Keita to Win Presidency on Pledge to Strengthen Mali

Former Malian Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appears set to win a presidential run-off vote on Aug. 11 with a pledge to restore state authority after an army coup and French intervention to quash a rebellion in the north.

Keita, 68, took almost 40 percent of the vote in the July 28 first-round ballot and will face ex-Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, 63, who got about 20 percent. Keita has won the endorsement of at least 22 of the 25 candidates knocked out of the race. His supporters include Dramane Dembele, who came third with 9.6 percent of the vote and broke ranks with his Adema party, which backs Cisse.

“Keita’s message stressing the need for a strong Mali which needs to be able to pick itself up after the ‘embarrassment’ of calling on the French for help seems to have resonated,” John Ashbourne, a London-based sub-Saharan Africa analyst at Business Monitor International, a risk analysis group, said Aug. 7 in an e-mailed response to questions.

About 6.9 million eligible voters in Mali, Africa’s third-largest gold producer, are casting ballots more than a year after the army staged a coup because of the lack of government support in a battle against ethnic-Touareg rebels in the north. When the Touaregs linked up with Islamist militants in an offensive that almost split the nation, former colonial ruler France sent troops to expel them from the main northern cities.

Balloting starts at 8 a.m. local time and is scheduled to end at 6 p.m. Final results are expected five days after the vote, according to the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

‘Mali Honor’

While Cisse focused on economic recovery, Keita campaigned under the slogan “For the Honor of Mali” and concentrated on security, territorial integrity and state authority.

He’s also presented “himself as a break from the political class largely responsible for the crisis into which the country has been plunged,” Gilles Yabi, West Africa director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in a phone interview from Dakar, Senegal.

Keita, who’s also served as foreign minister and president of the National Assembly, is seen as a “man of experience capable of authority” at the time when Malians seek a revival of a state weakened in the past 10 years, Yabi said.

Cisse, chairman of the Dakar-based West African Monetary and Economic Union from 2004 to 2011, is seen more as “a candidate of the political establishment” who’s been outside the country for almost a decade, Bruce Whitehouse, a Mali expert and assistant professor of anthropology at Lehigh University Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said in a phone interview.

Donor Pressure

International donors insisted that the election, the first since 2007, be held last month before they could start providing as much as $4 billion in aid pledged in May.

The next president’s “three key challenges will be the army reform, the resettlement of refugees, and finding a lasting settlement” with the Touareg fighters loyal to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known as the MNLA, Ashbourne said.

Mali signed in June a preliminary peace deal with the MNLA which provided a cease-fire and enabled the Malian army to enter Kidal, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) north of Bamako.

Under the agreement, further talks must be held within 60 days after the election. At least half a million residents have fled from the north to the south or to neighoring countries, according to the United Nations.

Mali’s new president also must tackle corruption in the government and “get the Malian economy going again after being almost frozen in the past 18 months,” Whitehouse said. Mali’s $10.6 billion economy contracted 1.2 percent in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Gold mining, which hasn’t been affected by the fighting, may help the economy expand 4.8 percent this year, according to the fund.

“The donors will exercise an influence on how the money is used which will restrict the freedom of the government,” Ashbourne said.

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