Plus ça change…the stark reality of Mali's bright new future

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Eighteen months ago Mediapart reported from Mali on its attempts to rebuild itself after France's military intervention to thwart an imminent terrorist takeover. At the time there was cautious optimism within the fractured African country that it could construct a more positive future. Now Mediapart has returned to Mali and the mood is very different. The cautious hopes about the future have largely given way to frustration amid the return of old-style politics and corruption. Meanwhile the country remains under the effective control of international institutions and foreign countries. As Thomas Cantaloube reports from the capital Bamako, the lack of real progress in Mali also symbolises a French vision of foreign affairs that is strong on military intervention but short on political content.

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It is autumn 2014 and Bamako is, as it was before, an African capital fallen into a torpor. The war? Terrorism? Tuareg separatists? It all seems far away, somewhere up there, in the distant north of Mali. Almost another country. And those promises of change after groups of jihadists seized part of the country in 2012 and after French troops intervened to remove them in 2013? What has remained of the “No going back!” chanted by Mali's political classes and their declared wish to rebuild a country that was more responsible, less corrupt and which listened to what its people wanted?

A year-and-a-half ago Mediapart published a series of articles about Mali's quest to reconstruct itself (see here and here). The unanimous feeling of local elites and their international partners was that, behind an appealing façade, the country had collapsed, rather like a building in which all that remains are its four walls. All seemed to agree that the institutions had to be reformed from top to bottom, that new leaders were needed and that trust had to rebuilt with the people. Everyone that Mediapart spoke to at the time – intellectuals, politicians, diplomats and civic society activists – made the same points and seemed optimistic that the crisis of 2012-2013 had served as a wake-up call to the nation. Even if no one used the expression word for word, everyone seemed to take on board the phrase used by Barack Obama's advisor and current mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”