According to provisional results announced by the government on Tuesday, the party of Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and its allies, have won the West African country’s parliamentary elections.
Minister of Territorial Administration Moussa Sinko Coulibaly announced on state television that the Rally for Mali (RPM) party, along with its junior partners, had secured 115 of the 147 seats in the national assembly following a second round of voting that occurred on Sunday. The minister further noted that the exact breakdown was still being worked out. The Union for the Republic of Democracy (URD), the party of beaten presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse, will have between 17 and 19 members in the new parliament, effectively allowing Cisse to become the leader of the opposition. While the official results will be confirmed by the country’s constitutional court in the coming days, it appears that the RPM party have made good on a promise to deliver “a comfortable majority” to smooth the path for reforms that the president plans to put in place in order to rebuild Mali’s stagnant economy and to ease the ethnic tensions that are still an issue in the northern region of the country. Turnout for the second round of voting reached 37.3 percent, a drop from the 38.6 percent that was achieved during the first round, which itself was deemed disappointing by local and international officials. The second round of parliamentary voting was Mali’s fourth nationwide ballot in less than five months, with some observers blaming voting fatigue for the low turnout. Despite a terrorist attack being carried out the day before the elections, there were no serious incidents reported during the ten hours of voting however many voters were believed to have stayed away because of the recent upsurge in rebel attacks against African troops tasked with election security alongside French and Malian soldiers. On Saturday, two Senegalese UN peacekeepers were killed, and seven others wounded, when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car into a bank they were guarding in the northeastern town of Kidal. The elections mark the completion of Mali’s return to democracy after the country was upended by a coup last year. Louis Michel, the European Union’s chief election observer in Mali indicated on Monday that his team had positively evaluated 98 percent of the 705 polling stations observed during the election. He further noted that the “legal framework” for the polls “remains aligned with international standards for democratic elections.”
Meanwhile officials reported on Tuesday that militants had shelled a camp, where French troops and the United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping force are stationed, in northern Mali. According to military sources, “two shells were fired Monday night by unidentified persons at the Kidal camp for French troops and MINUSMA,” adding that there was “no damage or casualties.” The attack was later confirmed by a French military source stationed in Mali who indicated that the shells passed safely over the camp, missing their targets. The attack comes amidst an upsurge in violence in Mali’s north.
Two United Nations peacekeepers have been killed in a car bomb blast in the northeastern Malian town of Kidal, overshadowing the second round of parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday.
On Sunday, Malians voted in the second round of parliamentary elections, which are intended to cap the nation’s return to democracy but which were overshadowed by the deaths of two UN peacekeepers in a militant attack that was carried out on Saturday.
Speaking shortly after casting his ballot in the capital city, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita stated, “this second round establishes the recovery on a foundation of legitimacy in this country. It will give us more strength, more power to say ‘Mali’ and that’s what Mali needs.”
In the first round of elections, which took place on 24 November, nineteen of the national assembly’s 147 seats were allocated, with voter turnout at 38.6 per cent, a drop of almost 13 percentage points from the first round of voting during the presidential elections. Shortly after the conclusion of the first round of parliamentary voting, Louis Michel, chief of the European Union (EU) observation mission, called on “all political actors” to turn out in the second round, adding that “in the specific context of Mali, voting is not only a right, it is a moral duty.”
While there were no serious incidents reported during the ten hours of voting, polling stations throughout the country were reporting turnout as low as fifteen per cent, as voters were scared away by a recent upsurge in rebel attacks against African troops tasked with election security alongside French and Malian soldiers.
Sources on the ground have indicated that polling stations in Bamako reported an estimated turnout of just fifteen per cent. In Koulikoro, located 50 kilometres (37 miles) southwest of Bamako, many residents indicated that they were not intending to participate as they were unimpressed with the candidates and feared Islamist violence. The second round of parliamentary elections is Mali’s fourth nationwide ballot since July, with some reports indicating that the low turnout may also be due to a lack of interest due to voting fatigue. In the north of Mali, voting took place without incident in the regions of Gao and Timbuktu, with seats in Kidal already decided in the first round. Maiga Seyma, the deputy mayor of Gao, indicated that turnout appeared to be good in its 88 polling stations and that the voting had opened in an atmosphere of calm.
