Two weeks after being sworn in, Mali's new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is to be officially inaugurated at a ceremony in Bamako at the start of a difficult journey to national recovery.
Idriss Deby of Chad, the Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara and Moroccan king Mohammed VI are prominent guests among 26 heads of state invited to welcome Mali's new president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected by a landslide on August 11.
A place of honor will be reserved for French President Francois Hollande, who sent in French troops to drive militant Islamists out of northern Mali.
Promise of dialogue
Keita's presidency started with a clarion call for Malian national reconciliation. At his swearing-in ceremony (4.9.2013) he said finding a solution for the Tuareg separatist question was his top priority. For the first time, Mali now has a minister for national reconciliation.
Within a few days of taking office, IBK – as Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is known – announced that there would be dialogue with representatives from the north, as laid down in the peace treaty between the Malian transitional government and the Tuareg groups.
On Wednesday, armed rebel factions from the north said they were committed to peace talks. The announcement came after a three day meeting in Bamako between the main Tuareg separatist organizations, including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and the United Forces of Patriotic Resistance (UFPR). But while the text of their agreement speaks of seeking "a solution though dialogue," UFPR spokesman Harouna Toure said it was merely "a good first step," rather than a peace deal.
Henner Papendieck is a former head of the Northern Mali program at the German aid organization GIZ. He says it is not enough for the Malian government simply to seek dialogue with the rebels.
"They do not represent the population. You will obviously have to go and retrieve the population from the refugee camps, so that they can say what they want; what their vision of the future looks like," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Malians were displaced by the fighting that followed a coup in Bamako in January 2012. The coup reignited a separatist Tuareg MNLA rebellion which was hijacked by militant Islamists. They, in turn, were driven out of northern Mali's cities by French and African Union forces.
Mali was regarded as a model for African democracy until a coup plunged it into crisis 18 months ago
Papendieck believes that the MNLA is not a movement genuinely rooted in the population, but a collection of ex-soldiers with a sprinkling of intellectuals. Much the same could be said of the Islamists and representatives of Arab groups also fighting for an independent Azawad. Papendieck said the attitude of the Malian population to these organizations is "Who are these people - they don't represent anything, or anybody, they just mean violence!"
The MNLA also have their reservations. Spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid said they have no objections if other groups, particularly civil society groups, take part in the talks. "But what we don't want is a repetition of past mistakes, we don't want to be offered, yet again, decentralization as the solution to all problems," he told DW.
The need for reconstruction
Assarid also insisted that Azawad had already attained a certain status. He was referring to an agreement between Bamako and the Tuareg rebels in April 1992, under which the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu would be known henceforth as Azawad. But the Tuaregs say the Malian government was half-hearted in its implementation of this peace agreement, which was the reason why they decided to join forces with the Islamist militants in the first place.
Mali also harbors other obstacles to peace and nascent democracy. The economy is in tatters and the country's infrastructure equally dilapidated. War in the north has destroyed roads and public buildings, such as schools and hospitals. Many northern Malians are either unemployed or have left the country. Keita has taken a first step towards recovery by appointing an economics expert, Oumar Tatam Ly, as prime minister. But Papendieck believes the international community, too, should roll up its sleeves and get involved.
"Mali will have to be a development aid priority for the next five to ten years," he said. It will take Mali that long to bring economic activity back to pre-March 2012 coup levels.