Experts on post-conflict reconstruction don’t talk much about the idea of honor. They emphasize worthy but bloodless concepts like good governance instead. Yet appealing to national pride can do wonders for a politician aiming to inspire the citizens of a war-damaged country. In Mali, for instance, it has worked for Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a veteran politician who is on course to be the country’s next president. He has promised to restore “the honor of Mali” after its collapse into civil war in 2012, during which Tuareg separatists and Islamists seized the north of the country, necessitating an intervention by France this January.
Last week, electoral officials announced that Keita had won 40 percent of votes in polls held last month. On Aug. 11, he faces a run-off with the second-place candidate, Soumaila Cisse. Cisse’s supporters insist that although he only finished with 20 percent in the first-round voting, he will pick up crucial votes from the backers of other candidates.
Nonetheless, Keita may soon have to turn his rhetoric into practical policymaking. His emphasis on national honor could be a durable rallying cry for reconciliation—or a source of friction both inside Mali and with external players, including United Nations peacekeepers tasked with helping extend the government’s authority. U.N. missions elsewhere in Africa, including those in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, have struggled to maintain good ties with the governments they came to support, becoming entangled in fights over human rights, corruption and sovereignty.