Politiki magni. Politics is bad business.
Malians are fond of this phrase, because it illustrates in two words their disappointment with their political system for the past three decades.
At the start of 2018, a young singer by the name of Boubacar Sacko, or Soldat, as he calls himself, summarized that disappointment in the song Bua ka Bla,a none-too-subtle invitation to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to step down.
“You are not capable,” he sings, “and you’re tired. It’s time for you to take a rest.”
But the song was directed at not just the president but at Mali’s entire political establishment, which is seen by critics as having failed to deliver peace, security, basic services and jobs.
While there are 24 candidates for president, only two beyond Keita and his main challenger, Soumaïla Cissé, are seen as having a chance for a victory: Aliou Boubacar Diallo, 59, and Cheikh Modibo Diarra, 66.
Both have dabbled in politics but come from the world of business, raising hopes that they could better tackle rampant corruption.
The International Monetary Fund says Mali loses 43 percent of its public investments to corruption, fraud and over invoicing.
“As far as corruption is concerned, I will fight against impunity,” Diallo says in a campaign video. “I will also carry out a wholesale reform and modernization of our public administration. And I’ll make sure that the standard of living of our officials is improved.”
Diallo was born in Kayes, in Mali’s northwest, part of the country’s gold belt. He went to school in Bamako and then studied economics and finance in Tunisia and France.
In 2002, Diallo became the first and so far only Malian to own and run a major gold mine. Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold exporter, but the industry is run almost entirely by foreigners.
Diallo financed part of Keita’s election campaign in 2013 but has since withdrawn his support.
Diarra was born in Nioro du Sahel, central Mali, went to school in Bamako and then to universities in Paris and Washington.
With degrees in mathematics, physics and aerospace engineering, he caught the attention of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Diarra worked for NASA in the 1990s before becoming director of Microsoft Africa.
He was briefly prime minister in 2012, during Mali’s transition from a coup to a civilian government.
Another former prime minister, Moussa Mara, is now Diarra’s main campaigner.
“Our starting point is the fact that Mali’s first problem is corruption,” Mara said. “I can tell you that corruption is worse than the crisis in the north of Mali. It’s worse than terrorism. In fact, corruption has led to the crisis in the north. We must fight corruption among the elites, because if we don’t, we will accomplish nothing in this country.”
While both Diarra and Diallo have been close to politics, they are not seen as susceptible to corruption because they made their own money.
Critics like Mara say Keita and Cissé come from the same political system and that electing either of them will change nothing.
After Sunday’s election, the world will know whether the people of Mali agree.