Corruption is still the key problem. Corruption is what caused the latest Tuareg rebellion in January 2012, as well as the army coup (by less corrupt lower-ranking officers) three months later. The ensuing chaos, and revelations about how extensive the corruption was, shook up foreign donors, many of whom have come to believe that the ample foreign aid Mali had long received was much less effective than was thought. Despite all the talk of dealing with corruption since early 2012, the corrupt practices are still around. For example, a particularly effective new finance minister was dismissed recently, apparently because his skill at blocking attempts to plunder the government budget earned him too many enemies at the top. The French trained political and economic elite in Mali are quite skilled at stealthy stealing and maneuvering uncooperative officials out of the way. In short, it is still easier to be corrupt than clean.
While the foreign aid is appreciated, some of the new ideas that accompany the aid cause problems. Some aid groups are agitating for the government to pass laws criminalizing slavery. While the Mali constitution bans slavery (a clause inserted to appease foreign donors) laws making slavery illegal were never passed. So over 200,000 Malians (mostly black Africans) continue in bondage, mostly in the north where their owners tend to be Tuareg or Arab. The slaveholders insist that this is all an ancient tradition that is being misinterpreted by foreigners. But it is slavery and it still exists throughout the Moslem world. The anti-slavery movement, which is backed by a large minority of Malians, may encounter difficulty in the north where the Tuareg majority is still pushing for autonomy. That would probably include more tolerance for slavery.
August 21, 2013: Two Islamic terrorist factions have merged to create a new group, Al Mourabitoun. The new group has already been operating, largely in Niger, where it recently carried out several daring attacks (including a prison break in June and twin bombings in May). One of the merger partners is an al Qaeda splinter group led by
Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed). Belmokhtar has a reputation for always escaping the many efforts to kill or capture him. Belmokhtar was number two or three in the North African al Qaeda organization (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) but formed his own splinter group in late 2012.
AQIM had members from all over North Africa but mostly from Algeria and while defeated in Mali, it was not destroyed there. The other component of Al Mourabitoun comes from MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians).
MOJWA is unique among Islamic terrorist groups because its leadership is black African. Mauritanian security forces have made it very difficult for MOJWA to operate in Mauritania and that’s why so many MOJWA members moved to Mali in the last year. Some are still there and not looking forward to the 1,800 Mauritanian troops who have been promised but have not yet joined the Mali peacekeeping force.
This merger was another aftereffect of the French led invasion that began last January. Within months hundreds of experienced Islamic terrorists scattered and slowly reorganized via email, cell phones, and hand-carried documents. Recruiting took a big hit as the operations in Mali this year showed once more that Islamic radicals cannot stand up to professional soldiers and their governing methods tend to turn the population against them. This caused over a thousand AQIM members to desert, while nearly 500 were killed in the Mali fighting. Hundreds of local Islamic terrorists (Tuaregs, MOJWA, and other black Africans from countries in the region) stayed in northern Mali and continue to try carrying out terrorist attacks. There are a few larger groups of these Islamic terrorists still wandering around the far north but they were hunted by French aircraft and hit with smart bombs until most fled to neighboring countries. Some of these Islamic terrorists have renounced their alliance with al Qaeda and sought to evade attack by just being another group of Tuareg separatists. Most of the still functional Islamic terrorists have reformed in Niger, Tunisia, and Libya. Many individual terrorists made their way to Syria, which is the next-big-thing for murderous religious radicals.
August 15, 2013: The second round (runoff) of the presidential elections was won by former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who received 77.6 percent. Only 45 percent of eligible voters participated but foreign poll watchers determined that the vote was relatively clean and ultimately fair.
August 14, 2013: Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 2012 coup, has been promoted to lieutenant-general. Two months ago Sanogo apologized for his actions and promised to help repair the damage. After the French invasion last January Sanogo and his fellow mutineers kept their weapons and managed to hold onto some power. The mutineers also quickly agreed to restore civilian government. This past February Sanogo was appointed head of a military reform committee. The mutineers opposed the use of ECOWAS troops to oust the rebels in the north but did nothing to interfere. In effect, the mutineers have just stepped back and never surrendered. For his good behavior and decision to make himself useful, Sanogo has been promoted. Sanogo remains an opponent of corruption and if he stays clean he will always have some allies at the top.
August 10, 2013: Two rival northern rebel organizations (one Tuareg and the other Arab) have agreed to settle their differences and reconcile.
August 7, 2013: The presidential elections saw no one getting over half the votes. So the two leading candidates will run in a second round of voting. This will involve Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (who received 39.8 percent of the vote) and Soumaila Cisse (19.7 percent). Some $4 billion in foreign aid is being withheld until a new president is fairly elected. This incentive appears to be working.