Malians will go to the polls Sunday to choose among 24 candidates for president. No contender is expected to win an outright majority, including President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and opposition leader Soumaïla Cisse, so a second round of voting is likely.
Bamako’s busy streets have been adorned with numerous glossy posters. But they don’t advertise soap, mineral water or mobile telephone services.
These are campaign posters for Sunday’s presidential election. And, the advertised message is: Vote for me!
For Malians, swing votes may come down to basics.
Sara Coulibaly is a teacher in a deprived Bamako neighborhood with no running water and broken electricity. And like everybody else who needs to feed a family, she has one urgent request to whoever gets elected head of state: Please make our food affordable again.
“We struggle to make ends meet and put a decent meal on the table,” she said.
One thing that could help bringing food prices down is self-sufficiency, argues engineering student Dramane Diallo.
“In Mali, agriculture is central to peoples’ lives,” he said. “It’s high time that our leaders make plans to help our farmers. Mali imports rice, fruits, wheat and more … things that can easily be produced here at a much cheaper price.”
First-year journalism student Araba Keita says whoever is elected should focus on job creation.
“It would be so nice if we got a job after our studies,” she said. “Instead, many will find it hard to get by and end up in places where their talents are wasted.”
On the streets of Bamako, Malians talk of affordable food and housing, better basic services, from water and electricity to education and health care, jobs and, above all, peace and security.
The front-runner for Sunday’s selection, President Keita, 73, said he has delivered. His rival, opposition leader Cisse, 68, said he can do better.
The two men are remarkably similar. Both were educated and worked in France. Keita then made a career in international aid organizations while Cisse joined the business world.
But both returned to Mali and entered politics after Malians rose up in 1991 and a coup ended the country’s military dictatorship.
They joined the same political party, served as high-ranking government officials, formed their own parties, and then both ran for president.
Keita finally won in 2013. Cisse hopes this time it will be his turn.