by Paul Melly

A slow return to normality is becoming possible in Mali's northern regions which endured 10 months of often harsh jihadist rule until French-led forces intervened in January. Public administration is being slowly restored; humanitarian and development assistance for towns such as Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal should follow.

However, among Mali's West African and international partners, there is concern that this should not simply mean a return to the pre-crisis state of affairs -- patchy government services, widespread corruption, low military morale and the connivance of some senior figures with drug traffickers and violent radicals.

France has been pressing Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, to get a serious negotiating process underway, reaching out to a broad range of interest groups and community leaders across the north. A first step has come with the government's decision to establish a national commission for dialogue and reconciliation.

This 33-member body will have its work cut out. Deep resentments have developed between different elements of the northern population; light-skinned Tuareg and Arab Malians are at risk of being labelled jihadist sympathizers, even when they had nothing to do with the militants who overran the north. There are credible claims that the Malian security forces have killed or persecuted some northern civilians.

One priority is clear -- the need to hold a presidential election to choose a head of state with a stronger mandate than Traore. He was appointed last year as a civilian figurehead, after the soldiers who had seized power in March came under pressure from the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States. But he lacks the authority to mobilize popular acceptance for the political compromises required to stabilize the north.

The picture is complicated by the persistent strength of the military, and particularly Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, leader of the March 2012 putschists. Sanogo and his clique, based at Kati barracks just north of Bamako, still wield unaccountable influence.

Paul Melly, Associate Fellow, Chatham House Africa Programme

 

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