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Mali's Keita - huge challenges ahead

Mali's Keita - huge challenges ahead
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During his electoral campaign, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita hammered home that what he wanted most of all was a national reconciliation. At the age of 68, the future president was a veteran of Malian politics, having served as Prime Minister from 1994-2000, also holding several ministerial portfolios in various governments. A man of the left, he would need all the assurance of his reputation for firm-handedness to stabilise a country in trauma.

In March last year, elected President Amadou Toumani Touré was thrown out in a military coup, accused of incompetence in the fight against Islamist groups and the Tuareg rebellion in the north. At the time, Keita didn’t criticise the coup leaders, unlike his rival, Soumaila Cissé.

The Tuareg MNLA and Islamists took advantage if the coup to strengthen their positions and take control of the main cities in the north: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

By June last year, the al-Qaeda-allied Islamists had won the upper hand over the Tuareg rebels and claimed to control the whole of northern Mali, and they imposed their strict views on the population.

This January, France launched its military intervention, Operation Serval, intervening to halt the Islamist advances. With Malian forces and other African armies, French soldiers managed to dislodge the jihadists from the north within a month, although those forces remain an active threat today.

Keita also needs to negotiate terms with the Tuareg rebels. In June, he signed with the MNLA in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) an agreement ahead of the presidential elections that he would open peace talks within 60 days of the formation of a new Malian government.

At the same time, Keita must beat back corruption and rebuild a bloodied country where conflict forced some 500,000 people to leave their homes, worsening poverty and inflaming intercommunal hatred.