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Mali: Polls Show Turn to Optimism

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 17, 2014 (140417)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"In an Afrobarometer survey in December 2012, three quarters of adult Malians were worried that the country was moving in 'the wrong direction.' At that time, at the depths of a profound national crisis, most Malians thought the future looked bleak. A year later, however, a follow-up survey reveals newfound hope in the future. By December 2013, two thirds of all Malians now consider that that the country is headed in the 'right direction.'"

The survey did not ask about views of the "international" intervention, which involved multiple forces with different interests (France, African Union, UN, logistic support from USA), and responses to open-ended questions clearly put major responsibility for the crisis on internal factors and on outside "terrorists" in the North. But the implication of the polls is that this stabilization, together with the elections that Mali pulled off successfully (according to the survey) in 2013, on balance improved the situation, according to the majority of Malians. [On the UN involvement, with some background from UN perspective, see http://tinyurl.com/o8u97wa]

Whatever one's analysis of the broader international and regional factors lying behind the ongoing crisis in Mali, it is critical to give primary weight to the opinions of the people of Mali themselves. The Afrobarometer surveys are careful and balanced. Even such a dramatic shift towards overall optimism, however, should be measured against the fact that 'the right direction' does not mean satisfaction with the new status quo. Four out of six Malians, and over half of Northerners, said that basic security had not been restored in the country as a whole in 2013.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a summary article on the polls, and brief excerpts from two reports from AfroBarometer.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Mali, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/mali.php

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on peace and security, visit http://www.africafocus.org/peaceexp.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Malians Show Dramatic Leap in Confidence

31 March 2014

AllAfrica.com

http://allafrica.com/stories/201403312507.html

Cape Town - The return of democracy and peace to much of Mali has generated a complete turnaround in public confidence in the country's future, according to a new opinion survey.

Afrobarometer, the leading continent-wide researcher of African public opinion, says that a survey in southern Mali in December 2012 - following a military takeover of the government, the seizure of the north by insurgents, an attack on a civilian president and the arrest of the prime minister - showed that only one in four people believed the country was headed in the right direction.

However, following the recovery of the north from rebels and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2013, two in three Malians believed a year later they were heading in the right direction.

"Interestingly," Afrobarometer adds, "people residing in the three northern regions - who could now be interviewed due to an improved security situation - were slightly more optimistic about the country's trajectory than people living in the south (71 versus 66 percent).

"One possible reason is that northerners experienced the biggest change, namely from the strict rules of sharia law to a more relaxed, secular regime. Furthermore, persons displaced by the conflict - who were identified during the survey in both north and south - were the most likely to say that the country was back on the 'right' track."

The Afrobarometer report, written by researchers Professor Michael Bratton and Peter Penar of Michigan State University in the United States, added that 60 percent of Malians and 67 percent of internally-displaced people felt secure at the end of 2013, compared with 17 percent and 10 percent respectively a year earlier.

In a second analysis, Afrobarometer found that Malians had changed their views over the year on the causes of their country's crisis.

"In the December 2012 Afrobarometer survey," writes researcher Professor Massa Coulibaly of the University of Bamako, "Malians highlighted the primary causes of the serious sociopolitical crisis that their country was going through, as lack of patriotism on the part of the leaders and weakness of the State. At that time, most Malians had lost trust in the political class and in politicians.

"One year later, however, a follow-up Afrobarometer survey revealed that foreign terrorists and corruption are rather the two primary causes of the Northern conflict and occupation."

Other key findings cited by Afrobarometer:

"Some 60 percent of adult citizens also consider that their country is now safe and secure from armed conflict, up from 17 percent in 2012.

"But Malians still regard political instability as the country's most important problem, especially those who live in the northern regions or have been displaced from their homes.

"Malians feel very positive about the quality of national elections held in 2013, with 83 percent seeing the presidential contest as "completely free and fair.

"Although still cautious about prevailing economic conditions, Malians perceive recent signs of recovery and hold high expectations for future economic wellbeing.

"In changing their minds about the direction of the country, Malians make reference mainly to economic and security considerations and, to a lesser extent, the quality of elections."


