Questions of justice and accountability might seem backward-looking and even frivolous when one considers all the problems that Mali currently faces. But it is hard to imagine how Mali can ever truly "turn the page" without having the requisite tough conversations and soul-searching debates that lead to cultural shifts.
Impending legislative elections may provide the first real indication of whether Mali's relaunched democracy is on a new trajectory.
Though Mali's last elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré, was not technically a member of any political party, he managed to win elections and govern through "consensus politics." It was an approach to governance that built broad coalitions and made co-opting rivals relatively easy. More importantly, it removed any incentives for political parties and civil society groups to form opposition movements. With time, the incestuous political elite expanded well beyond politicians and government ministers to include civil society organizations, religious movements, even rebel groups, all of which were eager to join patronage networks designed to parcel out the spoils of the state.
Keita, who is firmly entrenched within Mali's oft-maligned political elite, and has been accused of corruption in the past, has expressed little interest in forming a "unity government." Earlier this month, he put forward a list of ministers that offered few posts to political opponents, potentially providing the political space and necessary incentives for a vibrant and viable opposition to emerge.
While recent presidential elections constitute a tremendous achievement for which Malians and the international community should be commended, a dose of skepticism is in order.
Though important, Keita's victory is only the first, and perhaps the easiest, step in a democratic transition that comes after years of deterioration. In fact, the regularity with which local and national elections were held over the last 20 years partially explains how Mali was so frequently diagnosed as a healthy democracy long after it was terminally ill.
The multitude of problems that led to Mali's collapse, however, did not stem from a lack of free and fair elections. Rather, they stemmed from a lack of strong institutions capable of holding government officials accountable and providing government services to the Malian people. Developing these institutions will take time, money, but most of all, political will at every level of Malian society.