BAMAKO - Newly elected president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, pledged to unite his strife-damaged nation and end endemic corruption as he steps forward to lead the deeply-divided west African country’s emergence from months of political crisis and conflict.
Keita, a former prime minister, began his five-year term in the presence of outgoing transitional leader Dioncounda Traore and more than 1,000 Malian politicians, diplomats and military personnel, as he took the presidential oath at the inaugural ceremony in Bamako, the Malian capital.
"I will not forget for a moment that you put me where I am to take care of all aspects of the life of our nation. National reconciliation remains the most urgent priority," he said after taking an oath to preserve the constitution, democracy and the law.
Mali's constitutional court confirmed Keita's landslide victory in the August 11 presidential run-off against former minister Soumaila Cisse after an election campaign focused on law, order and ending the culture of impunity in public office.
"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 said to huge applause.
The 68-year-old veteran of the political scene in Bamako is charged with leading the country out of a 17-month political crisis sparked by a military coup.
Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure in the spring of 2012.
In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups who imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.
Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and prompted France to launch a military offensive at Mali's behest together with thrust from the UN’s official international input to oust the Islamists in January.
The country's return to democracy has allowed France to begin withdrawing some of the 4,500 troops it had sent in.
"France welcomes the new president of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on the occasion of his swearing-in ceremony," said French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot in a statement.
"Granted a strong legitimacy with the outcome of the recent elections, the new authorities can now meet the needs of the people of Mali and the challenges facing Mali. France is ready to give its full support to President Keita." Observers cite that French logistical assistance will continue, limiting the troop withdrawal initially planned by French President Hollande.
The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production in the country.
His election in the first presidential polls in Mali since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of last year's coup.
His daunting workload over the coming months will include tackling an economy battered by political chaos and war, as well as healing ethnic divisions in the north and managing the return of 500,000 people who fled an Islamist insurgency.
Corruption has tainted government institutions and the military in Mali since it gained independence from France in 1960 and the country remains in the bottom third of Transparency International's ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’. Some observers contend that the Malian government prior to the coup had been complicit with organized crime in the north, which would explain its complacency with the corruption known to exist there.
"I will put an end to impunity, to the special privileges that are at the heart of the perversion of our judicial and state institutions," Keita vowed.
"As president, I will ensure the proper management of public funds. I will put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure transparency and efficiency of public spending. No one will get rich illegally off the back of the Malian people."
Some material for this report was obtained
from Agence France Presse
DAKAR, SENEGAL — Mali's president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita says he will reconcile, reunite and rebuild the country after 18 months of crisis and conflict. Keita doesn't take office for another two weeks, but his to-do list is already long and Malians are eager for results.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita takes office September 4th on a tidal wave of popularity.
The one-time prime minister and former president of the National Assembly won the August 11th run-off election with 77 percent of votes.
In his first public declaration as president-elect, Keita said he would be the "president of all Malians."
"I will be the president of national reconciliation. This reconciliation is necessary to deal with the demands of our people: to rebuild the state and the rule of law, to fix the army and the education system, to fight corruption and to foster economic and social development. I will be the president to rebuild the nation," said the president-elect.
Keita said recently that it would be a "new era." Even so, he is inheriting some hefty problems.
A Tuareg rebellion that began in 2012 is still rumbling in the far north. Mali is now host to a massive U.N. mission to stabilize the north after a nine-month occupation by armed extremist groups who tried to set up their version of an Islamic state.
The leaders of the recent military coup in Mali are still lurking around the foreground in Bamako. One of the final acts of the interim government was to promote coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to the rank of general.
Keita won the presidency thanks to a large and complex web of support from Muslim religious leaders, the military and most of his first-round rivals. His campaign always maintained that Keita was not cutting deals in exchange for votes.
But analysts said it could be difficult to manage all those alliances once in office. Malians are watching closely to see who Keita names to his cabinet.
Keita said recently his government would be a ‘meritocracy’, not one guided by political or family alliances. "Let me be clear. There is no question of sharing out the cake. I have not promised that and it will not happen," he said.
But actions speak louder than words, even the tough talk that Keita is known for. When asked what the country needed, voters often used the French verb "assainir," which means to flush out, to decontaminate, to clean up. They wanted to see Keita tackle the root causes of the crisis.
At the top of that list were the pervasive corruption and patronage that analysts said undermined development, crippled the army and ultimately handed the north over to criminal and terrorist groups.
Keita has pledged "zero tolerance" for corruption, but analysts say he must prove it, and fast, by doing what previous governments in Mali have not - by investigating and punishing those embezzling public resources. Something analysts say could be a hard pill to swallow for some of his political allies.
Security is the other key challenge.
Keita will have 60 days to open up what promises to be difficult negotiations with the armed Tuareg separatist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and its allies in the far northern region of Kidal that launched an uprising in January of 2012 - the fourth of its kind since Mali became a country in 1960. Many say it is up to Keita to make it the last.
Political analyst Issa Ndiaye said, "it will be hard to get Malians to accept a special status for Kidal. The problems are not just in Kidal. We need to find a nationwide solution to implement an enhanced form of decentralization that allows local populations to make decisions about their lives, and in particular about the exploitation of natural resources."
Many Malians blame the MNLA for setting off the chain of events last year that saw the elected government toppled by unruly soldiers in the spring of this year and the north being taken over by Islamist militant groups just weeks later.
The nomadic Tuareg are a minority ethnic group in Mali's sparsely populated north. Perceived privileges bestowed on ex-rebels under previous peace accords have bred resentment and perceptions of a kind of "positive discrimination" in favor of the Tuareg.
Those negotiations will be just one part of returning security and state authority to the formerly occupied north, where violence has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and decimated the economy.