Mali's Public Mood Reflects Newfound Hope

Afrobarometer Policy Paper 9 | Michael Bratton and Peter Penar

March 2014

[full text available at http://afrobarometer.org/publications/policy-papers]

Introduction

In an Afrobarometer survey in December 2012, three quarters of adult Malians were worried that the country was moving in "the wrong direction." At that time, at the depths of a profound national crisis, most Malians thought the future looked bleak. A year later, however, a follow-up survey reveals newfound hope in the future. By December 2013, two thirds of all Malians now consider that that the country is headed in the "right direction."

What explains this remarkable turnaround in the public mood? The upswing in the country's collective frame of mind within the space of a single year is traced to several positive developments. These include an improved security situation, the restoration of a freely elected government, and rising confidence in economic recovery.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the residents of Mali's three Northern regions as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) - two groups that bore the brunt of the crisis - are especially sanguine about the direction of the country. But major challenges remain for these groups including an uncertain peace and persistent inequalities in regional development.

Key Findings

  • In a complete reversal of opinion from one year earlier, two out of three Malians say that their country is moving in the "right direction" at the end of 2013.
  • Some 60% of adult citizens also consider that their country is now safe and secure from armed conflict, up from 17% in 2012.
  • But Malians still regard political instability as the country's most important problem, especially those who live in the northern regions or have been displaced from their homes.
  • Malians feel very positive about the quality of national elections held in 2013, with 83% seeing the presidential contest as "completely free and fair."
  • Although still cautious about prevailing economic conditions, Malians perceive recent signs of recovery and hold high expectations for future economic wellbeing.
  • In changing their minds about the direction of the country, Malians make reference mainly to economic and security considerations and, to a lesser extent, the quality of elections.

The Perceived Direction of the Country

To measure the general public mood in a country, the Afrobarometer survey asks: "What about the overall direction of the country? Would you say that the country is going in the wrong direction or the right direction?" This question was first asked in Mali in December 2012 following the largest series of calamities in the country's postcolonial history. A March 2012 coup d'etat against the elected national government was prompted by a Touareg-led rebellion in the north in January 2012 and followed by the takeover of northern cities by Islamic jihadists. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes and travel and trade became dangerous in many localities. For all intents and purposes, the Malian state collapsed in the three northern regions and also in Douentza cercle (in Mopti region). There was also a marked deterioration in the rule of law in the south, exemplified by the abduction of journalists and the extra-judicial execution of coup opponents.

Faced with democratic breakdown, a failing state and a weakening economy, most Malian citizens expressed alarm. In December 2012, only 25% stated that Mali was headed in the "right direction"; fully 75% saw the country moving in the "wrong direction" (see Table 1). These figures represent popular opinion in the six southern regions because the 2012 survey could not be conducted in the north due to ongoing conflict. At that time too, internally displaced persons were still on the move and their numbers and locations remained fluid.

The crisis escalated in January 2013, when insurgents occupied territory close to Mopti and threatened to advance on Segou, then Bamako. In response to an urgent call for military intervention from Mali's interim government, a French-led air and ground force, later backed by the United Nations Security Council, drove the rebels out of the northern cities. The quick success of this military offensive created political space for the government to approve a "roadmap" for political transition that promised elections, the reestablishment of order, and national reconciliation. In a landmark achievement, legitimate civilian authority was restored by means of open elections for president (July/August 2013) and parliament (November/December 2013).

By the end of the year, public opinion had turned around completely. In late December 2013, a clear majority of Malians (67%) now considered that their country was progressing in the "right direction." Only one third of all adults (33%) now expressed concern that the country was on the "wrong" path. Interestingly, people residing in the three northern regions - who could now be interviewed due to an improved security situation - were slightly more optimistic about the country's trajectory than people living in the south (71 versus 66%). One possible reason is that northerners experienced the biggest change, namely from the strict rules of sharia law to a more relaxed, secular regime. Furthermore, persons displaced by the conflict - who were identified during the survey in both north and south - were the most likely to say that the country was back on the "right" track (75%).

Most Important Problems

But Mali's complex crisis is far from resolved. Major difficulties remain. To obtain people's views of the challenging terrain ahead, the Afrobarometer survey asked: "In your opinion, what are the most important problems facing this country that the government should address?" Although respondents were offered the opportunity to name up to three problems, the one mentioned first is taken to be the priority problem and thus is reported here (see Table 2).

