Mali votes: Views from street

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

Election preparations in Timbuktu
Voters search for their names on the biometric voter lists in Timbuktu [EPA]

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.

The electoral database, based on a 2009 census, may render as many as 350,000 voters who turned 18 since 2009 ineligible to vote. Reports by international organisations also highlight a disorganised process for internally displaced persons, and the 173,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

Mali, a landlocked West African nation previously considered a model of African democracy, descended into chaos in the spring of 2012, when mid-ranking officers toppled a twice elected government in the southern capital of Bamako. The MNLA – a separatist group led by ethnic-Tuaregs – capitalised on the ensuing chaos, fighting alongside an alliance of Islamist rebel movements to drive the Malian army from the country’s north. The MNLA were quickly sidelined by their Islamist allies of convenience, and fighters linked to al-Qaeda soon consolidated control over the vast desert expanse roughly the size of Germany. 

Sunday’s vote comes just seven months after French and African forces intervened to drive Islamist rebels from the country’s north, and is being held amid lingering insecurity in the country’s north.

In the region of Kidal, the government enjoys a tenuous ceasefire with the MNLA and its allies, who gained control of the city in the wake of French intervention. Recent riots in Kidal have turned violent, and a string of kidnappings, including of election officials in the remote town of Tessalit, has prompted commentators to question whether polls can be held in Kidal.

Of the 27 candidates up for election, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita – a former prime minister known locally by his initials, IBK – is the perceived frontrunner. Soumaila Cisse, a former finance minister who once headed the West African Monetary Union, is also considered a serious contender. Other candidates such as Modibo Sidibe, also an ex-prime minister, and Dramane Dembele, a political newcomer tapped to represent Mali’s largest political party, ADEMA, are expected to garner significant vote tallies.

A second round run-off is scheduled for August 11 in the event that no single candidate can obtain more than 50 percent of Sunday’s vote.

Peter Tinti and Thomas Martinez talked to Malians in the final days of the campaign. 

Mohammed Cisse, financier

Mohammed Cisse [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: Modibo Sidibe


He knows the job, and he knows the country. He’s a man of the state. He will bring peace.

Was it difficult to acquire your NINA card?

It wasn’t hard. I sent a family member to get mine.

How will the election help the country?

The coup d’etat was like a wind that swept the country. A new strength will come after the elections. Before the country was full of violent people, after the coup we have kicked them out. People will have a new confidence in Mali now – businesses will begin to return and life will resume.

Ali Maiga, electrician

Ali Maiga [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: I haven’t chosen yet.


It won’t be a new country because we choose a new politician. None of them have convinced me yet. I will pick one on Sunday, but I don’t think it will make a big difference. I hope the one that wins is able to heal Mali.

Was it difficult to acquire your NINA card?

It was not hard to get. It took me maybe 30 minutes, I picked it up in Tomikorobougou [a neighbourhood in Bamako]. There were not a lot of people.

How will elections help you and the country?

Elections will relieve some of our hardships. They will bring work back. I am an electrician, and there has not been much work. But it might not go well. Westerners don’t understand, they think that there is trouble, and then elections. In Africa, we have elections first, then trouble.

Seykou Samake, egg sandwich vendor

Sekou Samake [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: Modibo Sidibe


Because he’s a good man. He’ll bring work and peace to the country. 

Was it difficult to acquire your NINA card?

Getting it was hard. I am from a village outside Segou, so I had to have my father collect it for me and now he is bringing it to me here in Bamako.

How will the election help you or the country?

They won’t help me personally very much, but I think it will help the country as a whole. It will bring work back.

Kura Kone, shop owner

Kura Kone [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: Cheick Modibo Diarra


He’ll bring peace to Mali. He has done it in the past, he will do it again. When things were troubled before, he was able to fix it. He knows the government and the people well. But if he doesn’t win, I am ok. We are all Mali’s children. Say IBK wins, people will still be happy and things will get better. 

Was it difficult to acquire your NINA card?

It was not hard. My older sister went and picked it up and brought it to me.

How will the election help you or the country?

If elections happen, it’s good. They’ll strengthen the country and help all of us, not just me.

Amadou Bocoum, spice trader

Amadou Bocoum [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: I know who I’m voting for, but I am keeping it a secret until I go to vote.

Was it difficult to acquire your NINA card?

Picking it up was easy. It took me 30 minutes, the whole time people were coming and going. It was quick. 

How will the election help you or the country?

The coup did not help Mali. But now that we’ve had the war and elections, things will get better. A lot of money has been withheld, especially from the Americans. Once that comes back and we can begin projects again, we can begin rebuilding.

Sibiri Traore, Dogon tour guide

Sibory Traore [Thomas Martinez]

Supports: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita


He is someone you can trust. He is qualified and capable of handling the future of Mali. He is someone that keeps his word.

How will the election help you or the country?

If this election goes well we will have tourists return to Mali. If we have peace, people will come and I will have work. If IBK doesn’t win, I’ll be worried about the future of Mali. He is the only one for the job. We say “Ce Kan Kelen”, which means he speaks once and means it. He is a man of his word. This is what Mali needs right now.

Mariam Sissoko, health savings assistant at the Mali Health Organising Project

Mariam Sissoko [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita


I support IBK. For me, he is more credible than all the past candidates. I believe that with the crisis we are going through, he is the only candidate who can get us out of this crisis, and I also think that Mali can work with a little bit of dictatorship.

What are your biggest concerns?

First off, war. After that, youth employment and school reform. If possible, he could close certain private schools for the benefit of public schools.

Do you think this election will make your life better? Why?

Yes, because I think if they [the elections] aren’t held, I think there are certain concerns that will come about.

Aboubacrine Ag Hamaleck, tour guide and interpreter in Timbuktu

Aboubacrine Ag Hamaleck [Thomas Martinez]

Voting for: Drame Dembele, ADEMA-PASJ party


Because it’s the only democratic party and it is the only political party in Mali that does not belong to a person. Also, their campaign programme responds to all the problems which the Malian population currently faces. The most important thing for me is the degradation of our social fabric. The Malian population is divided, it is no longer able to trust in itself.

How will the election help you or the country?

Because I am a guide and an interpreter, the crisis has closed all doors to success. Mali no longer receives tourists, donors have suspended their aid and cooperation, and life has been increasingly hard since the beginning of the crisis. Therefore, I think these elections will be the solution to these problems, leading to cooperation between Mali and her friends. These elections will open doors for  the return of normal life in Mali.

Source: Al Jazeera