At 2:44pm on the 12th of August 2013, Soumaila Cissé sent arguably the most important tweet in Mali’s history. As the defeated candidate in Mali’s run-off Presidential election, he summarised in no less than 113 characters the strong, positive spirit that his country had expressed over the election period. Though the UN has reported that the second-round of elections occurred ‘without major incident,’ the jury should still be out till all data has been processed whether the logistical fears surrounding the elections materialised. It does appear that the greatest criticisms cited about these early elections – namely reprisal violence – have not occurred. As the BBC’s man in Bamako, Abdourahmane Dia, writes:
“Mali seems to be headed towards a peaceful end of its electoral process after Soumaila Cisse conceded to Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following Sunday’s run-off vote.
This is yet another example that politics is not an exact science -many had predicted chaos if Mali held elections so soon. France, anxious to get its troops out of Mali after routing Islamist militants from northern regions earlier this year, faced criticism for pushing for early polls.
Yet the electoral success lies more with the Malian people, who firmly believed the polls would end an era of turmoil.”
Though it is correct that these elections have occurred “without major incident” the difficulties and trauma experienced by some who were simply trying to cast your vote cannot be forgotten. It has been reported that individual Malian’s have been frequently intimidated and sometimes killed trying to vote. A chilling reminder to anyone reading from the Western world of awfully underappreciated our democratic rights sometime appear.
Importantly for Malian’s, Cissé rounded off his most gracious of election defeats with a vow to create a strong and credible opposition.Malian television showed images of Soumaila Cissé going with his wife and children to congratulate Keita and his family at their home. The whole end to the election process was a national occasion. “Soumaila’s conduct was truly impeccable,” said Aissata Camara, a pharmacy lab technician. “It was very impressive and very democratic as well. It was a relief for all of us.” Another man interviewed in the street said “I was moved to tears when I heard of what Soumaila had done. He has freed this country from any problems.” Despite all his humility, it is worth mentioning that Cissé still cited some concerns over voting fraud.
With all the news about Soumaila Cissé, it is important to remember that Mali has a new President with plenty of work to do. There is plenty of information about Ibrahim Keita on the internet. The challenges sitting in his overflowing and newly acquired in-tray are enormous. The Huffington Post immediately centres Keita’s premiership on the issue of the Tuareg while The Guardian emphasises the difficulties in reigniting the economy and managing the flow of international aid after years of endemic mismanagement. If these elections are really meant to serve as a new chapter for Mali, and putting the turmoil behind, then politics and governance must start now. Cissé appears to already begun his job. Now we will have to wait and see what IBK’s plans to do first to take his country forward.
How much can these elections put a line under Mali’s troubles? Another tweet offers a more measured and reflective point. Freelance journalist Peter Tinti aptly points out that though the elections serve as a crucial first step it is important to “keep in mind” that Mali’s problems of the last 20 years have not come from the lack of free and fair elections. The greater challenge that awaits Mali’s new incumbents – and opposition – is to resume the mission of building strong institutions. Though elections have evidently been successful in beginning national reconciliation, Mali needs to expand its democratic credentials and not rely purely on the existence of ballot boxes. It is a promising start, but a lot still needs to be done.
Mali’s economy had been torn to pieces over the last months. Economic growth figures indicated a 1.2% contraction for 2012 – the first contraction since 2001. This is despite “a good agricultural season” and steady revenues from gold extraction which are thought to have helped buffer Mali against even further economic woe.
Conflicts are inherently tumultuous but life simply has to continue. Where it cannot, it flees. People still need to find food, barter for materials, find shelter and fuel. War and violence in does not only destroy economic activity but in can also warp it; corrupting conventional channels of trade and commerce and therefore creates new opportunities for illicit and sinister ways of generating wealth. Mali has seen thousands lose their livelihoods. Though in the security void and amongst the chaos organised crime and drugs trafficking – its primary source of finance – has thrived.
Conflict-hit economies must be understood to have winners as much as they produce losers. It is with this in mind that the issue of peacekeeping must be approached. Why? Only recently has the United Nations been made aware of the enormous economic impact the deployment of a peacekeeping force has. By simply being deployed in Mali, the 12,600 strong UN Peacekeeping force – called MINSUMA – that has just arrived is already interacting and influencing Malian economics.
Peacekeeping soldiers and their support staff are usually paid enormous salaries compared to the average citizen of a country they operate in. Also the UN’s expenditure on associated services like offices, mechanics and accommodation represent an enormous injection for the local economy. The UN’s peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous stated earlier this month that Mali represented “unique challenges” due to its ravaged infrastructure. The arrival of a Peacekeeping force can be massive for small economies, and change them forever. For example, in the case of the UN Peacekeeping forces that were deployed in Timor-Leste (UNTAET), Liberia (UNMIL), Kosovo (UNMIK) and Burundi (ONUB) mission expenditure in the local economy accounted for up to and over 6% of the host country’s entire Gross Domestic Product. To put that into perspective: all the expenditure on education in the UK public and private – including student subsidies – is only 5.6% of Britain’s total GDP. For Mali the arrival of a peacekeeping mission may not only mean security, but prosperity.