Malians regard political instability as the country's biggest challenge, which is not surprising in the aftermath of armed rebellion. More than one quarter (27%) of all adult citizens place the resolution of conflict and the return of peace at the top of the list of important problems. This sentiment is especially widespread among northerners (35%), who continue to experience political violence (though at greatly reduced levels), and among internally displaced persons, who were interviewed in both the north and the south (43%).

Food insecurity is the other prominent concern on the minds of Malians. Southerners are especially likely to be preoccupied with hunger (25%, not shown in Table 2) as compared to both northerners (16%) and IDPs (17%). This regional and intergroup disparity is probably due to the preponderance of rural areas, where self-provided food supplies are sometimes unreliable, in the survey sample for the southern regions. By contrast, food is usually available for purchase in urban areas, where northern and IDP respondents are concentrated; moreover, the north is the focus of emergency food relief efforts, making food supplies more readily available there than in the south. Residential location (rural or urban) also helps to explain the higher levels of concern among northerners about unemployment and crime and the lower priority they grant to addressing problems of water shortage.

This wide array of basic developmental problems does not seem to dent popular expectations for social and economic progress. Remarkably, a strong majority of Malians (62%) supposes that the government is potentially able to solve "all" these problems. And a further 31% estimates that the government can solve "most" of them. These high levels of public confidence, shared equally across north and south, seem inconsistent with the fact that armed conflict and military coup have undermined the capacity of the state. But rising expectations are consistent with the observation that, by the end of 2013 - and especially compared to the dark days of 2012 - Malians think that their country is embarked on a brighter future.

What Explains the Public Mood?

Several factors may drive the observed U-turn in Malians' popular outlook. Three will be considered here:

  • An improved security situation;
  • The restoration of elected government; and
  • Perceived economic recovery.

[full report looks in detail at opinion on each of these issues]

Conclusion: What Drives the Public Mood?

This paper found evidence that Malians believe that their country has a fresh chance to correct problems that led to an armed conflict and a military coup. In the interval of just one year, between December 2012 and December 2013, the public mood swung from deep pessimism (75% "wrong direction") to solid optimism (67% "right direction"). The analysis in this paper has established that the current bout of popular hope is linked to positive mass attitudes about security, democracy and the economy.

But which of these factors matters most? If policy makers are to make decisions that contribute to sustaining the country's recent progress, where should they concentrate their efforts? To compare the relative effects of security, electoral and economic considerations, this paper concludes with a simple logistic regression analysis (see Table 6). It reveals that, even when controlled for each other, all three factors remain statistically significant, that is, influential in explaining the public mood. So each factor - state strengthening, democracy building, and equitable economic growth - deserves policy attention.

...

In sum, the main driver of the public mood appears to be popular attitudes about the condition of the economy. The obvious implication - without neglecting the rebuilding of a flimsy state or the consolidation of a fragile democracy - is that the new government ought to direct priority attention to choosing effective policies for economic development. A good starting point would be those policy areas - especially food security, but also employment creation and poverty alleviation - that citizens have identified as the country's most important economic problems. In so doing, the government would also be well advised to first target the special needs of internally displaced persons and the long-neglected issue of the economic development of Mali's northern regions.


Popular Perceptions of the Causes and Consequences of the Conflict in Mali

Afrobarometer Policy Paper 10 - Massa Coulibaly

March 2014

[full text available at http://afrobarometer.org/publications/policy-papers]

Summary

In the December 2012 Afrobarometer survey, Malians highlighted the primary causes of the serious sociopolitical crisis that their country was going through, as lack of patriotism on the part of the leaders and weakness of the State. At that time, most Malians had lost trust in the political class and in politicians. One year later (December 2013), however, a follow-up Afrobarometer survey revealed that foreign terrorists and corruption are rather the two primary causes of the Northern conflict and occupation.

The change in perceptions on this question in the space of a year is explained by the change in the nature and scale of the crisis. The crisis went from the occupation of two-thirds of the territory to war via the intensified radicalism in the occupants' management of the occupied areas and their many acts of banning and punishment. Next, the change in perceptions is also explained by the peaceful organization of presidential and legislative elections with record participation rates of Malian citizens since the advent of democracy in 1992, more than 50% in the presidential ones and a little less than 50% in the legislative ones. These elections deemed free and honest explain in turn that the need to resort to violence for a good cause is perceived by close to one out of five Malians versus close to one out of three Malians one year prior.

