from Africa in Transition

Warnings About Mali’s Upcoming Elections

July 11, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Wars and Conflict

Civil Society

Elections and Voting

Louise Arbour is the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is also a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and she is the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Since 2009, she has been the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group. When she speaks about governance, we should pay attention.

And she has just spoken, in an op-ed that she co-authored with Gilles Yabi, the West Africa project director at the International Crisis Group. The title encapsulates the argument: “Mali: Election Threatens to Exchange One Crisis for Another.” They argue that Mali’s July 28 election risks such technical shortcomings and such a low rate of participation that the new government it produces will be denied the legitimacy it needs to meet the country’s ongoing crisis. They urge a short delay in the elections, while acknowledging that is increasingly unlikely. They express deep concern that poor elections in Mali could lead to serious post-electoral violence.

What to do?

They have four proposals:

1)   The Malian authorities, the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Mali, and the French forces should prepare for terrorist attacks during the electoral campaign and on election day.

2)   In the remaining three weeks, everything possible should be done to improve the registration and voting process.

3)   The Malian authorities, the UN, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should work together to secure “every aspect of the electoral process.”

4)   Presidential candidates should swear a solemn oath to respect to election results or to contest them by legal means.

These are practical suggestions, but hard to implement. Indeed, terrorist attacks do seem likely. But it will be hard for the UN and French forces to prevent them. Electoral preparations are difficult enough in any developing country; they are particularly difficult in the aftermath of a civil war. Securing the voting process will require the UN and ECOWAS to mobilize substantial resources, and there is not much time. And oaths can be broken. But, if implemented, these proposals might, as the authors say, “prevent an imperfect election from turning into a catastrophic one.

We have been warned.