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Mali: From Democratic Model to Terrorist Hot Spot

French troops prepare in N'Djamena, Chad, before heading to the Malian capital Bamako, on Jan. 11
French troops prepare in N'Djamena, Chad, before heading to the Malian capital Bamako, on Jan. 11Photograph by R.Nicolas-Nelson/ECPAD/AP Photo

For 20 years, Mali has been considered a democratic model in West Africa, praised for its relative economic growth and social stability. But in 2012 much of this progress was squandered by a military coup, dismissal of a president, and forced resignation of a prime minister, as well as a surge in the Tuareg separatist rebellion and an al-Qaeda-linked insurgency that has effectively carved out its own country in northern Mali.

There’s some positive news. A new prime minister, Django Sissoko, is now in place along with a “unity government” representing all regions of the country. On Dec. 21, rival rebel groups—the Islamist Ansar Dine (AD) and the Tuareg separatist Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA)—vowed to end hostilities in the north and possibly engage in talks with the interim government. There’s a planned United Nations intervention in the works to rid Mali of what is now the “largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,” according to Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs.