Election in Mali Could Contribute to Unrest and Put the French in an Awkward Situation


Credit: Anne Look/Voice of America

Earlier this year the French intervened in Mali at the request of the Malian government. Since then the French have been mostly successful in dislodging some of the Islamic militants that were contributing to Mali's destabilization.

Last month, the Malian government announced that elections will take place on July 28, despite there still being some security concerns. The French have begun withdrawing troops, and by the end of the year the French government is planning for there to be 1,000 French troops in Mali ahead of a United Nations peacekeeping force that is scheduled to be deployed this month.

Although many of the Islamic militants in Mali have been either killed or displaced it is possible that next month's elections, which many are hoping will be seen as a sign of progress in the country, could add to Mali's woes.

Over at The Guardian Jamie Bouverie of Think Africa Press highlights specific ways that next month's elections could undo the progress made in Mali.

While progress might have been made Bouverie rightly points out that towns and cities in the north such as Gao and Timbuktu have experienced attacks since the French intervention.

Bouverie also mentions that the Tuareg secessionists have denounced the upcoming election.

Given that militants are still operating in the north of Mali and that Tuareg rebels have denounced the election it is possible that going ahead with the election as planned could make the situation in northern Mali worse.

French withdrawal could also contribute to instability. Islamic militants could take advantage of the French withdrawal from their former colony, as Bouverie explains:

A quick "in and out" operation may have always been France's hope in Mali, but it was never anyone else's. Cutting troop numbers in half before the election is like removing the safety net before the trapezist takes her jump. No conflict-prone country is more vulnerable or volatile than during elections – particularly one as unstable as Mali. France's premature departure could easily hand an advantage to the Islamist groups and potentially lead back to the status quo ante. It could also backfire. As a retired French general said in February, "If France leaves too soon and the situation deteriorates, Paris will get the blame."

While the French may have thought elections would mark progress in Mali there is a good chance that the upcoming election will be marred with violence and political uncertainty. The prospect of disastrous elections leaves the French in an uncomfortable position.

The French could leave Mali on schedule regardless of the possible deterioration of the situation. Such a move would save money and probably some French lives too, but it would undermine the whole point of the intervention.

Alternatively, the French could stay longer and alter their withdrawal plans. But the longer the French stay the harder it will be for the French government to justify the mission to the French public, who could quickly become dissatisfied with the situation in Mali and the government overseeing the intervention.