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March 12, 2014 AT 7:02 AM
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won power with a pledge to resurrect a "strong and united" Mali from the ashes of a war against Islamists militants, yet six months later he has done little to heal the wounds of the conflict. Elected with a reputation as a strongman, Keita has focused on restoring control over Mali's army after a March 2012 coup. The putsch plunged Mali into chaos that allowed Islamists to seize the north, forcing France to intervene in its ex-colony. But the conservative 69-year-old, known by his initials IBK, has not addressed the grievances of Tuareg separatists whose uprising sparked the conflict nor salved the ethnic hatred it left behind. Restoring stability to north Mali is a crucial step in stamping out al Qaeda cells and traffickers operating in the arid Sahel belt south of the Sahara. With $4 billion in Western aid flowing into Mali for reconstruction, France and its allies have a lot at stake.