Mali moves on: The West African nation returns to democracy

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The dark night of the soul of Mali, a West African nation of 14 million, may have begun to end Sunday with the choice of a new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in what observers have called free and fair elections.

Mali was a model of African democracy until March 2012, when a U.S.-trained army officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, led a coup that overthrew the democratically elected government. This led to a series of events which included the secession of the northern two-thirds of the country, which was organized by its Tuareg minority and quickly overtaken by Islamist forces.

France, the former colonial power in Mali, sent in 4,500 forces which, with air strikes and drone surveillance supported by the United States, re-established the authority of the central government in the north. It is based in its capital in the south, Bamako. In the meantime the country was ruled by Mali's military, with a puppet civilian government out front.

Various nations, including the United States, wanted to see Mali back on the rails and pledged $4 billion in aid that was conditional on holding free elections and choosing civilian leaders. The first round of elections, with 27 presidential candidates, was held July 28, but no one received the required 50 percent of the votes. A two-candidate runoff was held Sunday.

Mr. Keita, 68, a former prime minister who took the most votes in the first round, won in the end, with a respectable turnout of 45 percent.

Mali still faces problems, however. The French are drawing their troops down to a 1,000-person rapid intervention force which will remain there. The United Nations is providing a 12,600-member peacekeeping force which has already begun its work.

The problems that Mr. Keita will inherit are still formidable. Apart from the economic development of a very poor country, there is still the discontent among the Tuaregs and Islamist northerners, and a military which has enjoyed more than a year of rule and shown an appetite for money and power.

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