Category Archives: Mali

Analysis of the Mali presidential election process and outcome

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

Unsuccessful Malian presidential contender Soumaïla Cissé’s claims of fraud have gained little traction, and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s re-election in the August 12 runoff has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Yet hopes that the presidential election would reinvigorate the Algiers peace process may remain unfulfilled; a declining level of citizen engagement leaves the country’s institutions and leaders arguably weaker than in 2013.

Participation[1] fell 6.28 points this year from the record voter turnout of 48.98% in the first round poll of 2013. Runoff participation plummeted over 11 points to 34.42%, the lowest rate in a presidential race since 2002. Despite rapid growth in the voting population—17 percent more registered voters, over 1.1 million more individuals—372,283 fewer Malians bothered to cast a runoff vote in 2018. Explanations for this could include an overall weakening of support for the candidates, dissatisfaction with facing the same choice as in the 2013 runoff, and/or a skepticism as to whether the election would bring any real change to voters’ lives.

The election returns tell a similar story.  With 67.12 %, Keïta won more than two votes for every one for Cissé in the runoff. This is a large and convincing margin, but it may mask citizens’ deeper concerns for their country.  The 34-point victory is still the second-narrowest in a presidential runoff in Mali—only Cissé’s loss to Amadou Toumani Touré in 2002 was closer. Cissé improved upon his 2013 performance by over 10 percentage points, winning nearly 200,000 more votes. He has clearly gained ground with the public.  Keïta, on the other hand, won a second term despite inspiring fewer actual votes than he did five years ago. Runoff votes for Keïta dropped by 562,767. Put another way, for every vote he won in August 2013, almost one-quarter did not support him again this year. This does not place the president in an ideal position to push through controversial measures such as the reforms called for by the Algiers Accord.  Keïta accepted the importance of working with his opponents, soliciting their support in his victory speech. Cissé, however, has continued to contest the final results.

A declining level of voter participation could also reflect a lack of confidence in the electoral process and institutions. For a number of election cycles, both domestic and international observers have recommended reforms that would inspire greater voter confidence in the process, and which have not been pursued.  Some recurring examples include better defining roles and procedures for registering voters and delivering voter cards; considering the creation of a permanent and independent election management body; more transparency in results management, both at the polling station and at the Constitutional Court; and publicizing the CENI’s[2] findings.  Many of the challenges that gave rise to these past recommendations recurred this year.

One positive development in civic engagement in these past elections was the role played by Malian election monitoring groups. These deployed thousands of observers, who monitored all phases of the process. While noting many reassuring points, these groups also illuminated some problems that could undermine public confidence in elections. The Malian observer group Coalition for Citizen Observation of Elections in Mali (COCEM) noted that residents of the central region (where Cissé enjoys significant support) had a more difficult time obtaining their voter cards, generally for reasons attributed to insecurity. COCEM also observed unlawful distribution of “batches” of voter cards in five out of 15 regions (the law allows a maximum of two proxy card withdrawals per person).  On election day, COCEM and others documented areas where voting was cancelled, despite an improved security presence.

COCEM also conducted an analysis of the polling-station-by-polling-station results for each round.  COCEM found that in 393 polling stations (out of 22,675) all the votes went to a single candidate. Among these polling stations, 297 had more than 50 voters, and 112 also had 100 percent turnout.[3]  It may not be surprising that in some Malian communities, everyone votes for one candidate. The 100 percent turnout is arguably more surprising, particularly in an election with low turnout.  In the 297 polling stations with unanimous voting and more than 50 voters, the average turnout was 86 percent; 254 of these polling stations were in areas prone to insecurity—Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti; and 127 alone were in the Timbuktu region, from which a number of Cissé’s complaints to the Constitutional Court emanated. It is important to state that these facts do not prove Soumaïla Cissé’s claim of massive ballot-box stuffing—in 44 polling stations with more than 50 voters, Cissé received all the votes.  Had such fraud taken place, however, these are the types of results (high turnout, mostly for one candidate) it would produce.

