TIMBUKTU, Mali—The ancient desert town of Timbuktu, like much of northern Mali, is struggling to recover from the effects of a yearlong rebel occupation. Banks, schools, gas stations and other public services in the “city of 333 saints” are still inoperative but are expected to resume full operation as soon as Mali’s new head of state is sworn in on Sept. 4. The inauguration will nominally end the political drama of the past year and a half, but the deep-rooted crisis that gave birth to a self-declared independent state in Mali’s north will remain.
Timbuktu fell into rebel hands on April 1, 2012. Five days later, the Azawadi Declaration of Independence was signed by Bilal Ag Acherif, secretary-general of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a newly formed Tuareg separatist group in Mali. The document unilaterally declared the independence of close to 60 percent of Mali’s territory.
Nearly six months after the French-led Operation Serval liberated Mali’s northern territory from the MNLA and its Islamist allies, Mali has succeeded at least in maintaining its original boundaries, though the authority of the state continues to be challenged in Kidal, the birthplace of the revolt, and pockets of insecurity persist. In the second round of much-awaited presidential elections on Aug. 11, Malians across all regions and ethnic groups went to the polls and elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as their new head of state. This post-crisis presidential election put an end to 16 months of transition and was critical in restoring Mali’s constitutional order, which had ended with a military coup in March 2012 that plunged the country into a deep security, political and economic crisis.