BAMAKO (AFP) – President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pledged on Wednesday to unite Mali and end endemic corruption as he was sworn in to lead the deeply-divided west African nation’s emergence from months of political crisis and conflict.
Keita, a former prime minister, began his five-year term in the presence of outgoing transitional leader Dioncounda Troare and more than 1,000 Malian politicians, diplomats and military personnel as he took the presidential oath at a ceremony in the capital Bamako.
“I will not forget for a moment that you put me where I am to take care of all aspects of the life of our nation. National reconciliation remains the most urgent priority,” he said after taking an oath to preserve the constitution, democracy and the law.
Mali’s constitutional court confirmed Keita’s landslide victory three weeks ago in the August 11 presidential run-off against former minister Soumaila Cisse after an election campaign focused on law, order and ending the culture of impunity in public office.
“I want to reconcile hearts and minds, restore true brotherhood between us so that all the different people can play their part harmoniously in the national symphony,” Keita said to huge applause.
The 68-year-old veteran of the political scene in Bamako is charged with leading the country out of a 17-month political crisis sparked by a military coup.
Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012.
In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups who imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.
Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and prompted France to launch a military offensive at Mali’s behest to oust the Islamists in January.
The country’s return to democracy has allowed France to begin withdrawing some of the 4,500 troops it had sent in.
“France welcomes the new president of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on the occasion of his swearing-in ceremony,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot in a statement.
“Granted a strong legitimacy with the outcome of the recent elections, the new authorities can now meet the needs of the people of Mali and the challenges facing Mali. France is ready to give its full support to President Keita.”
The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production in the country.
His election in the first presidential polls since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of last year’s coup.
His daunting workload over the coming months will include tackling an economy battered by political chaos and war, as well as healing ethnic divisions in the north and managing the return of 500,000 people who fled an Islamist insurgency.
Corruption has tainted government institutions and the military in Mali since it gained independence from France in 1960 and the country remains in the bottom third of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
A 2012 report by the Washington-based think-tank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Foundation report spoke of “state complicity with organised crime” as the main factor enabling the rise of armed Islamist rebel groups in the north.
“I will put an end to impunity, to the special privileges that are at the heart of the perversion of our judicial and state institutions,” Keita vowed.
“As president, I will ensure the proper management of public funds. I will put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure transparency and efficiency of public spending. No one will get rich illegally off the back of the Malian people.”