The number of votes at issue would not have affected the outcome,[4] but the complaint filed by the opposition provided the Constitutional Court an opportunity to build confidence in the post-election process.  Cissé requested the court produce and examine, for example, the voter sign-in sheet (which could be probative if box-stuffing indeed occurred) for a number of locations alleged to suffer security or other problems, some of which COCEM’s analysis shows voted unanimously. Instead of considering the question of when a combination of insecurity and skewed results warrants closer scrutiny, the court required Cissé to produce a copy of the tally sheet showing that a complaint was made at the polling station by a party representative; however, in 2013 the EU observation mission noted that party agents only received copies of the final count, not of their complaints. If that is still the practice, it would make proof of misdeeds nearly impossible, according to the court’s current jurisprudence. Where Cissé also offered witness testimony, it was not considered sufficient. The court appears to consider the CENI’s reports dispositive; indeed, it is not clear that the court would consider any evidence favorably absent corroboration by the CENI observer. However, without divulging the CENI’s and court delegates’ observations, it is difficult for the public to assess the sincerity of the court’s judgment.

The court’s approach to its decision will thus likely fuel more opposition criticism of the post-election process. Critics could also question the court’s position on transparency measures that were taken in 2018. The court begins its opinion with an aside in which it asserts that requests by national and international observers for access to the center where results are compiled, and for on-line publication of results by polling station, lack a legal basis.  The court reasons that since the law does not affirmatively require these measures, they should not have been taken, and compromise Malian sovereignty. The court ignored Article 11 of the constitution, which states that “Anything not prohibited by law shall not be prevented….” The court’s language was unnecessary to the resolution of the case, the purpose of including it is unclear, and the statements should give Malian democracy advocates cause for concern. The net effect of this resistance to open election data practices could well be to reinforce citizen skepticism and further alienating voters.

[1] Figures for 2013 and 2018 are taken from Constitutional Court decisions. For previous elections, see

[2] The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) “supervises” election operations organized by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. CENI is run by a board representing the majority, opposition and civil society. It sends observers to every polling station and provides a report to the President. Its report is supposed to be published in the Official Journal (Electoral Law, Arts 3, 4, 17).

[3] Twenty-one voting stations had 100 percent turnout and voted unanimously in both rounds.

[4] The number of votes cast in unanimous polling stations nationwide totaled 57,449, while Keïta’s victory margin was over 900,000.


Mali – Fifth time’s the charm: IBK’s new winning team?

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) has appointed a new prime minister and renewed his cabinet – again. Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga (SBM), who takes over from Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, is IBK’s fifth prime minister since he became president in 2013. This is as many prime ministers as former President Alpha Oumar Konaré had during his 10 years in office, and one more than former President Amadou Toumani Touré appointed during his 10 years at the helm of the state. Under IBK, prime ministers have generally lasted less than a year, only Modibo Keita succeeded in eking out 15 months. What explains this frequent turnover at the “primature” during IBK’s first term? And what justifies this latest change in particular?

Though the president formally lacks the power to dismiss the prime minister under Mali’s 1992 semi-presidential constitution,[1] the frequency with which IBK has changed prime ministers during his first term in office is strong evidence of the president’s informal powers. Mali, like other premier-presidential systems, is experiencing a situation of party “presidentialization” (Samuels and Shugart 2010), frequently found under circumstances where the same majority controls both the presidency and the legislative majority. In other words, though the president does not formally have the power to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet, the ruling RPM party and its coalition members have effectively delegated this power to him.

President IBK has faced unprecedented security challenges, compared to his predecessors. The government is struggling to hinder the spread of terrorist groups and reestablish state control over large swaths of the national territory, of which only about 20% is considered safe for travel by the UK Government. Terrorist attacks have increased in frequency over the past year and extended over a larger geographical area, with much of central Mali now also affected. Extremists have targeted symbols of the state, attempting to murder of the Chief Justice of the High Court and kidnapping the president of the district court of Niono. Lack of progress on the implementation of the 2015 peace accord with former rebels has not improved matters.  IBK’s cabinets have also struggled to handle social crises [see previous blog post here] in the health and education sectors, and an attempt at adopting a new constitution failed last year [see previous post here].  Changing prime ministers and cabinet members has provided IBK an avenue for changing a losing team.

Like his predecessor, the new prime minister, SBM, served as defense minister in a previous IBK government – as did the new foreign minister. Clearly security concerns weighed heavily in IBK’s choice for the top cabinet positions in the new government, and unsatisfactory progress in addressing spreading insecurity likely contributed to shortening the tenure in office of SBM’s immediate predecessor.  The new cabinet (see Figure 1 below) includes one portfolio more than the previous one – the Ministry for Local Development – which goes to a member of the RPM leadership, Zoumana Mory Coulibaly. In addition to Coulibaly, five more new cabinet members make their entrance into the government, and five other ministers have changed portfolio. The representation of the ruling RPM remains strong, despite the departure of the former prime minister who was the first vice-president of the party. The five who have left the government include the former minister of Foreign Affairs (a career diplomat who was in charge of negotiating the 2015 peace agreement) and the former minister of Human Rights and Government Reform (who shepherded the failed constitutional reform process). The new government includes one more woman than the previous one.

