The people of Mali went to the polls yesterday to cast votes for representatives to fill one hundred and forty-seven seats in the country’s new national assembly. It is not immediately clear how many of Mali’s six and a half million eligible voters actually cast ballots, but Abdel Fatau Musah, director for external relations for the Economic Community of West African States is said to have described the turnout as “abysmal.” Malian election officials are now in the process of counting the votes. Over 1,000 candidates were registered for the elections and any races not decided in the first round will be decided in a run-off on December 15th.
While there were some reports of harassment of voters at polling stations in the country’s restive north, along with other reports of ballot boxes being stolen, the low voter turnout is of greater concern. In talking about the turnout, Musah made mention of the possible “psychological effects” of a “country that was rocked by a terrorist attacks and with a coup d’état.” However, it is just as likely that it is not just the effects of months of conflict, but that security concerns remain very clear and present despite significant outside intervention since January. Maps released by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in March showed the vast majority of the country to be essentially outside government control. Militants have carried out numerous attacks, including high profile incidents against foreigners.
The French, who launched their intervention, codenamed Operation Serval, in January of this year, have been looking to extricate themselves from the country by early next year. The hope would be that by that time UN authorized peacekeeping would be in a position to take over. However, it is unclear whether this will necessarily be the case. The French have already delayed their withdrawl timeline and US support for the operation, through an operation codenamed Juniper Micron, continued at least through October.
Also, on an unrelated note, things may slow down here at Codebook: Africa this week due to the demands of the Thanksgiving holiday. Things will likely continue to be slow through to the new year, as well, because of the broader holiday season as well. Rest assured, however, that I will be paying attention to developments and I will make time to mention anything notable that comes up.