Ibrahim Boubacar Keita takes the helm in a beleaguered country under attack from Islamic extremists.1:32 PM, Aug 14, 2013 • By ROGER KAPLAN
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a central figure in Mali’s political life for over 20 years, was the winner in Sunday’s runoff vote in the landlocked West African nation’s presidential election, as his rival, Soumaila Cisse, conceded and congratulated his compatriots on a civic duty well done.
The election, which gained plaudits from African, U.S., and European observers, represents a major step toward the restoration of constitutional stability in a country that has been under attack from al Qaeda-linked North African militants, as well as separatists demanding a Tuareg state in the vast savannah and desert regions north of the Niger river. It also frees up some $4 billion in pledged international aid, suspended in the aftermath of the coup that interrupted the electoral process originally scheduled for May 2012. President Francois Hollande of France is expected to attend Keita’s inauguration next month in Mali’s capital of Bamako.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, widely known as IBK in Mali, is 67, served as prime minister, opposed Cisse and deposed president Amadou Toumani Toure in the elections of the 2002 and 2007 (both of which Toure won), and is currently the president of the National Assembly, which was not dissolved after the coup and the instauration of a transitional president. Soumaila Cisse is a former finance minister and executive director of the West African economic union, ECOWA (CEDEAO). Notwithstanding the bitterness of the campaign, in which some 28 candidates were on the first-round ballot three weeks ago and in the course of which Cisse accused the IBK camp of irregularities, the two sides appear to be in agreement that order and stability in Mali are the immediate priorities. It is not inconceivable that IBK will offer Cisse, known as “Soumi,” a cabinet position.
In terms of reconciling Malian society, the logic would be that the two men come from opposite ends of the country, Keita from the big cotton hub of Koutiala in the far south and Cisse from Timbuctu, which suffered nearly a year of Islamist rule when Malian forces were driven out of the north in the first months of 2012. Nominally a socialist and a top member of the Socialist Internationale, IBK has sought support from conservative Muslim authorities and an electorate which is overwhelmingly Muslim. Cisse represents a current that could be described as liberal in the European sense of the word. Both men are French educated, the president-elect in history and political science, the runner-up in engineering; they are in agreement that policies must be aimed at encouraging the south’s rich cotton and textile industries. The country’s 14 million population is overwhelmingly very young.
As the Weekly Standard noted as the first round got under way, the improved security situation in the far north of Mali, and particularly the control by USAF-assisted French forces of the key air field at Tessalit (near the Algerian border in the southwestern Sahara), represents a strategic advantage for the government. It insures a continuing Western concern to protect Mali from becoming a breach in the line across the Sahel that the jihadist hordes have been seeking to breach in order to invade black Africa.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita adamantly refused any concessions to the separatists or the Islamist radicals during the 2012 war, and supported the rescue of Mali by a four-thousand strong French expeditionary force when the Islamist forces, who had supplanted the separatists as the main force in the north, crossed the Niger in January of this year and threatened the capital city, Bamako. He will be under some pressure, including discrete French lobbying, to accommodate at least some of the Tuareg demands for more regional self-government.
Until the Malian army is re-organized and re-equipped and re-trained, security depends on French forces, with U.S. air support, a multi-national African military mission, and even, reportedly, a battalion sized contingent of Chinese advisors. Let it never be said the Chinese do not recognize opportunity on the African continent.
Some confusion at State – and fast cash from the White House.8:05 AM, Feb 14, 2013 • By ROGER KAPLAN
With the quiet announcement that the United States is earmarking $50 million from the defense budget immediately for France and Niger, two countries in the forefront of the battle for Mali against Islamist hordes and Tuareg secessionists, the Obama administration appears to be indicating that it views with a jaundiced eye the potential of our enemies to burst out of the Sahara, cross the Niger river, and wreak havoc throughout the Sahel and beyond.
Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By LEE SMITH
One thing Hillary Clinton got right in her testimony before Congress last week: “When America is absent,” she said, “there are consequences.” But the administration she served has chosen to be absent, and we are seeing the consequences play out, from North Africa to the Levant, where the unchecked flow of weapons, experienced jihadist fighters, and Salafist ideology is reshaping the regional balance of power—and tilting it agai
9:18 AM, Jan 17, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Steve Hayes, with Juan Williams and Charles Krauthammer, last night on Fox News:
Leading from the front, and with no legal hassles.4:01 PM, Jan 16, 2013 • By ROGER KAPLAN
Determined not to lose Mali to Islamist forces, France’s president Francois Hollande ordered a rapid deployment of air and ground forces in Mali to block well-armed and motivated fighters of the Ansar Dine movement led by the veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghali from crossing the Niger river and marching on Bamako.
9:14 AM, Jan 15, 2013 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
Periodically, and almost from the day he became a serious presidential candidate, editorialists, pundits, academics, and reporters have described Barack Obama’s foreign policy as a return to “realism.” Essayist and self-described realist Robert Kaplan, to take just one example, argues that this is something like a natural recalibration, a return to geographic and historical inevitabilities.
Mauritania’s President Mohamed Abdel Aziz on Islamists and underdevelopment in the Sahel Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By ROGER KAPLAN
7:10 AM, Apr 16, 2012 • By ROGER KAPLAN
Following almost daily coups de théâtre after the Malian junior officers’ coup d’etat of March 22 led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, indications of the political evolution of the shaken West African country and of the possible military repercussions of the past weeks’ events are being voiced in Bamako.
Azawad proclaims independence in North Mali.9:25 AM, Apr 7, 2012 • By ROGER KAPLAN
In the latest turn of events in the decade-long war on terror, U.S. counter-terrorism policy in Africa was dealt a blow – or an opportunity – with the declaration of independence of the Azawad, the territory claimed by the Tuareg tribes of northern Mali.
2:50 PM, Mar 23, 2012 • By ROGER KAPLAN
Alain Juppe, France’s foreign minister, forcefully condemned the coup d’état that overthrew Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure, a few days ago, and called for elections as soon as possible in the context of the restoration of constitutional order. Elections, the first round of the presidential election, were scheduled for April 29. Toure was not a candidate, having served his constitutional two-term limit and being eager, by all accounts, to retire.
Uncertainty in Mali a blow to U.S. counter-terror policy in Africa.6:04 PM, Mar 13, 2012 • By ROGER KAPLAN
With the fall last weekend of the northern Mali garrison town of Tessalit, and its airstrip, to Tuareg secessionist forces, U.S. counter-terror policy in Africa is dealt a stunning setback.
The longer the small desert war lasts, the more America’s African strategy is undercut.2:30 PM, Mar 8, 2012 • By ROGER KAPLAN
In embattled Mali, the battle for Tessalit continues. This has become a miniature African Stalingrad (neither condescension nor excessive alarm intended).
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