This most recent change of prime ministers was also the last chance before the looming presidential election in July where IBK is likely to seek reelection for a second term. Other candidates have already announced themselves, including Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, former army general and former minister of territorial administration in IBK’s first cabinet; Kalifa Sanogo (of the ADEMA party – ruling coalition member), mayor of Sikasso, Mali’s second largest city; Modibo Kone, expert at the West African Development Bank (BOAD); and Hamadoun Touré, head of the tech initiative “Smart Africa” and friend of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The ease with which IBK has been able to change prime ministers and cabinet members has provided him with scapegoats for failed policy and security initiatives. However, the botched constitutional reform initiative, where plans for a referendum had to be abandoned in the face of widespread opposition notably against provisions for increased presidential powers, is difficult to explain away. The coming months will demonstrate the resilience of the ruling coalition in the face of a mobilized opposition, and on the other side the ability of the opposition to coalesce around a single or a few candidates. It remains to be seen whether IBK this time succeeded in assembling the winning team that will take him over the finish line to a second term in office.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name


Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation


Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga NEW, Secretary General of the Presidency, former defense minister under IBK ASMA-CFP, president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly Same Former amb. to US, former minister
Foreign Affairs Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly Territorial administration (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Territorial administration Mohamed Ag Erlaf National education RPM, member of leadership
Justice Hamidou Younoussa Maiga Appointed in November by the previous PM Former justice
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Investment and Private Sector Baber Gano Transportation RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadoun Konaté Same RPM leadership
National Education Housseïni Amion Guindo Sports CODEM, president
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Former university professor
Human Rights Kadidia Sangare Coulibaly NEW Former head of the National Commission for Human Rights
Local Authorities Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa Decentralization and Local Taxation Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Transportation Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar NEW RPM leadership
Habitat and Urbanism Cheick Sidiya Sissoko dit Kalifa NEW ADEMA
Agriculture Nango Dembélé Livestock and Fishery RPM leadership
Livestock and Fishery Kane Rokia Maguiraga NEW Public sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré Same Public sector
Infrastructure and Equipment Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra Same Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow Same Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (also gov. spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Local Development


Zoumana Mory Coulibaly NEW RPM, leadership
Territory Planning and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra Same ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same RPM, leadership
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré Same Civil society
Sports Jean Claude Sidibé NEW Sport sector
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

[1] Article 38 provides that the president “terminates the appointment” of the prime minister “when the latter tenders the resignation of the government” (identical wording as Article 8 in the French 1958 constitution). Formally, the prime minister is thus only accountable to the legislature, leaving Mali in the premier-presidential sub-category of semi-presidential systems. In contrast, in president-parliamentary system, the president is empowered by the constitution to dismiss the prime minister at will, making the premier accountable to both parliament and president. See Shugart and Carey (1992) for further discussion of these two subtypes of semi-presidential systems.

Mali’s controversial constitutional referendum

Mali was scheduled to hold a referendum on constitutional reform on July 9th. On June 21st, two days before the campaign for the referendum was to start, the vote was postponed sine die following widespread demonstrations. What prompted this resistance to, and ultimate postponement of the planned referendum? What is so controversial about this constitutional revision?

The constitutional changes were meant to implement clauses of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the Malian government and former rebel groups in 2015, and to correct “deficiencies and shortcomings” in the constitution. One of the important changes was to be the introduction of a Senate, to give an official role to Mali’s traditional leaders.

On June 3, the National Assembly endorsed the proposed constitutional revisions by 111 votes to 35. Opposition parties voted against the reform, arguing that it strengthens presidential powers unduly. Main concerns include the ability for the president to appoint 30 percent of senators as well as the presiding judge of the constitutional court. Also, the president would be able to dismiss the prime minister at will (effectively transforming Mali from a premier-presidential to a president-parliamentary type of semi-presidential regime).

Following the vote, a platform of political opposition members and civil society activists came together in a determined campaign against the referendum, conducting several demonstrations. The largest of these, on June 17, brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Bamako, who also seized the opportunity to accuse the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) of bad governance. With a year left ahead of presidential polls in July 2018 where IBK will stand for reelection, protests appeared to be morphing from opposition against the constitutional reform to a broader indictment of the government. In the face of this resistance, the government bowed to the pressure, at least temporarily, by postponing the referendum.

