Second time around, Malians still hopeful
Ballu Seriba set out early on Sunday morning in a black fedora and an air of determination. Sidestepping potholes in the dusty roads dampened after a heavy rain, he had one thing on his mind- to cast his vote in a runoff for the next president of Mali.
For Seriba, the result of this election is crucial to determine where Mali will go next, with the forced removal of president Amadou Toumani Toure in the March 2012 coup d'etat still fresh in the minds of many.
"We need to get the right leader for this country to fix many things," he says.
While Seriba, an English teacher at a private school, may be financially stable, the majority of the country's nearly 16 million people are not. Many are living below the poverty line. Insecurity and unemployment are key issues for Malians like Seriba.
His own three adult children, all college graduates, have not been able to find jobs - just like a group of guys gathered under a tree at a polling station in central Bamako. Casually discussing the news of the day, they begin to rant off a list of issues that the next president must tackle, starting with education. But, despite their joblessness, they remain hopeful.
"We love our country," one of them says, with a large grin and a chuckle of agreement from his friends.
Two weeks ago, thousands of Malians brazed a scorching sun and made their way to this very polling station at the Aminata Diop school, according to election observers. In that election, no clear winner emerged of the 27 presidential candidates. The two rivalling frontrunners, former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumalia Cisse both claimed a victory.
However, voter turnout the second time around was lower, as Louis Michel of the European Union electoral mission noted. He says though the voters seem to be more informed and polling officers better trained than they were two weeks ago, crowds remain small.
Coumbe Bah Traore, of the SOS Democratie NGO, agrees.
"People did not realise as much as before," she says.
Traore estimates that voter participation was about 10 percent less than it was on the initial June 28 election day.
Voter apathy or public disconnect with the political process is nothing new in Mali. Political engagement is often left for segmented populace, people like 28-year-old Abou Drame.
Drame, a bilingual computer scientist, represents what he says is the future of Mali. His optimism for his native country is partly what brought him to the polls the second time around.
"There is a need," he says. "We just have to do it."
The result of this vote may provide access to more foreign aid for a country lacking many basic infrastructure and public services.
In the end, Malians simply want their votes to count and they want their vote to help usher in more progress. Because for 56-year-old Seriba, a democratic Mali largely depends on engaged citizens exercising their civil duties to vote. Like many around the country, Seriba will wait for the winner to be announced and hope the new president leads the country forward.