President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Wednesday pledged to unite Mali as he was sworn in to lead the deeply-divided west African nation's emergence from months of political crisis and conflict.
Keita, a former prime minister, began his five-year term in the presence of outgoing transitional leader Dioncounda Troare and more than 1 000 Malian politicians, diplomats and military personnel as he took the presidential oath at a ceremony in the capital Bamako.
“I swear before God and the people of Mali to faithfully preserve the republican regime, to respect and uphold the constitution and the law, to fulfil my duties in the best interests of the people, to preserve the democratic gains, to ensure national unity, independence of the country and the integrity of the national territory,” he said.
Mali's constitutional court confirmed Keita's landslide victory three weeks ago in the August 11 presidential run-off against former minister Soumaila Cisse.
“I pledge on my honour and to make every effort for the achievement of African unity,” Keita said, raising his right hand.
Keita, 68, a veteran of the political scene in Bamako, is charged with leading the country out of a 17-month political crisis sparked by a military coup.
Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012.
In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by al-Qaeda-linked groups who imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.
Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and prompted France to launch a military offensive to oust the Islamists in January.
Mali's return to democracy has allowed France to begin withdrawing some of the 4 500 troops it had sent in.
“France welcomes the new president of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on the occasion of his swearing-in ceremony,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot in a statement released in Paris.
“Granted a strong legitimacy with the outcome of the recent elections, the new authorities can now meet the needs of the people of Mali and the challenges facing Mali. France is ready to give its full support to President Keita.”
The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production.
His election in the first presidential polls since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of last year's coup.
He described his immediate goals in his first public address after his victory as “rebuilding the rule of law, the recovery of the army, education, the fight against corruption, economic and social development”.
His daunting workload over the coming months will include tackling an economy battered by political chaos and war, as well as healing ethnic divisions in the north and managing the return of 500 000 people who fled an Islamist insurgency.
Global advocacy campaign group Human Rights Watch urged Keita to take concrete steps to strengthen the rule of law, hold rights abusers to account and address endemic corruption.
“After a deeply troubling period, Mali stands at a crossroads. President Keita's actions - or inactions - could usher in greater respect for human rights or a return to the problems that caused Mali's near-collapse last year,” said senior West Africa researcher Corinne Dufka.