One of the major challenges of the governance in Mali is still maintaining and deepening confidence between Malians and their ruling class. To do so, measuring the populations' perceptions helps to track the will of the people and ensure that policies serve this will and not the reverse.

Key Findings

The main popular perceptions from the December 2013 Afrobarometer survey can be summarized as follows:

  • The three main reasons for the Northern conflict and occupation are foreign terrorists, corruption and the desire for natural resources. However, in formerly occupied areas, the weakness of the State is in conflict with the desire for natural resources.
  • For the overwhelming majority of Malians, rebels and Islamists appear in first place of those presumed to be involved in drug trafficking, alongside transnational organized crime.
  • The Northern conflict brought about internal displacement of populations of around 6% with 3% who already returned home, 2% with the intention of returning and 1% with no intention of returning. This phenomenon proportionally affects city dwellers, women and those under 25 or age 35-44 slightly more.
  • In total, close to one out of three Malians were affected, personally or through family members, by the Northern conflict and occupation, in one of the many ways in which one could be affected, from the explosion of one's domicile to death via sharia punishment or physical aggression of any kind
  • For the very large majority of Malians (86% to 95%), three major options would help resolve the conflict: civic education, justice and a strong State
  • For close to two out of three Malians, signing a new agreement will probably be the basis for sustainable peace in Mali.

Causes of the conflict

There were quite a few causes for the conflict, from the arrival of foreign terrorists on the national territory to the military coup d'etat via corruption, incompetence or lack of patriotism of the Malian leaders, etc. We can certainly add drug trafficking including rebels and Islamist groups as well as foreigners, and even transnational organized crime who are suspected of this, based on the survey data.

1.1. A variety of reasons

In December 2012 when we surveyed Malians on the causes of the crisis that the country was experiencing, they put at the top the lack of patriotism of the leaders, weakness of the State, foreign terrorists and incompetence of the political class, four reasons which accounted for more than two-thirds of all of the causes listed (68%). When we know that foreign terrorists accounted for only 11%, it becomes apparent that the three main reasons were internal, for 57% in total, with 67% for survey respondents from Segu and 69% from Sikasso.

When we asked the same question in December 2013, thus coming out of the occupation of two-thirds of the national territory, foreign terrorists were by far the primary cause of the occupation and Northern conflict. Lack of patriotism of the leaders went down to fifth place, replaced by corruption, desire for natural resources and weakness of the State. Note that this classification experiences some regional effects except that regardless of region, foreign terrorists are still perceived as the primary cause for the Northern conflict and occupation thus with no regional effects.

On the 9 reasons listed, lack of development in the North is ranked 8th, just before the coup d'Etat that occupies last place, except in the regions directly concerned, where it occupies 4th, 5th, and 7th place respectively in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. For all of the areas occupied by armed groups, rebels and Islamists, this reason climbed to 4th place. Likewise, the desire for natural resources is perceived as the 3rd reason for the conflict versus a modest position of 6th place in formerly occupied areas.

1.2. Drug trafficking

It has always been said that drug trafficking was one of the major causes of the crisis in the North and thus the occupation and armed conflict. Studies (GREAT, 2013) have also revealed that generally, trafficking of all kinds was the basic issue between all those involved in the Sahel-Saharan strip: trafficking of drugs, arms, cigarettes, human beings, etc. Among those most involved in this traffic, rebels, transnational organized crime and Islamic groups are at the top. In Gao and Kidal, the primary offenders are rebels and Islamists, specifically the two occupants of the north, with the highest scores, 96% each. This must be considered a revelation from actual experience and not just a simple perception. In two other regions of the country, in this instance Kayes and Sikasso, these two groups (rebels and Islamists) are perceived as being the two biggest drug traffickers.

One significant difference between Kidal and the other two Northern regions, even with the entire rest of the country, is the clearly higher score in Kidal than everywhere else of the involvement of public bodies like customs (61% in Kidal versus 29% in Gao and 5% in Timbuktu), Malian military (22% versus 3% each of the two other Northern regions) and local elected officials (28% versus 6% respectively 2%). Isn't that also another revelation from actual experience of the populations of this region and not just a simple perception?

...


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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