The presidential elections in Mali have marked the end of one of the bloodiest periods in the country’s history.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 174,000 Malians have taken refuge in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria since the beginning of the conflict in the north of the country in January 2012.
Mopti, one of Mali’s economic centres, has been unable to recover because of the fall of neighbouring towns to Islamic rule. However, it is hoped the high voter turnout and the peaceful scenes witnessed at the polls are a good indication that the country is on the road to recovery.
But the positive mood in the country is not shared by 16 year old Fatoumata Traoré. She gives another name to protect her identity. She feels the scars of the war will never heal.
“My mother went to the market. I was at home cleaning when I heard gunshots. I ran to pick up all the cups that had fallen. I wanted to get all my siblings inside. A group jumped over our wall to get into our courtyard. They didn’t beat us. They raped us. Another group arrived to rape us while the others stood guard. They brought us our animals so we all had food. It wasn’t cooked properly. The ordeal lasted a week. They then threw us out on to the street and they left,” she recounts.
Traoré was locked up in a house with 15 other girls who had been raped. She gave birth to a baby boy called Moussa, who is now four months old. Traore’s father believed that the attack was a curse on the family and abandoned them.
Despite her son coming in to world as a result of a violent act, Traore hopes that he will grow up in a peaceful country and will always have a place to call home.
200,000 displaced Malians have fled Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal for the capital Bamako and other southern cities. Many are living with family while others are in refugee camps.
Jarrou Ag Ahmed lives in Camp Goudoubo in Burkina Faso. It is a temporary home for over 10,000 Malian refugees. He hopes the new leadership will restore peace and security in the country, once considered an oasis of democracy in a troubled region.
“We have spent a year without a president. We want to have a president so that we can have peace in our country,” he explains.
The new president will be in charge of dealing with the issues facing Mali after 18 months of political and military unrest. Malian refugees have expressed a willingness to put the crisis behind them and hope to return to a peaceful country that focuses on national reconstruction and education.