IN THE past 18 months, Mali, an arid, landlocked nation of 16 million people in the heart of West Africa, has seen more than its fair share of troubles and traumas.
An ethnic uprising uprooted the social fabric and, in the months that followed, a sect of radical Islamists with ties to al-Qaeda joined forces with ethnic Tuareg separatists to carve up the country’s north, imposing sharia law and destroying the ancient city of Timbuktu in the process. Then came the military coup in Bamako, the capital; the January arrival of French military troops to stop Islamist advances in the north; and the frantic flight of some 200,000 refugees seeking asylum anywhere but home. But after all of these upheavals, Mali, a country without a parliament and run since March 2012 by an unelected, makeshift government, has somehow emerged from a surprisingly peaceful election that shows promise for future, if not immediate, stability.
Of course, its receipt of billions of dollars in international aid depended on an election that at least simulated the democratic process. The United States encouraged a quick election, and France, which still has some 3,200 troops on the ground, was adamant about a July ballot. As several of Mali’s politicians have noted, portions of the process were rushed and even premature. The New York Times reports, for instance, that the 7 million citizens registered to vote are those who were on a 2009 census, which doesn’t take into account those who have come of age or have fled the country since then.
These are legitimate complaints that any true democracy should address, and we remain skeptical about the long-term success of an election carried out in such volatile circumstances. Now that it’s done, however, the election’s immediate aftermath seems to suggest stability on which Mali can build itself into the thriving democracy it can, and should, be.
The election’s victor, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is a former prime minister who often invokes the memory of Charles de Gaulle and has vowed to restore Mali’s “dignity” in the same way the former French president reconfigured his own country after World War II. The truth is that Mr. Keita’s task is even more daunting, as he must restore not an abstraction but the entirety of a nation’s infrastructure, starting with the impending elections for Mali’s legislature. After that, the country’s warring factions still need to be reconciled, and civilian oversight of the military must be established. Those things, Secretary of State John F. Kerry noted in a statement last week, will “ensure the best possibility of consolidating this progress.”
Mr. Kerry is right to suggest that nothing is yet certain. After all, as crucial as Mali’s election was, it was only the beginning.