to act immediately in addressing the deteriorating situation in the north.

Traore assured attendees of the total cooperation of the Malian government, and said it would not falter because those present were there as friends, brothers and partners at a time when the pooling of resources is the only response to the security challenges that Mali is facing.

Traore described the situation as a “race against time” against a “common enemy” and said that these challenges represent a risk for the Sahel, for West Africa, for the Sahara, for Africa and for the world.

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