Mali has moved a step closer to making a smooth transition of power following the peaceful and conciliatory concession of losing presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse. The mostly calm presidential run-off in the West African nation stands in stark contrast to the often contentious elections across much of Africa.
Even before election officials had formally released results of the presidential race, Soumaila Cisse reached out to apparent winner, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Cisse went to Keita’s house in the Malian capital, Bamako, to congratulate him.
“President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won this election gracefully. It is my duty to congratulate him,” he said.
Malian citizens reacted by expressing their gratitude to Cisse for how he handled defeat. Taxi driver Boubacar Diarra said the concession could help move the country forward.
“For us, it is really good because if you realize you have been beaten and you go and congratulate the other for his victory, that will make our democracy better,” he said.
In contrast, Zimbabwe’s presidential election, like previous ones in that country, ended on a sour note. Losing candidate Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters said the polling was rigged and were challenging the results in court.
The winner, incumbent President Robert Mugabe, has shown little patience with supporters of his longtime rival.
“Those that are depressed about losing the elections can go and hang themselves if they wish so,” he said.
Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said differences in the way the international community has treated the two countries had an impact on the election outcomes.
“There were a lot of people invested in the international community in making Mali’s election work whereas in the case of Zimbabwe, I think it is really a failure of the broader international community, the non-African community, which really seems to have reached a dead end in knowing how to deal with Zimbabwe and knowing how to deal with a president who is absolutely determined to stay in power,” he said.
But Downie said he would be careful about holding up Mali’s election as a model for its neighbors on the continent.
“There has been a lot of scrutiny, international scrutiny, on this election in trying to get things right and return the country to some semblance of normality,” he said. “And really, I think the elections are just the first phase [of] what will be a very long process to restore Mali to peace again.”
He said the really tough work starts now for Mali’s President-elect Keita, who will have to piece the country back together again, following last year’s insurgency in the north, and promote national reconciliation.