BAMAKO, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Ibrahim Boubarca Keita, Mali's newly elected president, faces daunting new jobs including peace talks with northern rebels, reform of the army and economic recovery to bring back to normal this West African country tortured by nearly two years of political-military turmoil and economic recession.
TOUGH PEACE TALKS AHEAD
Peace talks with Tuareg rebels in the north of the country must start within 60 days after Keita takes office, according to a preliminary cease-fire deal signed in June in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. Under the deal, the rebels ceased fire to let presidential election be conducted and the new authorities must negotiate on the administrative status of Azawad, the name that rebels give to the north of Mali, and strategies for its development.
For Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, president of the negotiating committee comprising two Tuareg rebel groups which had signed the agreement, Keita, as "a man of rigor", is the right leader who could and should help find a definitive solution to the crisis.
As a vice president of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Maiga told Xinhua that he was optimistic about the talks but reiterated his claim for "large autonomy", if not independence, that the Tuareg people had sought for decades.
"The crisis is not ready to be wiped out if either side does not have the will to bring out a definitive solution. If our claims are rejected, we can not stop the rebellion", said Maiga in an interview with Xinhua.
Keita, who won the election with 77.61 percent of the run-off votes thanks to his firmness on national unity, does not have much margin in dealing with the rebels. Many voters would want him to take an uncompromising position with the Touareg separatists, who were blamed for taking Mali into political disaster.
In March 2012, low rank officers unhappy with then-President Amadou Toumani Toure's handling of the rebellion launched a coup, and the following power vacuum allowed al-Qaida-linked militant to take hold of northern Mali.
The situation is even more complicated, because "the Ouagadougou agreement is not a good deal" to be based on to pursue further talks, said Issa Njiaye, a professor at University of Bamako.
"Only two fractions in the north signed on this deal. It fails to take into consideration the positions of non-Tuareg communities living in the north, or of Tuaregs who do not agree with the MNLA", he told Xinhua.
The professor proposed a national conference that involves all communities in the country in the process of negotiations.
NEW ARMY TO BE BUILT
Talks about reforming Mali's ill-equipped, insufficiently trained and over corrupted armed forces were on observer's lips since the military coup in March 2012. The coup leader, Captain Adamou Sanogo, remains influential despite a return to civilian leadership last year. [ One day before the release of official results of the presidential run-off, Sanogo, who led the coup in March last year, was promoted to a four-star general, a rank with right to status of head of state as well as immunity.
Another key player within the junta, Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, who serves as minister of territorial administration in Mali's interim government, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Reports said a deal has been reached for their early retirement or being sent abroad as ambassadors. In Kati, the military camp about 15 km to the north of Bamako where Sanogo's men stay, no comments could be reached from the former junta.
"It is a strategy to push them out of politics with exceptional advantages, to neutralize their political influence", commented Njiaye.
The removal of coup leaders gave Keita a clean ground for a new start, but a lot remain to be done for the reform and strengthening of the armed forces.
"The army is composed of ill-trained boys and corrupted officers. They are not able to fight combats, not to say defend the country. We should overhaul. It is a huge challenge, it needs a lot of courage", added Njiaye.
BIG AIDS TO REVIVE ECONOMY
Mali, with a territory of 1.24 million square kilometers and a population of 15.8 million, is one of the world's poorest countries. Nearly two thirds of the population are illiterate.
Mali's economy slumped by 1.2 percent in 2012. For 2013, the government has predicted a growth of 4.8 percent, considering that global recovery might boost demand for Mali's resources and return to peace might unlock international aids pledged at a conference in Brussels in May.
However, "the money is conditioned. The next government should make care analysis to ensure a proper use of it", warned Njiaye.
Keita might find himself obliged to divide ministries among his allies in gratitude to their support. But for the young generation, new faces would be welcome because most of those who have been on stage are tarnished and criticized.
To be inaugurated in middle September, Keita did not make any public appearance since the run-off last Sunday. At the headquarters of his campaign in the capital, a big tent has been set up since Wednesday for a speech by him. But no date is given till Thursday.