New Malian President Keita promises unity and peace | Africa | DW | 05.09.2013
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New Malian President Keita promises unity and peace

Mali’s newly sworn in leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pledged on Wednesday (03.09.2013) to unite the deeply divided West African nation. The ceremony marked the return to civilian rule after a March,2012 coup.

‘IBK’ as he is popularly known, also promised to bring peace to Mali, after months of political crisis and conflict that threatened to tear the country apart.

Keita, a former prime minister, began his five-year term in the presence of outgoing transitional leader Dioncounda Traore, Malian politicians, diplomats and military personnel as he took the presidential oath at a ceremony in the capital Bamako.

"I swear before God and the people of Mali to faithfully preserve the republican regime, to respect and uphold the constitution and the law, to fulfill my duties in the best interests of the people, to preserve the democratic gains, to ensure national unity, independence of the country and the integrity of the national territory," Keita said.

Malians gave IBK 77.6 percent of the vote in an August run-off election against challenger Soumaila Cisse.

"I want to reconcile hearts and minds, restore true brotherhood between us so that all the different people can play their part harmoniously in the national symphony," Keita said to huge applause.

"I will not forget for a moment that you put me where I am to take care of all aspects of the life of our nation.”

The 68 year old politician ran on the campaign slogan of returning honor to Mali. His popularity stems from his reputation as a firm leader who has political experience as a prime minister, finance minister and speaker of the National Assembly.

A man with Keita's poster in his hands. (Photo: Katrin Gänsler)

In his stronghold in the capital Bamako, Keita is known as IBK

Enthusiastic supporters

In the south of the country, especially in the capital Bamako, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is commonly known as IBK. In the first round, he got an absolute majority in all the districts of the capital. Many young people voted for him and many taxi drivers drove around the capital advertising him. "That's right, I voted for IBK" Issa Konate said proudly, pointing at the poster of his favorite candidate, stuck on the rear window. "IBK is someone who has a lot of experience. I am confident that he really will work for Mali."

IBK, who was prime minister from 1994 to 2000 and president of the national assembly from 2002 to 2007, played his cards well. During his campaign he came across as a man who cares for Mali. He did not have to say much. "This is a man whose body radiates calm. And this is very important for our country," journalist Hamidou Konate told DW. Konate is the head of local radio station Jamana. The calm which IBK emanates can restore trust during the troubled times that Mali wants to leave behind with the help of the elections, Konate added.

Representatives of the old Mali

For IBK however, it is not about a political awakening. For almost two decades, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was part of the political elite in Mali. He tried to become president twice, but without success. As he is now 68 years old, this Sunday's (11.08.2013) run-off election is expected to be his last attempt.

IBK is a man who is well connected. "He is known throughout the donor community and always maintained a dialogue with us, even when he didn't hold any position," according to Richard Zink, head of the delegation of the European Union (EU) in Bamako. This, he says, is important for a country whose economy has stagnated since a coup staged on in March 2012. At the last donor conference for Mali in Brussels in May 2013, the EU pledged 520 million euros ($691 million) in financial aid for the years 2013 and 2014. The money is desperately needed for the country to get back on its feet again.

IBK's supporter in Bamako. (Photo: Katrin Gänsler)

Hundreds of IBK supporters gathered in Bamako to hear him outline his political ambitions

Need for dialogue with the north

Within the country, many people still hope for a lasting peace deal between the central government and the Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA). There have indeed been no attacks in the northern city of Kidal. But the region is still fragile.

On IBK's priority list is also the strengthening of the Malian army. It was army officers who staged the coup which led to this presidential election. IBK is said to have good relations with the soldiers. Journalist Hamidou Konate said that through the coup they had learned what even a weak army is capable of. Afterwards, Konate told DW, IBK both " condemned the coup, but also visited the soldiers in their barracks in Kati."

Against the old regime

The visit to the soldier's barracks could turn out to be a clever move. With this act, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita distanced himself from former President Amadou Toumani Toure, against whom the soldiers had staged their coup. Moreover, in his last years in power, Amadou Toumani Toure was criticized by many Malians for the country's lack of progress, corruption and slow disintegration. This could bring IBK valuable bonus points in the run-off.

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