This is not the first time that constitutional reform in Mali has been aborted at the last moment.[1]  In November 2001, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré called off a referendum scheduled for the following month. Some of the criticisms at the time echo concerns voiced by the opposition to the current revision – notably increased presidential control of the constitutional court (Wing, 457). Also, interestingly, many of the proposed changes this year were included in the constitutional reform effort of former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) that was cut short by the 2012 coup. In 2012, those changes that faced similar, significant opposition included: the introduction of a Senate whereto the president would be able to appoint a significant number of senators; the president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the constitutional court;[2] and the president’s power to dismiss the prime minister at will (Wing, 462).

Not surprisingly, among the leading opponents today are some of those who most vocally opposed the same constitutional changes back in 2012, including Tiébilié Dramé, the président of the Party for National Rebirth (Parena), and Mme. Sy Kadiatou Sow who leads the joint civil society-political party movement against the constitutional referendum, “An tè A Bana. Touche pas à ma Constitution” (Don’t touch my constitution). These opponents criticize not just the proposed changes, but also the reform process itself for lacking transparency and not being inclusive – criticisms also advanced in 2012 – and for being ill-advised when segments of the population would be unable to vote due to ongoing insecurity. According to Wing (2015), the controversies surrounding constitutional reform in 2012 contributed to the overthrow of then President ATT by further delegitimizing an already unpopular government.

Taking lessons from the past, the government’s decision to postpone the referendum was probably a wise one. In a context where the central government remains week and lacks the ability to exercise its authority across the entirety of the country, it is all the more important that the constitutional reform process benefits from widespread legitimacy. The challenge is now how to ensure that promises made in the 2015 Peace Agreement are acted upon, should constitutional changes be significantly delayed.

[1] See Susanna Wing’s interesting analysis of past troubled constitutional reform efforts in Mali: Susanna Wing (2015), “ ‘Hands off my constitution’: Constitutional reform and the workings of democracy in Mali, “ in Journal of Modern African Studies, 53, 3, pp. 451-475.

[2] The chief justice of the constitutional court is responsible for proclaiming electoral results; also, the constitutional court is tasked with resolving electoral disputes. The president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the court is particularly controversial with IBK up for reelection in 2018.

Mali – President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s new cabinet, preparing for 2018

On April 11, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) announced a new cabinet, headed by former Defense Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga whom he appointed on April 8 to replace former Prime Minister Modibo Keita. Maiga becomes IBK’s fourth prime minister (PM) in as many years and is the first to belong to the Rally for Mali (RPM), the president’s party. His three predecessors were all independents.

Newly appointed PM Maiga is one of the founding members of the RPM and served as campaign director for IBK in the 2013 presidential campaign — an indication of where the priorities of this new government are going to be, as preparations for the 2018 presidential election get underway. The perhaps most surprising appointment in the new cabinet is the come-back  of Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly as Minister for Territorial Administration. Coulibaly was dismissed as Minister of Defense less than 8 months ago, in September of last year, following the loss of territory to Jihadist fighters in central Mali. Seen as a close ally of President IBK, he is now back in the cabinet with a portfolio that will put him charge of organizing the 2018 presidential election.

The 36-member cabinet (including the PM), of which 8 are women, sees the entry of 11 new ministers who join 25 remaining from the former government. At 22 percent, women’s representation falls well short of the 30 gender quota for appointed and elected office that was adopted in 2015. Eight former cabinet members leave, including notably the ministers of health and education, two sectors that have seen protracted strikes over recent weeks. A high profile departure is that of Mountaga Tall, president of the Democratic Initiative National Congress of Mali (CNID) and a likely presidential contender in 2018, who was formerly minister of IT and communication. The presence and responsibilities of ruling-party members and of members of its key ally, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party, in the government appear to have been strengthened, overall. No opposition members are included. An overview of the new cabinet is provided in table 1 below.

