Over the last three weeks, France has helped Malian government forces halt an Islamist rebel advance and recapture their urban strongholds. Mali is now under pressure to renew its democratic credentials.
Yehia Ag Mohmed Ali finds it difficult to contain his impatience. "We can't wait until the war is over before we start preparing for the next elections. We've already started," he said. Appointed minister for tourism in the interim cabinet of Prime Minister Diango Cissoko, Yehia Ag Mohmed Ali believes there is no time to be lost. Progress must be made at the political level, parallel to the military intervention, he insisted.
Political life in Bamako has virtually been a standstill for almost a year since the March 2012 coup. Suddenly, nothing was possible anymore. An interim government had to be installed so that free and credible elections could be organised.
Officials failed to make much headway with the election plans mostly because the interim government was largely preoccupied with itself. In early December Cissoko's predecessor Cheick Modibo Diarra was literally removed from office overnight by coup leader Amadou Haya Sanogo.This was seen as an indication of the weakness of the interim government.
Biometric voter registration for Mali
But since the start of France's military intervention on January 11, there have been signs of progress in Bamako. "We are in the process of introducing biometric voter cards," said Yehia Ag Mohamed Ali. They are all supposed to be printed by April, but there are a number of unresolved problems. "The electoral register is incomplete, refugees need to be registered," said Annette Lohmann, head of the Bamako office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank.
Then there is also the question of the displaced persons from Mali who fled to safety in neighboring countries when the Islamist insurgency started. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, around 200,000 Malian refugees have sought sanctuary abroad, mostly in Mauritania and Burkina Faso. It is unlikely all will return home in the foreseeable future.
Elections by the end of July
Yet there is enormous pressure to hold the elections as soon as possible. At the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore said he wanted the poll to take place before July 31, 2013. This date for elections was also included in a political road map approved by Mali's parliament a few days ago.
Badie Hima, resident director of the National Democratic Institute in Mali, believes this political road map is extremely important. The country may be in the throes of overcoming a great crisis, but it is still nonetheless determined to restore constitutional order. "We will show that Mali is not a failed state," Hima said. "Freedom may have vanished from the north, but once the region is retaken, that will all change very quickly," he added.
Absence of foreign aid
The road map and the upcoming elections are also the means to another important end. Many donors cut aid to Mali after the coup, a catastrophe for a country dependent on foreign assistance. But the money could soon start flowing again. "Our partners will return, bringing help with them," said Hima hopefully.
That will not solve all the country's problems. Mali's descent into the abyss has caused untold suffering for many of its citizens.
A year ago, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a secular Tuareg nationalist movement, carried out a massacre in the north of the country at the beginning of the crisis. Dozens of soldiers and civilians were killed. Islamists and terrorists then looted houses, recruited minors as child soldiers and raped women.
The strict implementation of sharia law was hell on earth for many local residents and has lost none of its power to inspire fear and dread.
Badie Hima is therefore calling on the government to introduce a programme of reconciliation and forgiveness. "The crisis is having an influence on Malian society, on the various ethnic groups and on the relations between those groups. We must help people to reconcile their differences," he said.