Bamako - Mali's new president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
is now presented with the challenge of finding a resolution to the simmering
separatist rebellion in the country's north.
Based on his recent campaign visit to the rebel's
stronghold, though, it looks like the path to reconciliation won't be an easy
Rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the
Azawad — the name they give to their homeland — tried to block Keita's plane
from landing on the runway. When that failed, they hurled stones at his parked
jet to show their disapproval.
Keita won't have much time to prepare for negotiations:
Under an agreement signed in June, talks with the separatist Tuareg rebels are
supposed to take place within 60 days of the new government's formation.
The talks are expected to be "extremely politically
sensitive," said Bruce Whitehouse, a Bamako-based Mali specialist who
teaches at Lehigh University. Keita might be effective in the talks, said
"He's somebody who can sort of straddle the fence and
appeal to different groups at the same time," he said. "He might be
well positioned to make some difficult risky moves and still be able to
represent himself as doing the right thing by the Malian people."
Many voters, though, say they want Keita — who is widely
known by his initials "IBK" — to take an uncompromising position with
the NMLA. They blame the separatists for creating Mali's political disaster.
Army soldiers who were unhappy with then President Amadou Toumani Toure's
handling of the rebellion launched a coup, and the power vacuum allowed
al-Qaida-linked militants to take ahold of northern Mali.
"I voted for IBK because we want a president who can
liberate the north," said Sata Keita, 28, who is not related to the new
president. "He should not negotiate with the Tuareg rebels because people
should respect the law and Mali will not be divided. IBK should not tolerate
these excesses. We need a total change in Mali."
The Tuareg rebels did not endorse either candidate, though
at least one representative of the group said he favored Keita over his
opponent Soumaila Cisse, who had said he was against any autonomy for the
Early Tuesday, a spokesperson for the rebel group in Europe
said they had "taken note" of Keita's victory.
"We hope that with him and his team we will end up at a
just, equitable and definitive solution that will allow Azawadians to make
decisions that will be suitable for their development," said Moussa Ag
Assarid, an NMLA representative based in Europe.
Tuaregs, the lighter-skinned nomads of Mali's north,
petitioned their colonial ruler France at independence 53 years ago to be
granted their own territory independent from the rest of the country. The
Tuaregs pointed to the linguistic, cultural and racial differences which have
long made them distinct from the black ethnicities that make up the Malian
Mali's government has faced waves of rebellions over the
years, signing agreements that promised the north greater resources and
influence. The one that began in early 2012 forced the Malian military in
retreat from the north, and Islamic extremists took advantage of the chaos to
seize control and implement their harsh interpretation of Islamic Shariah law.
The jihadists ultimately ousted the secular Tuareg separatists as well.
After a French-led military intervention in January 2013,
the jihadists fled into the desert and Tuareg rebels began returning to the
area. In the town of Kidal, the flag of Azawad now flies instead of the Malian
one, and rebels remain in control of numerous government buildings.