analysisBy Kimeng Hilton Ndukong
Mali, a hitherto budding and respectable democracy, has not been the same since the overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Touré on March 22, 2012. The coup was masterminded by disgruntled soldiers over alleged government neglect in their fight against rebels in the north.
Taking advantage of the deteriorating security situation and the poor state of the army, militants quickly overran the northern half of the country. Though French-led troops earlier this year retook most of the lost territory, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, MNLA, rebels continue to hold on to the northern town of Kidal. With general elections due in the country on July 28, 2013, the stakes are increasingly becoming higher.
Carrot And Stick Option
Official negotiations between the government and MNLA began in Burkina Faso on Saturday, June 8, 2013. The talks followed two weeks of informal discussions between the two sides on the situation in Kidal that fell to rebels in January 2013. Tiébilé Dramé, Mali's Chief Negotiator at the peace talks in Ouagadougou, expressed hope that a peace accord on Kidal would be signed soon. While the government talks peace, it is at the same time making efforts to regain control of the whole country in time for elections. The army on June 5, 2013, recaptured Anéfis from MNLA. The town is about 100 km from Kidal.
Mali has been rather rudderless since the March 2012 coup. The short-lived military junta of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and the current transitional administration of President Dioncounda Traore have not succeeded in restoring political stability and confidence in the country. Next July's presidential and parliamentary elections are therefore crucial in restoring constitutional order and political credibility. But MNLA rebels have so far rejected the handover of Kidal to the State, army and security forces - a sine qua non for any successful nationwide elections. The success of the polls is also dependent on how fast the Electoral Commission puts its act together to organise credible polls within a short timeframe. Moreover, the vast country still has many internally displaced people and refugees abroad.
France's Stance On Kidal
It was thanks to French military intervention that Islamist rebels were last January stopped from overrunning the Malian capital, Bamako. The French were later joined by the Malian army and African peacekeepers in retaking the north from the rebels. However, State control is yet to return to Kidal. The French who maintain some presence in the town say they understand the need for Mali to exert total control over its whole territory, but are also conscious of the reality on the ground. They say they want to avoid any clash between ethnic nationalities in the town. In the meantime, the rebels have continued to argue that they do not want the return of State control to Kidal.
Alleged Rights Abuses
According to an Amnesty International preliminary report released on June 7, 2013, all armed groups in Mali, particularly the army, have been involved in human rights abuses; with some being possible war crimes. The report lists summary executions of unarmed civilians - especially people of Tuareg and Arab origin - disappearances, torture, deaths in detention, and some cases of assassinations. It recommends that French and African peacekeeping troops in the north should no longer hand over suspects to the Malian army as they risk being tortured.
Reclaiming Lost Glory
For now, Mali's neighbours and the international community want a quick return to normalcy. Its geostrategic importance and stability in the turbulent Sahel region cannot be overlooked. The forthcoming polls will no doubt serve as a key test for reclaiming Mali's lost political glory.