Malian President Boubacar Keita is on a state visit to France. On his itinerary is a Paris OECD conference on Mali's economic recovery and development. Peace in the north of Mali remains fragile.
The last three years have been very challenging for Mali. In the spring of 2012, jihadists with links to the al Qaeda terror network invaded northern Mali, taking advantage of a local rebellion by armed Tuareg separatist against the central government in Bamako in southern Mali. Most of the jihadists were driven out of northern Mali by a French-led intervention force in January 2013, though they still control some territory in the far north.
Developing northern Mali
But the violence didn't end with the Islamists' expulsion. Local Tuareg groups refused to hand their territory back to the Malian army and government.
Arms and drugs traffickers smuggle their wares across northern Mali's poorly demarcated border with Algeria. Smuggling is often the only the source of income for unemployed youths in Mali's neglected north.
A peace deal signed in June 2015 granted the armed Tuareg groups - but the not the jihadists - wide-ranging autonomy. The separatists agreed that the army could have access to the north and in return the government agreed to boost the region's development.
The Tuareg rebel alliance signed the Algiers Accord on bringing stability to northern Mali in June 2015
"Mali needs to take its recovery and reconstruction forward," said Paul Melly, Associate Fellow with the Chatham House think tank in the UK. OECD (International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries meeting in Paris on Thursday (22.10.2015) were set to scrutinize the state of Mali's economy and plans for the development of the north. In May 2013 international donors meeting in Brussels granted the West African country 3.3 billion euros ($3.7 billion)
The OECD is a Paris-based group of some 30 developed nations founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
Terrorist groups still active
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France will release a total of 360 million euros in loans and grants to Mali by 2017. That would include 80 million euros for the north.
"France sees Mali as an absolute top priority" and wants to "rebuild stability and counter the threat of jihadism," said Melly. France, the former colonial power in Mali has 1300 troops stationed there. Germany is particpating in an EU military training mission in southern Mali but said recently it was considering joining UN operations in the north as well.
"The most pessimistic scenario is that the jihadists will regain control over part of the country," warned Berthe Yakouba, who represents Germany's Konrad Adeauer Foundation in the West African nation. Then there would be the threat of terror attacks similar to those staged by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger and Chad. "We must stop these groups from becoming entrenched in the country once again," he said.
The June peace deal did not include the jihadists and even those who did sign it are having difficulty adhering to it. "In the north, peace only exists on paper," said Yakouba. Tuareg rebels and pro-government militia fought for control of the town of Anefis throughout August and September 2015. However, in October, the two sides said they had sealed a peace agreement after days of talks.
Five people were shot dead by a suspected Islamist group in a restaurant in Bamako, southern Mali in March 2015
Yakouba hopes that the Paris OECD conference on Mali will lead to stability and sustained development. Bamako will have to devote more attention to the north which it has neglected for far too long, he believes
This is a matter of time and money. The north's economy and administrative structures have collapsed since the Islamist invasion. They were on a weak footing even before it started. "Hopefully Mali is moving to the point where most of the people who are involved in what you might call the non-terrorist armed groups and the pro-government militia are engaged in the political process instead," said Melly.
He also said it would take time to translate theoretical decentralization into "an actual functioning system of government that has the consent of the population as a whole."