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Africa

Opinion: Good basis for a fresh start in Mali

Mali has held its first presidential election since a coup plunged it into chaos one and a half years ago. Claus Stäcker believes President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita could bring stability back to the country.

Claus Stäcker verantwortet die Afrika-Programme innerhalb der Multimediadirektion Regionen

Claus Stäcker is the head of Deutsche Welle's African language services

EU election observers say the election was credible and transparent. In the capitals of Europe there would also appear to be a consensus that Malians chose the right candidate: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, whom they call simply IBK. He is also France's choice. French President Francois Hollande didn't even wait for the official results before offering his congratulations. It was a victory for democracy and France would stand side by side with Mali, Hollande promised. Keita studied in Paris, he has also lectured there. He has run European Union programs and worked for the children's charity Terre des Hommes. A French PR agency ran his election campaign. He is considered reliable and dependable. Paris is satisfied with the outcome of this election.

Germany content, too

Germany is also satisfied with this poll. Keita is also Germany's choice and is well known in German government circles. His predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, was also held in high regard in Berlin, until he was toppled in a coup.

Relations between Mali and Germany go back a long way. In Timbuktu there is a museum devoted to the famous nineteenth century German explorer of Africa, Heinrich Barth. Germany was quick to recognize Mali when it became an independent state in 1960. Malian troops were trained on German territory, Malian students studied in what was then West and East Germany. There are town twinning arrangements and personal friendships between Germans and Malians.

German support for Malian democracy

The first phase of democratization in Mali in the 1990s triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity with visits to the country from Germany's federal president, foreign, development and defense ministers and the speaker of the German parliament. Not every country with such a slender trade balance with Germany - bilateral trade totaled just 70 millions euros ( $93 million ) in 2010 - attracts so much attention. But Mali was viewed as a model for Africa's conversion to democracy and was seen as a beacon of stability and hope in the trouble Sahel region. Then came the coup.

Mali's president-elect has never condemned the coup. He is a supporter of the military and makes no secret of the fact. How could anybody be a good president without the trust of the military, he asked rhetorically in a recent interview with the German news agency, dpa. It is a point which is not lost on German policy makers. The German government wants Mali's armed forces to be able to cope eventually with the instability in the north on their own, and has dispatched German 180 police and army trainers to Mali to help them.

Keita was also able to win over Mali's Muslim clerics. Verses from the Koran at the beginning of his speeches signaled to Malians: "I, IBK, am a devout Muslim." The election itself – before it had taken place – was viewed with great skepticism. It had been prepared too hastily, new political movements wouldn't have a chance of achieving anything. The biometic voting cards would never be ready on time and heavy rain would keep voters away from the polling stations, doubters said.

Great demand for stability

But then even more Malians turned out to vote than at the last election, in spite of the heavy rain and a number of other inconveniences and shortcomings. They cast their ballots for a veteran of the political establishment, who had earned in his six years as prime minister the reputation of being a "Kankeletigui." In the Bambara language spoken in Mali, this means "somebody who keeps his word." Apparently, they see him as a father figure who could pursue the policy of national reconciliation the country so desperately needs.

A man of the city and of southern Mali, Keita was noncommittal about his plans for reconciliation with the Tuaregs in the north. The problems are huge, but conditions for a new beginning are favorable. With a successful election behind him, Keita will be able to draw on three billion euros in aid promised at Mali donors' conference in May. This should help to reassure the country, the crisis-ridden region and Europe, which after the setbacks of the Arab Spring, is anxious to see stability return to Mali. It is now up to 68-year-old Keita to demonstrate that in his new post as president he is "somebody who keeps his word."

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