After the world media drew global attention to events in the Republic of Mali at the beginning of this year, everyone just as quickly «forgot» this Western African country, with its population of 15 million and several hundred thousand refugees and internally displaced persons. Nevertheless, while the intensity of the war in Mali has lessened, the war itself is far from over. Furthermore, important political changes have taken place in Mali.
First, yet another change of power has taken place, this time legally. The first round of voting for the presidential election in the Republic of Mali took place on July 28; 27 candidates took part. None of the candidates received an absolute majority of the votes, but voters mainly preferred former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who received 40% of the votes, and former Minister of Finance Soumaïla Cissé (about 20% of the votes). The second round of voting took place August 11; Keïta won with 77% of the votes.
Although there are a number of factors which could be a basis for questioning the legality of these elections (holding the elections in wartime conditions, (1) lawsuits brought by some candidates in the country's Constitutional Court, and Soumaïla Cissé's conceding only after meeting with a representative of the Secretary General of the UN), observers pronounced the elections «free, transparent and credible».
The new president of Mali, 68-year-old Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, can justifiably be considered the patriarch of the Malian political arena. Unlike previous presidents, who had close ties with the socialist community (Amadou Toumani Touré studied and worked in the USSR, and Alpha Oumar Konaré studied and worked in the People's Republic of Poland), Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has strong ties with the West. He graduated from several institutions of learning in France, including the Sorbonne, and has worked in European humanitarian organizations. From 1990 to 2001 he was the leader of the Alliance for Democracy party in Mali. From 1994 through 2000 he was the prime minister of Mali, and from 2001 through 2007 he was the chairman of the National Assembly (parliament). At the next to last presidential elections Keïta lost to Amadou Toumani Touré (who was overthrown in March 2012) with a result of 19% versus 71%. Now Keïta has won, but in a situation where his main rival has been overthrown and is unable to participate in political life…
Among the new president's first steps were ones intended to reinforce his power. In late October Keïta removed Amadou Sanogo, the organizer of the military coup of March 2012 (after the coup this captain was promoted to lieutenant general), from his post as the head of the military committee for monitoring the reform of the army and then arrested him. Furthermore, the government signed important agreements with several rebel groups and reestablished the Ministry of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Development for northern Mali.
Second, one must make note of the military victories of the Malian army and the Franco-UN troops, which in turn has led to serious regroupings in the camp of the opposition and terrorist forces. The Movement for Unity and Jihad in Western Africa, Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have sustained great losses, and their operational capabilities have been substantially undermined. These groups have disintegrated into smaller ones, and their fighters have mixed with the local population, fled to neighboring countries or joined other groups. New groups have formed, including the Islamic Movement for Azawad, the Azawad Supreme Council and the Arab Movement of Azawad. The first two groups consist mainly of fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and Ansar Dine, and the Islamic Movement for Azawad later became part of the Azawad Supreme Council. As for the Arab Movement of Azawad, it is made up mainly of fighters of Arab origin. In late August the Movement for Unity and Jihad in Western Africa announced that it had merged with a splinter group from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and formed a new group called Al-Mourabitoun.
Clashes between various opposition forces continue. For example, summer saw clashes between the Arab Movement of Azawad (AMA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in Lerneb, west of Timbuktu, and near Lake Faguibine, to the north of Timbuktu. At the same time the AMA threatened to attack In Khalil, a post near the Algerian border in the Kidal region, from its position in In Afarak. On August 13 in Bordj Badji Mokhtar, which is in southern Algeria near the border with Mali, shooting between Arab and Tuareg groups broke out. It has been reported that as a result of these clashes dozens of people have been killed. There was a clash at In Khalid on August 14, presumably in connection with the incidents in Bordj Badji Mokhtar.
Three and a half million people are currently suffering from a food shortage in Mali, and one and a half million are in need of emergency aid. (2)
Despite the media's almost complete neglect of the French invasion of Mali, Operation Serval continues. According to the Secretary General of the UN, there have been no major clashes recently, but significant quantities of weapons, ammunition and explosives have been captured, and facilities for producing improvised explosive devices were uncovered. A total of thirteen tons of weapons and ammunition have been discovered. (3) According to the French government, no active military operations are currently being undertaken as part of Operation Serval. However, in the period since July 1, 2013 French military units participating in Operation Serval and the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) conducted around fifteen joint operations. (4)
On November 5 French Foreign Minister L. Fabius stated that French troops will remain in Mali until early 2014, when their planned withdrawal is due to begin. Now there are approximately 3,000 French troops in Mali. (5) Conducting operations is made difficult for MINUSMA and the French invasion forces not only by the military situation, but by the climate as well. 65% of Mali's territory (which is twice the size of France) is desert or semi-desert. The temperature in Timbuktu (the sector-west headquarters of MINUSMA) regularly reaches 50 degrees Celsius and higher. At such temperatures many military instruments simply melt. (6)
In evaluating the course of events in Mali after the French invasion in January 2013, it must be emphasized that the main result of this period was the replacement of the African Union peacekeeping operation (AFISMA) with a UN peacekeeping operation. Over 6,000 AFISMA personnel have been attached to MINUSMA.
Africans' fight with the «international community» for the right to solve its own problems independently is in an active phase and is progressing with intermittent success. The Africans were able to repel an attack from Belgium, which demanded the extradition of the former president of Chad Hissène Habré through the UN International Court of Justice (a special African tribunal was created for the proceedings), but they have not been able to stop the criminal prosecution of the president and deputy president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, in the International Criminal Court. Several days ago the member states of the African Union addressed the UN Security Council seeking a decision to defer proceedings on the Kenyatta-Ruto case in the ICC. (7) The fight for the right of Africans to conduct peacekeeping operations with their own forces has also been lost. The «international community» does not plan to leave Africa; a real solution to security issues on the African continent would threaten its control of African resources…