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Cablegate: Canvassing Bamako Voters: T-Shirts, Cash and Cold

VZCZCXRO6004
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHBP #1415 3490829
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 150829Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY BAMAKO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6599
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BAMAKO 001415

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON EAGR PGOV KDEM ML
SUBJECT: CANVASSING BAMAKO VOTERS: T-SHIRTS, CASH AND COLD
STORAGE

REF: BAMAKO 01379

1. Summary: The Embassy called on fish vendors in the heart
of Bamako's largest market to measure grassroots support for
newly proclaimed presidential contender Soumeylou Boubey
Maiga. Echoing the sentiments of local fruit sellers
(reftel), fish vendors regard Maiga as an attractive
presidential candidate. Medina market vendors said Boubey
Maiga was the only candidate genuinely interested in the
plight of those earning no more than a few cents a day in
profit. In a presidential campaign where the two main
contenders - ATT and National Assembly president Ibrahim
Boubacar Keita - are generally portrayed as too imperial to
mix with the working poor, there may be room for a dark-horse
candidate willing to rub elbows with the masses. End Summary.

-----------------------
Fish, and Votes, on Ice
-----------------------

2. Salimata Coulibaly and her 100 member Medina Market Fish
Vendors Association feel their situation has become more
precarious during President Amadou Toumani Toure's (ATT) five
year presidency. Between truck rentals to bring fish from
the coast, ice, bribes, and fees for sales space, margins
remain razor thin, despite a sales price per kilo that is
double her acquisition cost.

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3. As president of the largest fish vendors association in
Mali, Coulibaly hoped ATT's election in 2002 would relieve
some of the economic pressures weighing on her and her fellow
vendors. "We supported ATT long before he became president,"
said Coulibaly. During the 2002 campaign, ATT and First Lady
Toure Lobbo Traore invited Coulibaly to their residence to
court her and the market women she represents. Coulibaly
said she left ATT's residence with 100 ATT-For-President
T-shirts, the CFA equivalent of USD 200 in cash, promises to
renovate the Medina market and ATT's personal telephone
number. Coulibaly never heard from ATT again. "Nothing
happened after the election," she complained. "ATT even
changed his telephone number."

4. Determined not to "undersell" their votes again, for this
presidential election Coulibaly and the Medina market women
are holding out for bigger fish: a cold storage room. As far
as Coulibaly is concerned, only Soumeylou Boubey Maiga is
genuinely interested in the plight of Bamako's working poor.
She and members of her association scoffed at the thought of
voting for National Assembly president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
(IBK) and chuckled at the idea of IBK paying a visit to fish
sellers in Medina. Only Maiga, said Coulibaly, has a history
of advocating on behalf of groups like hers and following
through on promises to provide essential goods or services
like, for instance, cold storage capacity.

5. Coulibaly left no doubt that she could deliver the votes
of her constituents and their families for Maiga, whom she
recently met at a campaign event. "We all vote," she said of
her association members, "and everyone follows me."
Coulibaly's deputy, however, sounded a more cautious note.
"We haven't decided who we will vote for," she said. "We are
waiting to see who will help us. If Soumeylou Boubey Maiga
doesn't give us anything, we won't vote for him."

--------------------------
Comment: Fishing for Votes
--------------------------

6. Malian elections, like many in Africa, have turned more
on personality and regional affiliation than on party
platforms, issues, or ideology. It remains to be seen if the
positions taken by Coulibaly's association and the fruit
vendors (reftel) indicate an encouraging evolution of
democracy - or simply an attempt to hold out for a bigger
pre-electoral payout. It may, however, have crossed Maiga's
mind that running a "populist" campaign could give him an
edge. While the Medina fish vendors were hopeful of swapping
their presidential votes for a cold storage room, they also
hinted that they would likely vote for whomever took the time
to visit their market and listen to their concerns. Working
vendors may offer a viable campaign base for a populist
presidential candidate, and if Boubey Maiga proves to be the
only candidate willing to canvas the neighborhoods of Mali's
working poor and go after the vote of every day folk - rather
than let the voters come to him - he may perform much better
than his opponents expect in April 2007.
McCulley

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