Mali’s new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (pictured) was inaugurated in Bamako on Thursday, with French President François Hollande and several African leaders in attendance as Mali marks the start of a new era after more than a year of unrest.
French officials joined Mali's new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, at centre stage on Thursday as he was sworn in, marking the start of a new era of democracy after months of political chaos in the former French colony.
His inauguration, held at the 55,000-seat March 26 Stadium in Bamako, gathered leaders from a host of African countries. President Idriss Deby of Chad, the Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara and Moroccan King Mohammed VI were among the 26 heads of state invited to welcome Mali's new leader, elected by a landslide in August 11 elections.
But the ceremony held special significance for French President François Hollande, who launched military action in the country in January, aided by African troops, to oust Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda who occupied northern Mali last year.
Hollande said in his speech that the war on terror had been won in Mali and hailed the country’s return to democracy.
“We have won this war, we have chased out the terrorists; we have secured the north and finally ... we have – you have – organised an uncontested election and the winner is now the president of Mali,'' Hollande told the crowd.
“If there had not been an intervention, today the terrorists would be here in Bamako,'' he said.
France's latest engagement in Mali, however, was more than just a mission to free the former colony from the clutches of Islamist militants. And in a sense, Thursday's ceremony marks the beginning, rather than the end, of a new era of French involvement in the country.
A renaissance of French engagement
"Given French strategic interests in the region – from uranium mining, or oil and gas exploration by French companies in the Sahel, the prospects of oil exploration in northern Mali itself and protecting France's broader political interests in West Africa – it would reasonable to assume that Paris had never intended the troop withdrawal to mark an end to its engagement in Mali," said Manji Cheto, a London-based analyst with the Africa Practice think-tank, in a recent blog post.
Although France never officially backed a candidate in the presidential election, most analysts in Bamako believe it was cheering on Keita's rival Soumaila Cisse, a committed "Francophile".
Paris will now be relying on Keita, its second choice to back its interests in the region, by making good on his pledge to unite Mali and end endemic corruption in the deeply divided West African nation.
"I want to reconcile hearts and minds, restore true brotherhood between us so that all the different people can play their part harmoniously in the national symphony," Keita, 68, said.
The return to democracy has been praised by Hollande, who was accompanied by four senior ministers and is expected to hold talks with Keita on security, reconciliation, economic recovery and the fight against corruption later on Thursday.
North remains unstable
The ever-present issue of instability was thrown into sharp relief on Sunday when youths affiliated with Mali's main ethnic Tuareg separatist group tried to stop a plane carrying three ministers from landing in their northern bastion of Kidal.
The attack followed an exchange of gunfire between the Malian army and "bandits" during security operations near the Mauritanian border last week that left two soldiers wounded, according to security sources.
The incidents "came as a useful reminder that, in the coming weeks, the authorities will have to deal with people who have in the past demonstrated unpredictable behaviour and did not hesitate to openly play one-upmanship", said analyst Gaoussou Drabo in a commentary for the national daily newspaper "L'Essor" (Progress).
He warned that the "excessive behaviour" demonstrated by marginalised populations in the north could well spill over into more general, and violent, discontent unless Keita urgently addresses the flagging economy and the persistent poverty experienced by ordinary Malians.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-09-18