The new government will have a busy and challenging agenda, in a context of social crisis and growing insecurity. An ongoing strike in the education sector will be one of the first priorities to address. PM Maiga met with labor union representatives within days of taking office. The 2015 peace accord with former rebel groups has struggled to get off the ground, resulting in weak state authority and presence in large swaths of the territory. Various Jihadist movements are taking advantage of this power vacuum, staging repeated deadly attacks. The UN mission to Mali – MINUSMA – is the deadliest in the UN’s history of peacekeeping. Without significant progress in the implementation of the peace accord, IBK’s ambition of winning a second term in 2018 could be similarly under threat.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga Defense minister RPM, vice-president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly NEW Former amb. to US, former minister
Territorial Administration Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly NEW (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop Same Career diplomat
Justice Mamadou Ismaïla Konaté Same Lawyer
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Transportation Baber Gano NEW RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadou Konaté Same Expert in social development
National Education Mohamed Ag Erlaf Decentralization and Government Reform RPM, member of leadership
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Public sector
Human Rights and Government Reform Kassoum Tapo NEW ADEMA
Decentralization and Local Taxation Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa NEW Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Investment Promotion and Private Sector Konimba Sidibé Same MODEC, president
Habitat and Urbanism Mohamed Ali Bathily Public Land Lawyer
Agriculture Nango Dembele Livestock and Fishery Public sector
Livestock and Fishery Ly Taher Drave NEW Private sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré NEW Public sector
Equipment and Access Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra NEW Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow NEW Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (except new role as government spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Territorial Developm. and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra NEW ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same Private sector
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré NEW Civil society
Sports Housseïni Amion Guindo Same CODEM, president
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

Constitutional reforms underway in West Africa

A number of countries in West Africa are undergoing a constitutional reform process, in pursuit of stronger, democratic institutions: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. Senegal held a constitutional referendum earlier this year. In stark contrast to recent constitutional changes and ongoing debates in the Central Africa region – Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where focus has been on extending presidential terms, the declared intent of some of these reforms is to build bulwarks against presidential overreach and overstay.

The constitutional changes in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali follow the violent overturn of democratic processes in all three countries, albeit under very different circumstances. In Benin and Senegal, constitutional reform was a promise of the presidential campaigns of Patrick Talon and Macky Sall, respectively.

Constitutional review commissions in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are preparing completely new constitutions. A principal concern in Burkina Faso is to find ways to “lock in” presidential term limits and to better balance strong presidential powers. It was former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at removing presidential term limits that led to his overthrow in October 2014 in a popular uprising. A 92-member commission representing the ruling party, opposition parties (including the CDP of Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) was seated in early June. Its members have two months to present a new draft constitution. The draft will undergo popular consultations, go to the president for comment and be finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. Opposition parties have demanded, however, that the decisions of the constitutional commission be reached by consensus, threatening to walk out on the process otherwise.

In Cote d’Ivoire,  President Ouattara appointed a commission of 10 experts at the end of May, giving them a month to make proposals for a new constitution. During the month of June, Ouattara himself undertook consultations with opposition parties, civil society, traditional leaders and others to receive their suggestions before scheduling a referendum to take place before the end of the year. Key expected changes include the introduction of a vice-presidency and the rewording of article 35 which requires a presidential candidate to be born of both parents of Ivorian origin. The constitutional review process is controversial, however. Opposition parties criticize it for being insufficiently participatory, rushed and ill-timed, as the country has yet to fully heal and reconcile after the 2010 election-related violence.

In Mali, a 13-member expert commission is charged with proposing revisions to the 1992 constitution to incorporate provisions of the 2015 Algiers peace accord signed between the government of Mali and former rebel groups. The constitutional commission will have six months to complete its job. The 1992 constitution is the consensual product of the 1992 National Conference and is vested with significant popular legitimacy. It is unlikely to be completely scrapped and replaced.

The constitutional revision that passed by referendum in Senegal in March of this year shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, and added wording to clarify that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms” (Art. 27). Other articles were amended to provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, although changes affecting presidential powers are overall fairly minor.

In an even more radical move, newly elected President Patrice Talon of Benin has suggested that presidential terms be limited to one single term. A 35-member commission with representation from political parties and civil society was charged with proposing a series of political and institutional reforms. The commission submitted its report on June 28. The report includes two constitutional scenarios – one where the current two five-year terms are maintained, the other where they are replaced by one single six- or seven year term. The commission was divided on the issue, as some members were concerned a single term would not provide sufficient incentives for accountability.

The process and focus of these various constitutional reforms vary and reflect different priorities and political realities in each country. Overall, however, the combined picture is one of democratic dynamism that contrasts sharply with the institutional atrophy witnessed in other regions of the continent.

Scott Straus – Making and Unmaking Nations

This is a guest post by Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison


In Making and Unmaking Nations, I set out to understand why genocide occurred in some places but not in others. The answer is complex, of course. But a good part of the story, I found, has to do with long-running political ideologies, which stem from decisions that presidents had made previously. To understand then why genocide happens, or does not happen, leadership matters. I further argue that some of Africa’s first generation of presidents, which today do not often receive credit, had a long-term positive impact on the political trajectories of their countries.

