The other West African presidential election this spring

As Senegal prepares for its presidential election runoff, now scheduled for March 25, and takes the correspondingly greater number of international headlines, West Africa’s next presidential election is just next door a month later on April 29 in Mali.

When you think about Mali, start with Senegal, its very predominantly Muslim and formerly French neighbor.

Then make it 6 times larger and move it inland without any coast and fill it with mostly desert.

Add just about 2 million more people, but shrink GDP per capita until it’s just two-thirds as wealthy (not like Senegal is so wealthy to begin with, even compared to its African peers).  This makes Mali one of the world’s poorest countries, although it has steadily grown at upwards of 5% a year since the 1990s following reforms instituted by the administration of Alpha Oumar Konaré, who served as president of Mali from 1992 and 2002 — in between the stagnant dictatorship of Moussa Traoré and current president Amadou Toumani Touré.

Then replace the history of tense, but steady, democratic norms with a history of unfair elections and coups through the first 30 years of its post-independence history.

While you’re at it, also add in a nationalist movement of the Tuareg people — a nomadic Berber group that has more in common with Libya and North Africa than Senegal and West Africa — in Mali’s sparsely populated northern region of Azawad, where tensions have also, unfortunately, recently re-ignited.

Got all that?

Amadou Toumani Touré, who has served as president for the past decade, was instrumental in the coup that overthrew Traoré’s military dictatorship — Traoré reigned over Mali from 1968 to 1991.  ATT, as he is popularly known, is stepping down at the end of his second term (in marked contrast to other peers, including Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, who is attempting to win a third term in Senegal’s current election and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, who attempted to amend his country’s constitution to run for reelection, and, well, New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg).

Accordingly, Think Africa Press has a rundown of the four leading candidates to replace ATT, all of whom are French-educated 60-something men who are familiar faces in Malian politics and who generally support the current administration and would represent continuity with the current administration:

  • Dioncounda Traoré, currently president of the national assembly and president of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress, a group of parties that supports the incumbent president.
  • Soumaïla Cissé, president of the commission of the West African Monetary Union.
  • Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former prime minister and former speaker of the national assembly.
  • Modibo Sidibé, another former prime minister.

A fifth candidate, Yeah Samaké, has garnered significant press in the United States — he’s a Mormon who received a master’s degree from Brigham Young University and currently serves as the mayor of Ouéléssébougou.  He’s called for decentralizing power in Mali as a means of eliminating the significant corruption that plagues Mali’s government, although he remains an outsider and a longshot to win the presidency.
With northern rebel activity in Azawad accelerating sharplyin winter 2012, however, corruption may be the least of the worries for Malian’s presidential candidates.

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