It is a political campaign that is more than a year overdue. The plan had been for Mali to go to the polls in June, 2012. Instead, one coup d'etat, one territorial annexation and one foreign intervention later, the West African country will vote on July 28, 2013. Much of the campaign literature has simply been recycled. Candidate's names are the same, it's just the year that's wrong. But there is so much more than just the date that is different.
On the surface of things, Bamako is much like it's ever been. Dirty, poor, dusty and shambolic. The headlines that have grabbed the world's attention over the last seven months have all been about northern Mali and its liberation from the hands of Islamists by French troops. It has been a battle, well covered by the world's media, of right against wrong, a fight against terrorism, the type of fight that most people by now understand. But Bamako itself has been largely left out. As has the real battle that lies behind what allowed in the Islamists in the first place, and all that is remarkable about this.
It was, of course, the grievances of the Tuareg rebels, their well-armed return to the homeland from the deserts and battles of Libya and their unanswerable overpowering of the Malian army that led to Captain Sanogo's exasperated coup d'etat. A putsch that happened to coincide with something of a Malian spring. Indeed, one of the surprises of the first few days that followed the captain's amateurish coup was the popular support that he enjoyed. No one had heard of Sanogo, but many were glad to see the back of the man they did know, Amadou Toumani Touré, who had come to represent so much of what is wrong with this part of the world: corruption, elitism, and a lack of true democracy. A putsch may not have been ideal, but at least it was new. And hopeful.
The trouble for the captain, and for the triumphant Tuaregs, finally in possession of an independent homeland, was that the Islamists were not far behind. And not far behind them were the French.
On Saturday, the state of emergency put in place in January was lifted. With that, perhaps, a veil on the real issues that face Mali today will also be lifted: the question of the rights and demands of Tuaregs, and, more importantly, the question of the rights and demands of the Malian population as a whole.
Rebels in the north will no doubt in the future find themselves emboldened by the albeit fleeting vision that Azawad (as the Tuareg refer to their imagined homeland) came to be. But the Malian population as a whole may find itself all the stronger for the glimpse it has had of something other than what it has lived with so far.
It's a hope you find expressed particularly among the young. Those who might not have bothered to vote in the election version 2012, but who may come out to vote in 2013 for some of those candidates whose election material is not recycled for the simple reason that they had not intended to stand last year.
Either way, Nina should help -- the biometric cards that include both identity details and photograph, designed specifically to avoid the electoral irregularities of the past, and helping to ensure that, however they chose to use it, Malians may find themselves with a truly democratic voice for the first time ever on July 28th.