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The euphoric welcome which President Francois Hollande received as he visited the desert city of Timbuktu, retaken from Islamist rebels, shows the gratitude of Malians for the French help in defeating Islamist forces. Hollande, accompanied by his ministers for defence, foreign affairs and development, was on a one-day trip to the Sahel nation to support French troops who in three weeks have ousted fighters allied with Al Qaeda from Mali’s main northern towns.
Mali has been in the news since Islamist forces started wreaking havoc in the country and enforced their rigid brand of Islam. As the insurgents approached the capital, with the Malian forces feeling helpless to stop their progress, the French troops descended and brought defeated them. The French intervention has been largely hailed because there was no alternative, and was supported by the US and the European Union. The costs for West Africa and the rest of the world would have been disastrous if the fundamentalist menace was not contained.
Now that Islamists have been defeated, the onus is on interim president Dioncounda Traore to take charge and consolidate on the gains. One way to secure the future of the country and avoid foreign intervention is by strengthening the government in Bamako. The fact that the militants were able to make significant advances and even come close to the seat of government speaks of the ill-preparedness of the government forces. The government of Traore must be supported with arms and millions of dollars in aid and African forces must be stationed until the rebel threat is completely eliminated.
Ideally, Mali’s neighbours or African forces should have taken the initiative of intervening in the country, and within weeks of the insurgency spreading its tentacles. But it was left to the former colonial power to do this duty, though with criticism from some quarters. What happened in Mali is a wake-up call to African leadership. They must realise that a delay in intervention can cause irreparable damage, and the costs of dilly-dallying will far outweigh its benefits.
Fortunately, the treasures of Timbuktu, a seat of Islamic learning, appear to have been saved from total destruction. Mali will be restored if peace prevails. The government in Bamako must muster the courage and collect enough resources to defeat the enemy. The international community is willing to help, but for that help to materialise, president Traore must prove that his government is capable of doing the job it is entrusted with.