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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Mali's new leader: Man of contradictions
General Amadou Toumani Toure, president-elect of Mali
Toure now has to learn the 'dirty' game of politics
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By the BBC's Joan Baxter

Presidential office will not be unfamiliar to General Amadou Toumani Toure, the man Malians call simply "ATT".

He has held the office before - from 26 March 1991 until 8 June 1992.

Why would he want to dirty himself in politics?

Malian businesswoman

He landed there after staging a coup to topple General Moussa Traore, just after troops in the capital, Bamako, had opened fire on demonstrating youths, killing some 300.

That coup ended 23 years of heavy-handed military rule and General ATT says it was the only thing he could do to "prevent more unimaginable bloodshed".

After leading the country through a transition year and into multi-party elections, Mr Toure handed over power to newly elected President Alpha Oumar Konare.

Murky world

He said he was happy to leave politics and the presidential office.

But when General Toure took early retirement from the army in October 2001, it was clearly a sign he had changed his mind and was preparing to enter the presidential race.

General Toure in happier times as a military man
ATT is a thoroughly military man

Many people in Mali could not understand why the ATT they thought they knew, who had refused the title "president" when he was head of state, would 10 years later want to enter the murky world of politics.

In a series of street interviews done six months before the elections, people seemed to be of one mind - they wanted their hero to stay out of politics.

"He has everything a human being can dream of right now," said one businesswoman.

"He is a hero in his own lifetime, he has a reputation internationally for his peace-keeping work with the United Nations, and he has money.

"Why would he want to dirty himself in politics?"

One civil servant had this to say:

"He's better off where he is.

"He's got his Foundation for Children, he does vaccinations and fights guinea worm, the whole world sees him as a humanitarian.

"But we like to know he's there, you know, somewhere near, if we need him again.

"I would like him to stay where he is."


Many others could not come to terms with the new Mr Toure:

"We loved him because he said he didn't want power," said a woman banker.

"If he runs for president, then all that looks like it was a lie."

He can be shocked by misery, without seeing that he's part of the system that causes that misery

Malian journalist
Obviously, not all Malians agreed that Mr Toure should stay where he was, heading peace-keeping missions in Africa or running his children's charity.

In the run-off poll on 12 May, ATT received a hefty 64.35% of the vote.

So Mr Toure, 53 years old, is now headed to the presidential office for a second time.

But this time he will be an elected leader.

That means he is going to have to learn to be what his close associates seems to agree he is not - a politician.

Curriculum vitae

"He's a military man through and through," says one prominent Malian journalist who has travelled widely with him.

"But at least he's not like Alpha Konare, he won't deceive us with long flowery speeches that have nothing to do with what he really thinks.

"He talks a lot, but he means what he says. He isn't cynical, vicious or vindictive.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
Keita ran against Toure in the first round but then supported him

"But he's very ambitious and he has no inferiority complex.

"He is full of contradictions. He can be shocked by misery, without seeing that he's part of the system that causes that misery."

His curriculum vitae is impressive:

Laudable accomplishments in African peace-keeping and humanitarian work with Jimmy Carter, his many awards from all over Africa, and his elite military training in the former Soviet Union and also in France.

But few people pretend to know much about the man behind the hero image, the myth and the genial smile.

New Toure

He has been very low-key and cautious throughout the electoral period, avoiding bravado and any predictions about his victory or about how he will fare as president.

Even though he has always kept up his military fitness, in recent months he has lost weight.

Lorry stuck in the desert
Building Mali's economy is a priority

Gone is the congenial, humanitarian man who even a year ago was downright chatty when visited by journalists at the lavish home in Bamako accorded him as former head of state.

Then ATT was keen to talk about his wife and his two daughters, both students in Canada, and about how he preferred vaccinating children to dealing with politicians.

More recently, Mr Toure has surfaced as a rather taciturn man, prone to shows of temper and impatience.

His campaign manager, Lassana Traore, says General ATT is deeply worried about the pressing problems facing Mali - poverty, lack of education and health care.

He would like to end the "divisive politics" that have alienated the opposition in recent years, and he has promised to "bring Malians together, to reconcile the past".

But first, Mr Toure will have to reconcile all the demands of the 40 political parties that supported him in his bid as an independent candidate.

And he will have to learn how to handle the power he has been granted by Malian voters, even as he tries to live up to his reputation as a hero.

And he earned that reputation a decade ago by shunning the world of politics he has just entered.

See also:

16 May 02 | Africa
Former general wins Mali poll
12 May 02 | Africa
Gloves off in Mali election
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