Posted on Monday, 23 November 2015 10:00

Mali Country Profile 2015: No peace, no reconciliation

By The Africa Report

altThe optimism around President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's (IBK) arrival in power in September 2013 has largely faded as the government has failed to deal with the Tuareg and Islamist forces in northern Mali.

After quarrels about support from donors is expected to resume in 2015 with new strings attached. Investors remain cautious, citing a lack of political stability. The delayed local authority elections – which could take place in April 2015 - could provide a wake-up call for IBK and his allies.

In 2014, IBK was focused on insider political machinations and overly keen to crush the Tuareg rebels by force. Mali was still a divided country when its first case of the Ebola virus was discovered in late October 2014. Its security will be dependent for the foreseeable future on France and the presence of 10,000 UN peacekeepers.

Questionable spending

IBK has appointed family members to senior government positions and his son, Karim Keïta, is in charge of the parliamentary defence commission. IBK has sought to isolate potential threats, like General Amadou Sanogo, who led a coup attempt in 2012, and former president Amadou Toumani Touré. The government is in conflict with donors over its spending.

Using a budget clause allowing tender-free contracts in the interest of national security, the government purchased a Boeing 737 in April, even though Mali already had a presidential plane.

The government also guaranteed a $200m loan for military procurement which appears to have been used to buy new uniforms, troop carriers and tanker trucks.

altThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) queried the procedure used for the transactions. In June 2014, the fund suspended disbursement of a $6m tranche of a $46.2m loan. The World Bank and EU followed the IMF's lead. 

Six other direct budget donors are awaiting IMF guidance before paying out. The IMF was due to deliver its report in December 2014. April 2014 brought a cabinet reshuffle in which Moussa Mara, an inexperienced 39-year-old firebrand from a small opposition party, became prime minister.

IBK's appointment of Mara was unpopular among the rank-and-file of the governing party, the Rassemblement pour le Mali.

The army was not up to the task of retaking the northern city of Kidal in 2014. Elsewhere in the north, Malian troops abandoned their positions to rebels. By the time a ceasefire was agreed, the government had lost control of most of the north of Mali apart from the city centres of Timbuktu and Gao.

Islamist forces including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Mouvement pour l'Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest staged several deadly strikes against the UN forces and the 1,500 French troops.

Negotiating table

Peace talks, which had been demanded by the international community ever since IBK's election, finally opened briefly in Algiers in July 2014 and resumed in September.

Mara says the government will not consider redrawing Mali's borders, but some separatists attending the talks still believe in an independent homeland. The talks could go on for months.

Overall, the Malian economy is back to its pre-crisis levels of growth, but the security crisis continues to dampen expectations. Citing a ''lack of political stability'', the Swiss Bullion Company delayed for a second time - until at least mid-2015 - the opening of a $71m gold refinery.

The mines ministry cancelled a swathe of dormant exploration contracts in 2014 but these have yet to be made available to new takers.

In August, after a breakdown in negotiations with the government, the Union Nationale des Travailleurs du Mali staged a popular two-day strike for higher salaries, an increased minimum wage and reduced electricity prices.

IBK promises ''big projects'' for the years ahead, such as a fourth bridge for Bamako and a railway connection to Conakry.

Letters of intent have been signed in China, but the government does not have the capacity of Nigeria to pay China for infrastructure, and these programmes will not address the lack of development in Mali's north.

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