*Economic, social, cultural assistance as well as economic cooperation mark transition to elected gov’t in Mali*
It was just an end note to the news last week that the King of Morocco attended the inauguration of the new president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK). While this may seem of little consequence when compared to the horror of the previous takeover of Mali by militant Islamists, it in fact is a very important lesson in how to bring a country back to a track that puts it on the road to human, economic, and political development.
Mali was once a darling of Western analysts of democracy in Africa. Its rapid decline demonstrated how fragile and shallow those roots were. It is also a lesson in how a major power, in this case France, working with armed forces from neighboring countries, could provide a military option that would not restore the former rulers but open up the possibilities of elections that could begin a process of stabilizing and advancing Mali’s transition.
This is not to say that it is an easy road. Issues of ethnic, religious, and regional strife continue to challenge the new leadership. However, maybe this time the new government will actually move forward with long-promised reforms and negotiations to build a more inclusive and sustainable political system.
In his speech at the inauguration, the King did not overlook the difficult challenges in Mali’s healing. He noted three steps as crucial: reconciliation among Malians of all political stripes; sustainable reconstruction, including reorganizing development institutions and infrastructure; and reorganizing the religious domain.
“All of this is to be carried out while fully upholding the sovereignty and the free choice of Malians.”
The critical subtext for the King is that the international community must pay close attention to actions that Mali must take to avoid the mistakes of the past and move resolutely towards a more equitable and humane future.
Morocco to Lend Support to Mali’s Future Development
The King moved quickly beyond words to actions. He noted that Morocco will support human development programs, “particularly in the areas of executive training, basic infrastructure, and health.”
Morocco has already set up a multi-disciplinary military field hospital in Bamako, which is supported by medical and humanitarian emergency assistance. He was accompanied by key business leaders who will expand traditional ties with the private sector by promoting trade and investment between the countries.
Perhaps equally critical, particularly in the context of both the mall massacre in Kenya this week and the takeover of northern Mali by Islamic militants, who are still a force in the region, are the King’s efforts to assist Mali in terms of shared cultural and religious values. He said that “Mali’s unique cultural features have always constituted a major component of the Islamic heritage and of the African identity.” He noted that efforts that did not give “due consideration to the spiritual and cultural dimension [of Mali’s society] will…be doomed to failure.”
King Mohammed mentioned in particular the need to “repair the material damage suffered and to treat symbolic wounds through the rehabilitation of mausoleums, the restoration and preservation of manuscripts and the achievement of socio-cultural revival,” many of which were destroyed or ravaged by the extremists, maligning and destroying hundreds of years of Islamic heritage in Mali, including UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The King noted that “Islamic customs and practices in Morocco and Mali are the same. They are nurtured by the same precepts of moderation and of the ‘middle-of-the-road’ approach. Both countries embrace the same values of tolerance and openness to others, and this represents the bedrock of the spiritual bond between our two countries.”
King Mohammed announced that over the next few years, some 500 Malian Imams would be educated and trained in Morocco in the Maliki rite, which is characteristic of Morocco and many of its neighbors.
The Maliki rite is renowned for its inclusion and rejection of excommunication, which was a key weapon of the extremists. In this way, the King laid down a marker that Morocco would work diligently to oppose inroads of extremism in the practice of Islam, and devote resources to maintaining a middle path of tolerance and acceptance.
The speech and Morocco’s actions are not surprising to those who have watched Morocco re-establish its role as a leader in Africa. Since Morocco has long ties to Africa through commercial and cultural links, the King clearly believes that South-South relations are a vital component of Morocco’s future. As he remarked, “It is in keeping with a long-established, immutable tradition of cooperation with sub-Saharan sister nations that Morocco intends to shoulder its historical responsibility in this regard.”
He concluded with a promise to Mali that could well be the banner for Morocco’s relationships with Africa, “The dream of a peaceful Mali has now come true. In this new chapter of Malian history which is being written today, Morocco will remain a faithful, committed partner.”