BAMAKO: Leaders from across Africa and France watched the inauguration of Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in front of thousands of his supporters yesterday as the nation entered a new era of democracy after months of political chaos.
Idriss Deby of Chad, the Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara and Moroccan king Mohammed VI were prominent guests among numerous heads of state invited to welcome the new leader, elected by a landslide on August 11.
French President Francois Hollande took centre stage at the 55,000-seat March 26 Stadium here, with the ceremony drawing a line under military action launched by Paris in January to oust armed Islamists from northern Mali. “We are at the successful conclusion, because it is a victory, a big victory for Mali that we celebrate together today,” Holland said to loud applause.
The ceremony began with Hollande and Keita standing before the Malian flag for the national anthem before Hollande addressed the crowd ahead of musical and cultural performances and military marches.
“We have won this war (but) France has paid a price for the liberation,” said Holland, honouring seven French soldiers who died in Mali and paying tribute to troops who were wounded in combat. He also honoured Mali’s soldiers and the “brave Chadian soldiers” who recorded at least 38 deaths during the campaign.
“Today, Mali has carved out its destiny, it has chosen its president,” said Hollande, vowing that Paris would remain at its former colony’s side and help it on the road to reconciliation. Deby called for vigilance among the people of Mali and the region, warning that although “terrorists” had been defeated the “gangrene remains and can return at any moment”.
Keita pledged to unite Mali and end endemic corruption as he was sworn in on September 4 to lead the deeply-divided west African nation’s emergence from months of political crisis sparked by a military coup in March last year.