The outcome of the election is expected to be announced by the government before the end of Friday, with the president’s Rally for Mali (RPM) party vowing to deliver “a comfortable majority” to smooth the path for reforms he plans to put in place in order to rebuild Mali’s stagnant economy and ease the simmering ethnic tensions in the north.
Explosion Overshadows Elections
A suicide attack on United Nations forces in northern Mali on Saturday killed two Senegalese soldiers in what a Malian jihadist leader said was retaliation for African countries’ support of a French army operation against Islamist militants.
The blast, which occurred when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden vehicle into the Malian Bank of Solidarity in Kidal, killed the two peacekeepers who were guarding the bank. A government statement indicated that the car “struck the main door of the bank, killing in addition to the suicide bomber two Senegalese soldiers of MINUSMA and injuring six other people.” The statement further noted that five sustained serious injuries – three peacekeepers and two Malian soldiers – who were later evacuated to Gao.
Sultan Ould Badi, a Malian jihadist linked to a number of armed groups, has indicated that the latest attack was in retaliation for African countries’ support of the French-led military operation against Islamist rebels in northern Mali. He further noted “we are going to respond all across Azawad and in other lands…with other operations against France’s crusades.” Badi, a member of northern Mali’s Arab and Tuareg minority groups, rose to prominence kidnapping European hostages in the region and selling them on to armed Islamist groups. He later joined AQIM and was close to one of the group’s top commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who was killed while fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February of this year. After Zeid’s death, Badi joined another al-Qaeda-linked group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), before launching his own small radical group. According to a Malian security source, Badi current acts as an intermediary between the various jihadist groups that operate in northern Mali.
Over the past week, the French army has been carrying out an operation against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant north of Timbuktu. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, nineteen militants have been killed.
Also on Saturday, Seyba Diarra, the right-hand man of coup leader Amadou Sanogo, was detained on charges of assassination. According to sources close to the investigation, Diarra had promised to “cooperate frankly” with investigators in order to shed light on a mass grave containing twenty-one bodies that was discovered on December 4 near the capital Bamako. The dead are believed to be “red berets” loyal to the president overthrown in the coup, Amadou Toumani Toure, The discovery of the mass grave came one week after Sanogo’s arrest and detention, after which about fifteen mainly military aides were also arrested. The government has since indicated that “for now,” Sanogo was charged with involvement in a kidnapping, however a source close to judge Yaya Karembe has stated that he faces charges including murder.
Reports have indicated that Islamist militants blew up a bridge on Tuesday, leaving two civilians wounded, just one day after they shelled the northern town of Gao. The sharp rise in attacks over the past few days largely stems from the Tuareg separatists’ decision to withdraw from the peace process.
According to Ibrahim Cisse, a local councillor for the Gao region, “early this Tuesday, Islamists dynamited one of two small bridges…near Bentia, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with Niger, leaving two civilians wounded. The local councillor further added that the assailants, who were “wearing turbans,” had arrived by motorbike at the bridge that crosses the Niger River at Bentia and proceeded to destroy it. According to a police source in Gao, “in this place, there are two small bridges. The aim of the Islamists was to blow up both bridges, but fortunately, only the old one was badly damaged,” adding that “the new bridge, which is the most frequently used, sustained only very light damage.” On the ground sources have reported that Malian soldiers were sent to the area, along with French troops who were deployed in the northern desert region, in order “to avoid other acts of sabotage” by armed extremists.
The two bridges in Bentia were attacked just one day after armed militant fired shells on the northern Malian city of Gao, the first attack on the insurgents’ former stronghold in months. Suspected Islamist militants targeted the city with artillery fire on Monday, wounding one Malian soldier. Although the attack was similar to the guerrilla-warfare that was used by the insurgents in the months following the January offensive, until Monday’s violence, the area had not seen an attack since May. The attack was confirmed by residents and Idrissa Cisse, a municipal official in Gao, who stated that “this morning from around 06:30 (0630 GMT) a series of four explosions hit the town. One Malian soldier was wounded and a house was damaged.” By mid-morning, French helicopters were patrolling the skies, with local residents stating that calm had been restored in the city. A spokesman for an al-Qaeda splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), indicated that the group had claimed responsibility for the attack on Gao, warning that further such operations would be carried out.
