The Malian presidential elections have run their course and have produced a new president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The second runner Soumaila Cisse has conceded and congratulated the new president. The election ran in two phases, first between all 28 candidates, and then a second phase between the two front runners. After the first phase, Keita had 39% and Cisse 19%. There was, as we know from an earlier blog, an LDS candidate, Yeah Samake. He ended with 0.56% in the first run, and has extended his congratulations to the winner.
For our Mormon fans of Samake, some questions remain. The last 20 candidates showed under 2% of the general vote, among them Samake. Is this a waste of effort and money? They hardly influenced the elections, and people did pour money into it. In Samake’s case these sponsors were his American friends mainly, acting – as far as my information goes – mainly on information received from him. Was that a wise investment or should that money have been spent on Samake’s foundation instead?
For a European like me, the question is quite American. First, sponsoring political candidates is not a European custom, we finance our campaign’s differently – and they cost much less. In this respect the USA is closer to Africa. Second, though politicians aim to win, democratic elections are primarily not about winning, but about a process of an open, informed and fair choice, about the possibility of a minority to be heard and become a majority. It is a contest between equals in which people have to be prepared to lose. Losing elections is an integral part of the political process; in fact, the democratic process stands or falls with the ability of candidates to admit defeat. And, vice versa, with acknowledgment of the winner that he needs his opponents to govern well. In a proper democracy, the crucial post-election attitude has to be that all parties work together in the spirit of what the populace has expressed in the vote. USA politics have in the past shown this ‘working-together-after-the-elections’ admirably, though at present it seems to be less evident, resulting in a very divided country.
So an election is not a winner-takes-all. If it is, one gets Zimbabwean situations, a dictator (mis)using elections to extend his rule, his opponent claiming fraud. In Mali this is not to be expected, people will respect the election results. So, the first answer to the question is that the American sponsors of Yamake invested in a fair and square political process, reinforcing one of the better democracies of Africa. That is much more important than the person of the winner. Also – the second answer – a bad investment would imply that the Mali population has chosen the wrong president. That is very unlikely, as they did not choose a newcomer or an outsider, but someone they knew well. And anyway, who are we to judge, especially from far away USA? It is not the person who counts, in Mali, but the consensus – the leeway of any politician in a country like Mali is very limited, especially now. Sponsors can look back at a good in-depth investment.
It was Samake who preferred investment in his political adventure rather than his foundation, a choice one has to respect. He probably knew his chances, while of course overestimating them for his sponsors, that is what politicians do. Those who sponsored him, sponsored a politician, and a good one at that. Any investor in any project should, just as evidently, try to have information from as many sources as possible. But, as I know Mali politics, losing the elections does not imply the disappearance form the political scene. Many of the ‘losing’ candidates have put themselves in the picture for national politics, which probably will continue to be consensus-oriented. If Samake played his cards well, then he has developed the kinds of networks in the national arena that will allow him to operate in that scene effectively, if only not as president. That is the third answer, why I think the sponsors were right to invest.
Some remarks on the detailed results. In Mali family names are scarce and express ethnic affiliation. The first three, Keita, Cisse and Dembele, are Bamana/Mandingue names, the majority of the population. The next two, Sidibe and Guindo, are respectively Fulbe and Dogon names, and their percentages, 4.9 % and 4.6%. approximate the ethnic demographics. The Tamachek/Twareg names have much less votes, which may reflect the reluctance of the North to participate. So there is an ethnic component – like in the USA – but it has not been dominant in this election, as it seems to reflect only in the lower scores. Anyway, Yamake lost against fellow Bamana/Mandingue, probably scoring mainly among his local community members.
I congratulate president Keita, as I congratulate Yeah Samake who ran a good campaign, and proved himself to be a real democrat. Please remain in Malian politics!