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George Washington University

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Mali: Gender, Health, and Development


Democracy, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” Democracy, as defined by Abraham Lincoln is: “of the people, for the people and by the people.” Democracy, as defined by one Malian citizen is: “une systeme qui permit un citoyen de dire ceux qu’il pense.” For some, the word evokes images of liberty and freedom, for others, images of deep rooted corruption and failure to serve a people. However, no matter how it is defined, one cannot argue with the fact that a certain beauty lies at the root of democracy, a beauty that, as Lincoln said, is “by the people.” This is, of course, the power of a vote. Free elections are the metaphorical steering wheel of democracies everywhere, and behind that steering wheel are the thousands and thousands of citizens and their individual votes. This right to a vote is something empowering for a citizen, and also, important for the advancement of a successful democracy.

Significance of Study in Malian Culture

Now, what happens when less than 30% of the population votes in a presidential election? Or, better yet, when less than 7% of a community bothers to vote for their Mayor for the next five years? The answer: a democracy exists; however, it exists only for those involved, wanting to benefit themselves. A democracy exists, however, it exists only in a way that a battered up, old car exists – with an engine that blows black exhaust endlessly and with wheels that fail to move. This damaged sort of democracy exists in Mali.

Citizens’ involvement in their political system, as previously mentioned, is necessary for a healthy democracy. The lack of voter participation in elections is not only a problem during the election seasons, but all year round, for it translates into the greater problem of general dissatisfaction with the government. Mali is a fairly new democracy and is stable, comparatively speaking, however, if citizens’ discontent for the government continues, and if the one of the defining factors of democracy, elections, are reduced to a fraction of the population, then the future of Mali’s political, social and economic development will be negatively affected.

So why do Malian citizens choose to vote or not vote? I set out to answer this question with the 2009 Malian Communal Elections, being held on April 26th, 2009 as my backdrop.


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


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