Mali’s election campaign is in full swing, with just 10 days left until voters head to the polls to pick their next president.
Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been campaigning in the capital, Bamako, appealing to his supporters for a second term.
IBK, as he is widely known, was elected in a landslide majority five years ago on promises to restore peace, defeat armed groups and improve the economy.
Critics, however, accuse him of failing to deliver on any of the pledges, as well as incompetence and lack of vision.
Keita will be up against 23 rivals for re-election in the July 29 polls.
Former Prime Minister Soumaila Cisse, who contested and lost two previous elections, is seen as the president’s main rival. He has attracted a large support base with promises to fix the country’s problems and end poverty.
“Mali’s GDP grew around five percent last year – not bad compared to many other developing countries. But uneven distribution of wealth kept nearly half of the 18 million population under the internationally recognised poverty line,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall, reporting from Bamako.
He added that the focus of many people in the country is not statistics, but “jobs and social services in a stable and secure environment”.
Mali has a big economic potential. It is Africa’s third largest gold producer and has an abundance of natural resources on the River Niger – with large reserves of iron ore, manganese and uranium.
Despite its natural riches, Mali ranks among the poorest countries in the world.
Landlocked and drought-stricken in its vast northern regions, Malians still struggle with foreign debt, government mismanagement, political disunity and ethnic fighting.
The economic strain has hit hard on the electorate who are hoping things would improve after elections.
“Malians are suffering because of low income and high cost of living. We pray to God to give us a good leadership that will make the country better,” said a female voter in Bamako.
“But leaders, in general, don’t keep their promises and think only of their personal interest,” she added.
Another voter in the capital said the next president must “run the country efficiently and not think of Bamako only, but also of remote poor villages”.
He added: “We need a solution to high prices and the shortage of food supplies.”
Some have dubbed the vote as the “election of all the challenges and all the high stakes”, while others have expressed concern about the polls taking place as scheduled because of increasing attacks by armed groups.
“No matter who wins the presidential race, everyone here is worried about the future of Mali,” Vall said.