The attacks on Bentia and Gao also come a week after a suicide bomb attack in Timbuktu killed two civilians and four bombers, and left seven Malian soldiers wounded. According to eye witness accounts, the suicide bombers detonated their vehicle near the Malian army camp in Timbuktu, killing both the themselves and two civilians. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which was founded in Algeria and which operates across the Sahel region south of the Sahara. The suicide car bomb attack was the first to occur since Mali’s presidential election. The attack also came a few days after Tuareg separatists pulled out of a ceasefire agreement and peace process with the new Malian government.
In the wake of rising tensions in the north of Mali, Mali’s Defence Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga has stated that he wants to “reassure the population that in coordination with our partners in Serval (the French military operation) and MINUSMA (the UN’s African military force in Mali), our deployment has been strengthened.” He also urged the population “to remain calm and above all to share information with personnel of the armed forces and security forces in order to help them track down the enemy in all its forms.” The recent rise in tensions also force Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to cut his visit to France short where he was holding talks with his French counterpart on the current security status of his country. During a meeting that was held last week, the Presidents of France and Mali warned that a “terrorist” resurgence in the Sahel region might be possible after new fighting between the insurgents and military had occurred in recent days. In a joint statement released by Hollande’s office shortly after the talks, the two leaders stated that “the Franco-African intervention put an end to the terrorist threat, but it could try to rebuild…we must remain vigilant.”
A gun battle between Malian soldiers and suspected separatist rebels has erupted in the northern town of Kidal, sparking concerns that the violence could escalate amidst already rising tensions. Meanwhile in Guinea, polling stations have begun to announce the preliminary results after Saturday’s elections.
Northern Mali Tense After Two Days of Clashes
On Sunday, the Malian army came under attack from gunmen in the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal. The regional governor has confirmed the attack, which appears to be a sign that violence is intensifying against the army after peace talks with Tuareg rebels broke down last week. According to a source in Adama Kamissoko’s office, “fighters from the MNLA came armed into the city centre, not far from a bank where there were Malian troops. They never wanted the army around. The army fired warning shots, and a firefight began.” The governor has indicated that the exchange ended after more than an hour with “some wounded,” however it was not immediately clear whether the casualties were soldiers or militants.
International troops and UN peacekeeping forces, who were already present in the city, were deployed after the attack in order to protect the town hall, where the governor lives and works. According to Kamissoko’s office, the gunmen were separatist rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which is the main Tuareg group that is involved in the peace talks. A statement released by the MNLA has accused Malian troops of “flagrant aggression” in Kidal, stating that three of its fighters had been injured in exchanges of fire.”
Since Tuareg rebels, who are claiming autonomy for northern Mali, pulled out of peace talks on Thursday, there have been two militant attacks that have been carried out on Malian soldiers in the northern regions of the country. On Saturday, four suicide bombers blew up their car at a military barracks in the city of Timbuktu. Two civilians were killed and six troops were wounded. This attack occurred less than twenty-four hours after militants threw grenades at the army in Kidal, wounding two soldiers. Although no Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks, many have blamed them on militants belonging to the MNLA.
While the Malian government urged Malians to remain calm after Saturday’s attacks, stating that security was being enhanced across the country, the breakdown in peace talks, coupled with an increase in attacks, has dealt a blow to hopes that peace will last in the troubled West African nation. A statement released by the government indicated that “the multiplication of these attacks shows that the war against terrorism is not over and that the security situation remains fragile throughout the Sahel-Saharan region.”
In February of this year, the MNLA took control of Kidal after the French-led military operation ousted al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had taken advantage of the latest Tuareg rebellion to seize most of northern Mali. Although Malian authorities reclaimed the city after signing a ceasefire accord with the MNLA, the situation has remained tense. The June 18 Ouagadougou accord between the rebels and the government effectively enabled the Malian military to return to Kidal in order to prepare for the July presidential elections, which saw Ibrahim Boubacar Keita elected President. The agreement, which was signed in Burkina Faso, outlines that the government and rebels agreed to respect the country’s territorial integrity and that they will hold peace talks that will focus on the status of northern Mali, which the Tuaregs call Azawad. However on Thursday, the Tuareg rebels indicated that the government had not kept its commitments to start prisoner releases, and therefore they would pull out of any further discussions.
