Mali poll campaign falls flat in Timbuktu
26 July 2013, 17:05
Timbuktu - The presidential poll in the fabled Malian
caravan town of Timbuktu is a potent symbol of its progress since it was torn
apart by armed Islamists last year - yet the campaign is leaving most residents
With 48 hours until polling opens, would-be voters have been
staying away from political rallies and opting out of the nationwide
conversation on who should take Mali into a more prosperous and peaceful
"Yes, I recognise that there are aren't many people at
the different meetings of the candidates. And it is not only because of
Ramadan," said activist Umar Baba Haidara, who is backing presidential
frontrunner Soumaila Cisse.
Sitting among supporters of Cisse's main rival Ibrahim
Boubacar Keita, Mamadou Niang attempted to explain the lack of enthusiasm for
"We are just coming out of war. We're not really in the
mood, our hearts aren't in it. But I think people are going to vote," he
Known as "The Pearl of the Desert", Timbuktu was
listed as a Unesco world heritage site in 1988 and is an ancient centre of
Islamic learning and a byword for exotic remoteness in the Western imagination.
But Islamists who occupied the town for 10 months destroyed
the mausoleums of 11 saints, claiming they were blasphemous, before a
French-led military offensive reclaimed the city on January 28.
Before its liberation, the once cosmopolitan town became a
dusty outpost for the extremists who raped women, forced them to wear veils and
whipped or stoned those who violated their version of strict Islamic law.
Rebels fleeing the advancing soldiers torched a building
housing thousands of priceless manuscripts, destroying 2 000 to 3 000
Posters of 10 of the 27 candidates in Sunday's first round -
Cisse, Keita and fellow frontrunners Modibo Sidibe and Dramane Dembele are the
most ubiquitous - vie for the attention of 25 000 potential voters.
Near the central Independence Square three rooms in a public
building serve as the regional headquarters for CENI, the election commission
that is among three agencies responsible for the smooth running of the vote.
"The distribution rate for voter cards is satisfactory
for the moment," regional commission president Ibrahim Sissoko told AFP.
But he had barely finished his sentence when he was drowned
out by young voices echoing down the corridor.
"This is a con," yelled a group of young people
who realised their names have been left off the list of CENI delegates charged
with observing the poll.
"I understand their disappointment. The designated
representatives are paid. That's why these kids are disappointed," said
Ali Diarra, a local CENI member.
Notwithstanding bust-ups over who gets to be an election
observer, everything is running according to plan, according to Ousmane
Coulibaly of the Ministry of Territorial Administration, also part the organising
"All election materials are on hand, we are
confident," he said.
Beside the headquarters of CENI, Malian soldiers brandished
semi-automatic rifles with the unhurried insouciance of a team of town planners
"Because of the elections, we have beefed up security,
which is what you'd expect. You never know...," one said.
At the southern entrance to the city, the UN peacekeepers
from Burkina Faso are also part of the iron curtain enveloping Timbuktu as the
city strives to protect itself from every possible angle.
Barrels painted the colours of the United Nations form a
series of chicanes on the paved road, forcing pedestrians and motorists to slow
down as they approach.
A Burkinabe soldier said the troops "are very careful
to ensure that terrorists do not disrupt the elections".
One of the biggest fears in northern Mali, the site of
several suicide bombings since the military offensive, is that residual
Islamists whose infrastructure has been dismantled seize voting day as an
opportunity for revenge.
The inhabitants of Timbuktu are doing their best to get used
to the extra security for an election which has failed to catch fire even as
temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius under a relentless
"We're adapting to the situation. It's all about
rebuilding here and we are not going to be able to do that without
security," said tax official Mamadou Maiga.