Mali has once again shown that it may be down, but certainly not out of reckoning. In spite of the cataclysmic events over the past few months — first a military coup and then direct foreign intervention to stop the march of the northern rebels — Mali has proved that it remains a beacon of democracy by holding a successful presidential election. Having been held only months after French troops walked in to restore peace in the country, the election was far from perfect. But public enthusiasm seems to have triumphed over the procedural shortfall. The victor is Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former prime minister, and although he has not obtained a majority, his closest contender, Soumaïla Cissé, has accepted defeat following a run-off. Mr Cissé’s willingness to stand back may not have been decided entirely by his generosity. He could not risk turning public opinion against himself by prolonging the political uncertainty. A peaceful election had been a primary condition laid down by Mali’s international donors for loosening their purse strings. With a new president, decisively elected, Mali can now turn to the more urgent business of restoring its economy with the $4 billion aid and reconciliation with the insurgents in the north.
With his long political experience and proximity to the military, Mr Keita is undoubtedly qualified for the job. He is expected to open peace talks with the Tuareg rebels, resettle the displaced population and reform the political system and the military. As an outspoken critic of an earlier peace deal with the rebels and an upholder of Malian “honour” that he believes is being undermined by these men, Mr Keita may find himself thwarted by his principles. He might also find it difficult to rid Mali of the corruption and nepotism that have seeped deep into the political system. Yet he cannot let go of this unique opportunity. With a more equitable distribution of aid and a peace agreement with the culturally distinct Tuaregs, Mali can have long-term peace and arrest the spread of terror and Islamic radicalism.