Some background on the project: for the past 18 years, the focus of my research has been genocide. My first book focused on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. From there, I sought to develop a general theory by employing comparative methods. As I worked on that subject, I developed two main critiques of the existing literature. The first is that scholars typically compared genocide cases to genocide cases. A common comparison included the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and Bosnia, for example. The second is that scholars compared cases that were quite different—in terms of world region, historical time period, and the countries themselves.

My research thus privileged two comparative principles. First, genocide cases should be compared to non-genocide cases, in particular ones that possessed many of the drivers that scholars believe cause genocide. The operative question became: what was commonly different among the non-genocide cases compared to the genocide cases? Second, the comparative frame should aim for greater structural similarity among the cases. All told, I decided to focus on post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa. For the non-genocide cases, I examined Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. For the genocide cases, I examined Rwanda and Darfur.

The non-genocide cases all experienced a civil war that could be construed as being fought along identity lines. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, there was a civil war that began in 2002 in which the rebels were based in the north and were primarily Muslim. They fought against a Christian, southern-led government, and the rebels fought in the name of ending discrimination against Muslim northerners. In Mali, in the early 1990s, Tuareg and Arab rebels fought the government in the south, also in the name of their communities. In addition to war, the countries experienced political transition. In Côte d’Ivoire, there was a succession fight, failed elections, and a coup. In Mali, the country was transitioning from an authoritarian system to a multi-party one. Moreover, in each country there was low-level, unpunished violence against civilians committed by state forces and in some countries there were pro-government militias, even hate media. On balance, these factors represented much of the consensus in the genocide studies literature about the causes of the phenomenon.

So what was different about the non-genocide cases? Part of the answer lies with the dynamics of the armed conflict, in particular the level of threat that the rebellions posed to the central governments. In Côte d’Ivoire, an international intervention halted the rebel advance and separated the two sides. In Mali, the rebels were confined to the north. In Senegal, the rebels were restricted to the far south. In contrast, in Rwanda the rebels ultimately overpowered government forces. Darfur is more complicated. There the rebels were limited to the west but they were able to score some significant military success and threaten local, government-allied actors.

But alongside questions of threat, I also discovered an element that surprised me. In particular, in the non-genocide cases, when I conducted interviews with leading military and political actors, as well as intellectuals in the country, they consistently said something along the lines of, “We do not define this fight as a war between one identity group and another identity group.” In effect, they argued that the nation was multi-ethnic or plural. In some cases, they also claimed that dialogue, rather than war, was a founding principle of politics in their country.

That raised the question of why? Why in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal did at least some elites not define the armed conflict in identity terms? Obviously not everyone held such views. In these countries, there clearly were elites who framed the fight as a war between ethnic groups or religious groups. But a significant current did not.

The answer that I develop in the book concerns “founding narratives,” or public stories that define who constitutes the primary political community of the country, who should hold power, and what values, if any, define the national political community. They are “founding” in the sense that they define first principles of the nation and were developed at critical junctures when regimes changed. That included when countries became independent or when regimes transitioned from one type to another, say as they transitioned from authoritarian states to democratic ones.

At these critical junctures, presidents faced and made choices about how to define their nations. In some cases, they explicitly fashioned and promoted a plural or multi-ethnic vision. They said, in effect, “we are a country of many groups,” and they in turn developed policies that allotted institutional or development power across the country. To be sure, there was favoritism, but the vision was of a multi-ethnic nation. In contrast, in other countries, the claim was that the state belonged to a primary identity group, which was said to have political primacy over another identity group that shared the same territory.

To explore this proposition, I developed a database of presidential speeches for the five main countries in the study. For each year, prior to the onset of a military crisis, I selected the same two national holidays when presidents typically delivered addresses to the nation. I in turn sought to track what kinds of themes were developed, and then to see whether those themes reappeared when the military crisis unfolded.

The finding in brief is that presidents in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal consistently developed themes of pluralism, unity, tolerance, and dialogue as fundamental to their nations while in Rwanda and Sudan presidents promoted the idea that the state represented the interests of Hutu and Arab Muslims, respectively. In war, these ideological visions in turn shaped the strategies and tactics that military and political leaders crafted in response to threat. Where the nation was imagined as plural, the idea of fighting a final war against another ethnic or religious group was not in the repertoire of action. By contrast, if elites saw a threat emanating from a group that did not deserve power against a group that did, the idea of a war of destruction against the former group became imaginable.