Mali’s economy certainly needs a boost. This article reminds us of the continuing devastation in the country. However, Peacekeeping money can be dangerous, especially when we remember that in a conflict economy illicit and sinister forces are usually better placed to exploit new opportunities. The Peacekeeping force has already gained some recognition for its ability to negotiate access with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in some remote northern territories to provide a safe environment for brave Malians to come out and vote.
However, like the Presidential elections, the current Peacekeeping operation can be equally criticised for having a regional bias. In Bamako the election looked like an election – campaign rallies and billboards. In the north, however, 500,000 Malians remain displaced. Some feel that the impact of Ramadan, especially in the sparsely populated north, has not been fully considered. It has been suggested that Malian authorities were under intense pressure to have early elections by western donor countries (that have constitutional requirements surrounding the need for elections that blocks aid payments) which meant that national voting cards were only sent out a month before the date of election – a huge administrative challenge. A good audio interview weighing up the difficulties of holding the Malian elections is available here. There is nothing to suggest that the impacts and benefits of a peacekeeping operation will not fall victim to similar bias. Even worse, in a case like Mali – where the conflict contained historic grievences about regional political and economic inequality – a poorly managed peacekeeping mission logistically could do more harm than good.
This has happened before. Benedikt Korf argues in reference to Sri Lanka that the benefits of UN interventions are usually overwhelmingly confined to the capital city. Theoretically, there are many instances whereby unintended outcomes of peacekeeping could foster, rather than diminish, the root causes for the original conflict. In the case of Sierra Leone over ninety percent of the socio-economic benefits were thought to have been confined to Freetown. This pattern was reported in other UN missions. In Burundi the UN handed out more contracts to Tutsis than Hutus. Conflict in Burundi, and neighbouring Rwanda, has revolved around the rivalry between the Tutsi and Hutu. The view that produced this conflict was partly built on the perception that the Tutsi have earned their socio-economic dominance through favouritism from external actors, from colonial times to present day. The resonance of the favouritism displayed by the UN could easily become propaganda in renewed tensions. Carnahan explains that in this instance the Tutsi show a greater ability to navigate the UN bureaucracy and therefore can better obtain contracts. Nothing sinister, but the UN possibly is not always aware of its impact on recurring historic grievances and economic divisions that have led violence in the past.
UN peacekeeping is a very fine art and incredibly difficult to get right. Regrettably, corruption within peacekeeping missions has also been a problem historically. Provision of poorly trained troops has resulted in terrible and inhumane practice, arguably the worst example of which being the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mineral exploitation in the DRC provides a perfect example of a conflict economy. The exploitation of gold and other minerals in the DRC has been the way to raise funds for rebels to pay their troops and obtaining weapons. The case of the DRC shows the most abhorrent example of peacekeepers not only contributing to the economic aspects of political violence, but become an embedded aspect within it. Pakistani peacekeeping troops abused their position to establish a network of gold trading with some of the militia groups they were supposed to be suppressing and demobilising. Some Pakistani peacekeepers participated in handing back weapons to militias they had demobilised in exchange for gold and access to the mines rich in precious metals and minerals. The scheme resulted in multiple million-dollar deals networked out of the DRC through corrupt military personnel.
The obvious link to be made here is to the gold extraction activities that are currently crucial to the economic success of Mali. Though no foul play has been reported yet, at a recent talk at the London School of Economics, Dr Kwesi Aning stated his fears that because of a diplomatic spat between ECOWAS and the UNSC in the run up to deployment of MINUSWA African armies will not be keen to supply their best trained troops. Dr Aning believes that radicalisation and corruption will be more of a likely threat to the mission’s objectives as a result. Indeed, the African contributions to MINUSWA took a knock this month upon Nigeria’s announcement that it is withdrawing 1,200 troops to fight its own insurgency problems at home.
It is certain that restoring security will remain the central objective to Mali’s peacekeepers for some time to come, regardless of the strength of the incoming President – whoever that is. In addition to security, the MINUSWA must recognise the other responsibilities is has to Malian society. A well-maintained and sophisticated peacekeeping force is vital to Mali’s recovery. Until we can be sure that this force is structured and is receptive in a way that other missions have not been previously it is a serious concern that the presence of MINUSWA could easily fall victim to the flaws that have plagued its predecessors.