Elections in Guinea
Meanwhile in Guinea, the first polling stations across the country began to declare the results of Saturday’s elections. On Saturday, the country’s voters chose from more than 1,700 candidates vying for 114 seats in a national assembly that will replace the transitional body that has been running the country since military rule came to an end in 2010. Sources have indicated that there were no major incidents reported on Saturday. Guinea’s election commission has announced that it will publish “partial and provisional” results on Monday and Tuesday prior to releasing the preliminary results on Wednesday, which will show the full picture across the country. Under Guinea’s election law, the supreme court has to confirm the final results within ten days of polls closing.
While opposition activists, election observers and local media have reported that there were logistical problems in many polling stations, which prevented people from voting, including shortages of indelible ink, envelopes and delays in the provision of electoral lists, the observation mission of the Economic Community of West African States, which is made up of 100 observers who are led by former Togolese prime minister Edem Kodjo, has stated that the elections “were held in acceptable conditions of freedom and transparency.” The vote, which was originally due to be held within six months of the swearing-in of President Alpha Conde in 2010, had been delayed amidst disputes pertaining to its organization, resulting in violence between government and opposition activists.
On Thursday, Mali’s military confirmed that two Malian soldiers were wounded as the army exchanged fire with “bandits” during security operations that were being carried out near the Mauritanian border. While this exchange of fire effectively marks the first time that separatist Tuareg rebels and forces from the Malian government have clashed since the two sides signed a peace accord in June of this year, government sources have rejected claims that the MNLA was involved. Meanwhile Mali’s newly formed government announced earlier this week that it will be carrying out a “compete inventory” of the existing mining contracts in a bid to maintain only those contracts that are in the country’s best interests.
Clashes Between Tuareg Rebels and Malian Forces
According to army spokesman Souleymane Maiga, as part of a week-long “operation to secure people and property,” the troops had been on patrol around the market town of Lere when they encountered gunmen on Wednesday, adding that “there was an exchange of gunfire…two of our soldiers were very slightly injured and we arrested a dozen armed bandits.” While media reports have stated that the fighters were from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group that has agreed to be confined to camps as part of a peace accord signed with the government, Maiga has rejected the claims, instead stating that “we were not faced with MNLA fighters, we were confronted by armed bandits who were preventing people going about their daily lives.” The army spokesman added that the security operations would continue until the end of the week.
The MNLA and the transitional government reached an agreement in June of this year, which effectively allowed Malian troops to enter the rebel bastion of Kidal ahead of the nationwide presidential elections which eventually saw former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita elected President. The accord also allowed for the release of fighters who were detained during a Tuareg uprising last year and outlines that talks between the new administration and Tuareg rebels, pertaining to autonomy for a large part of northern Mali, will occur within the next two months. Tuareg leaders however have warned that if the current president fails to reach a negotiated solution, then the MNLA will not hesitate in taking up arms again. If it is proven that MNLA rebels are behind this latest attack, then it will demonstrate that despite the signed agreement, and desires to reconcile the country, their remains a great rift between the new Malian government and the Tuareg rebels.
Mining Contracts to be Examined
Meanwhile earlier this week, Mali’s new government announced that it will be carrying out a “complete inventory” of the existing mining contracts, adding that it is ready to renegotiate any contracts that are not in the country’s best interests. In a brief interview after taking office, Mines Minister Boubou Cisse stated that “the government has decided to carry out a complete inventory of what exists – mining contracts, titles, licenses – be it in the mining or the oil sector,” adding that “if there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question.” Mr. Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, indicated that the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and that its results would be made available to the public. He also noted that his ministry aims to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around eight percent at present, to fifteen to twenty percent in the long term. Mali currently produces around fifty tonnes of gold a year. Randgold Resources and Anglogold Ashanti are amongst a number of international companies that operate in Mali. While no comments have been made pertaining to these specific mining companies, their contracts may be affected.