The story is more complicated than that. One has to ask whether and how these founding narratives took root in a country. One has to ask whether there were counter-narratives and also whether other factors shaped escalation or de-escalation. But in the end I attribute significant impact to ideological visions and to the presidents who developed and promoted them. In Africa, the likes of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Léopold Senghor, and Alpha Oumar Konaré displayed real leadership. They were not saints, but their visions for the nation created bulwarks against genocide and similar forms of mass violence against civilians.

Scott Straus is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at UW-Madison. Scott specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights, and African politics. His most recent book publication is Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015). His introductory book on genocide, Fundamentals of Atrocity Prevention, is scheduled for publication in late 2015 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has also published several books on Rwanda, including The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2006); Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and Intimate Enemy (Zone Books, 2006). Scott also co-authored (with David Leonard) Africa’s Stalled Development (Lynne Rienner, 2003), translated The Great Lakes of Africa (Zone Books, 2003) and co-edited (with Steve Stern) The Human Rights Paradox (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). He has also published in the American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics, Politics & Society, Journal of Genocide Research, African Affairs, Terrorism and Political Violence, Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the Canadian Journal of African Studies. Scott has received fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the United States Institute of Peace. In 2009, he was awarded the campus-wide William H. Kiekhofer Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2015 a Distinguished Honors Faculty award. In 2011, he was named a Winnick Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He co-edits the book series Critical Human Rights with Steve Stern. Before starting in academia, Scott was a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.


Mali – Analysis of final legislative elections results

Mali held second-round legislative elections on December 15, to fill 127 remaining seats after only 20 out of 147 seats were filled in the first round of the polls on November 24th. Despite a suicide attack in the northern city of Kidal the previous day that killed two Senegalese UN-peacekeepers, election day was peaceful.

Voter turnout at 37.2% was slightly down from the 38.5 % in the second round and significantly lower than the record 49% who voted in the first round of the presidential race in July, 2013. However, this was still a respectable show of interest in a country that historically has seen voter turnout hover between 20 and 40 %.

Not surprisingly, the party of newly elected President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita (IBK) won the lion’s share of seats, though his party, the Rally for Mali (RPM), fell short of an absolute majority. Final results validated on January 2, 2014 by the Constitutional Court are as follows:

RPM (ruling party):                                                                                      66 seats

URD (largest opposition party):                                                                   17

ADEMA (largest RPM ally):                                                                         16

FARE:                                                                                                           6

CODEM:                                                                                                       5

SADI:                                                                                                            5

CNID:                                                                                                            4

PARENA, PDES, MPR, ASMA:                                                                    3 seats each

ADP, CDS, MIRIA, UM RDA:                                                                        2 seats each

YELEMA, UDD, PRVM and APR:                                                                1 seat each

Independents:                                                                                               4                     

                                                                                                                      TOTAL 147

 Overall, national and international observers deemed the electoral process satisfactory, though the EU international observation delegation noted the Constitutional Court’s uneven review of electoral complaints from the first round. In Djenné, this resulted in the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) having to face off against an RPM-Adema list following the Court’s decision to cancel the vote in certain polling stations. Preliminary results had given a first round win to the URD. Ultimately, the URD won the two seats in Djenné in the second round of the polls. After the second round, the Constitutional Court threw out results from a number of polling stations in the districts of Gao, Nara and Niono, leading to a reversal for nine deputies. The reallocation of seats following the Court’s decision largely favored the RPM – to the detriment of Adema and some of the RPM’s smaller allied parties.

The new National Assembly will see a significant renewal with a number of long-serving legislators losing their seats, while new political parties – such as FARE and ASMA – have made inroads in the legislature. President IBK’s son, Karim Keita, will represent Commune II of Bamako, elected on the RPM list. Women candidates did not benefit from the renewal, however, with only 14 elected (9.5% of seats), a decline from the 15 women deputies winning in 2007.

The final results confirm the URD, the party of presidential runner-up Soumaila Cissé, as the 2nd largest political formation in the country – ahead of Adema, the party that held a relative majority in the previous legislature. Adema has been weakened by internal leadership struggles and has gradually lost ground, after controlling both the presidency and a legislative majority in the years following the democratic transition in the early 1990s. IBK and Cissé are both former leaders of Adema. Local alliances in the establishment of lists for the multimember legislative districts reflect the still fluid nature of politics in Mali, with RPM-URD alliances in Diola and Tenenkou, URD-Adema alliances in Bamako and elsewhere, and even URD-SADI alliances in Gao and Koutiala (SADI having supported the former junta of General Sanogo, while Cissé remained the junta’s strongest opponent). For detailed results per voting district see here.

