From Smart Africa to smart politics?
This urbane polyglot champion of the digital revolution in Africa is not an obvious insurgent politician, but Hamadoun Touré insists it is time to retire Mali’s political class. In its place, he wants the country to be run by technocrats committed to accountability and dialogue. That is why he is running, without any experience in national politics, for the presidency in elections on 29 July. “I’ve gone through the country and sent envoys everywhere to test the mentality of the people […]. All the politicians have lost credibility. They want someone new, someone who has not been corrupt. And the only way not to have been corrupt was not to have been part of it, of any government. And I’m the only one today.” He currently works as executive director of Smart Africa, a digital alliance of 22 member states. He was also secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union from 2007 to 2014. With that experience, Touré is pushing for hi-tech solutions to development problems. These include widening access to broadband and boosting financial and public-service accountability. That is part of the ‘Open Waves’ campaign for a single digital market in Africa, launched in Kigali at the Transform Africa summit in May.
Like other contenders in the presidential election, Touré salutes the activists – Sy Kadiatou Sow of An tè A Bana and Mohamed Youssouf Bathily (Ras Bath) of the Collectif pour la Defense de la République – who are mobilising the youth vote. “They have been very courageous at a time when the old politicians were afraid to speak out […]. Many old politicians had tried to hide behind them. These people are the age of their kids.” Asserting that Mali’s security policy has failed, Touré argues for a joined-up socio-economic plan to deal with the desertification, destruction of grazing lands and water shortages that have been among the background causes of communal clashes in the central and northern regions. “It’s been happening since 1960. How come [the government doesn’t] say ‘What’s the
“All the politicians have lost credibility. They want someone who has not been corrupt”
link?’ and study the problem. There are no mills or factories in these regions.” Much of it goes back to bad governance, Touré says. He points to the iniquitous sale of land by corrupt officials. A believer in “total transparency”, he promises “to declare everything, including my own revenues from day one […]. I have committed to donating 100% of my salary, half of it to women’s associations, half to handicapped people.” Asked about the rapid growth of the strict Wahhabite sects of Islam and the undermining of more open Sufi groups in Mali, Touré says: “The average person doesn’t know the difference between the two […]. I was meeting with a group of our religious leaders and I told them that the way some of them were preaching can be a little bit disturbing.” He adds: “The level of knowledge, the teaching, the tone has to be agreed […]. There should be some code of conduct.” On Morocco’s application to join the Economic Community of West African States, Touré argues it would be a positive step towards greater economic integration but adds that Algeria, Mali’s traditional ally in North Africa, should be part of that convergence. “I’m really an Africanist, I see Africa only strong when it’s a single market […]. Our 54 small markets don’t make sense.”