With Adema and a number of smaller allied parties, the RPM has a comfortable legislative majority of about 115 seats. Under Mali’s semi-presidential constitution, President IBK will thus be in a position to appoint a prime minister who has the backing of the ruling majority. It will be interesting to see if IBK will want to revive the constitutional referendum initiated by his predecessor, President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT). If passed, the constitutional reform would among other things have strengthened presidential powers by allowing the president to dismiss the prime minister at will – a change that effectively would have moved Mali from the premier-presidential to the president-parliamentary sub-type of semi-presidential regimes. Robert Elgie has shown the latter sub-type to be associated with poorer democratic performance than the former. Hopefully, IBK will be busy with reconciliation in the north and leave such constitutional reform aside for the moment. 

Shifting sands in Mali – toward a new model of parliamentary strength?

This is a guest post by Lauren Kunis, Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (

Malians went to the polls on November 24 to elect 147 members of the National Assembly (AN) – a final step in the country’s return to democracy following a March 2012 coup d’etat that catapulted the country into a downward spiral of intertwined political and security crises.  In Mali’s two-round electoral system, a party list or independent candidate list must win an absolute majority of votes in the first round in order to be awarded the district’s parliamentary seats. Seats are attributed to districts based on population, with districts this year having between one and seven seats up for grabs.  Last week’s first round of voting was largely inconclusive, and 44 of 55 electoral districts will hold a runoff election on December 15. Only 22 out of the 147 seats were won outright in the first round.

Voting proceeded in a largely peaceful fashion, but the big story was the dismal turnout across the country. Domestic and international observers all remarked on the limited presence of voters in the polls, and the official results released on November 27 cited a 38.5 percent participation rate. Malians’ lack of interest in the election of their new MPs could perhaps most plausibly reflect the limited importance that citizens attach to the work of the legislature and the low regard in which they hold it. In a November 2012 survey conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 46.5 percent of Malians stated that they had “no confidence” in the AN, with an additional 10 percent responding that they had “no opinion.” 

 Mali’s weak legislature was one of several festering weaknesses in the country’s first two decades of democracy. The AN failed to reflect the vast array of citizen priorities and provide an effective check on executive branch power. It rarely introduced its own legislation, opting instead to summarily pass bills submitted by the executive – very often unanimously.  A hallmark of the last five years was a “consensus model” of government in which parties were gradually co-opted by former president Amadou Toumani Touré’s political movement. By 2012, of the 13 parties represented in the legislature, only one party with nominal representation (4 of 147 deputies) belonged to the political opposition.  This discouraged partisan differentiation and a true, issue-based debate that would pique citizens’ interest, encourage political engagement, and broaden political participation beyond a narrow class of elites. 

 This summer, Malians elected Ibrahima Boubacar Keita (IBK) of the Rally for Mali (RPM) party to the presidency. Narrowly missing a first-round victory, IBK was elected with a resounding 77 percent of the vote in an August runoff election. Having distanced himself from the prevailing parliamentary coalition in the months following the coup, it was in IBK’s best political interest to organize legislative polls as quickly as possible in order to capitalize upon this surge of support to secure the “comfortable legislative majority” he desired. Meanwhile, presidential runner-up Soumalia Cissé of the Union for Republic and Democracy (URD) party vowed to turn his attention toward creating a unified, vocal, and empowered parliamentary opposition.

An analysis of the party lists presented in Mali’s legislative polls reveals that Cissé may fall short in delivering on this promise. There are not consistent party alliances across the country that would foreshadow a solid opposition in the new legislature. Rather than forming national electoral coalitions, party leaders at the local level scrambled to form alliances in an ad-hoc fashion that would allow them the best chances for victory at the polls. This is starkly illustrated by instances in which IBK’s ruling RPM party presented joint lists with Cissé’s opposition URD. In other districts, the URD formed alliances with the fringe SADI party, a vocal supporter of the March 2012 coup that overthrew the former regime of which the URD had been a solid supporter. 

 Mali’s next legislature needs to re-earn the trust of the Malian people by demonstrating that it is an autonomous body for debate – not simply a rubber-stamping entity for the president. A strong parliamentary opposition would be a big part of this. Despite the lack of consistency in the opposition parties’ electoral alliances, can Cissé bring a new model of parliamentary strength to Mali? Or will legislators fall prey to old habits and enter into a second era of consensus politics – to the detriment of the legislature and Malian citizens alike?