BAMAKO- Mali’s first post-war prime minister began forming a government as the United States and France gave an early vote of confidence to the new administration, pledging support.
Career technocrat Oumar Tatam Ly was named as head of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government on Thursday, taking over from interim premier Diango Cissoko.
Ly will be expected to deliver on promises by the president to reunite a deeply divided nation and crack down on corruption.
The new administration got a significant boost Friday when the US State Department said Washington would resume development aid to Mali which was suspended after the ex-president was ousted in a coup last year.
The transition means “a democratically elected government has taken office in Mali,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that Washington would continue to assess the situation before renewing military assistance.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier welcomed Ly’s appointment.
“Alongside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the competence of Oumar Tatam Ly will be a valuable asset in confronting the challenges facing Mali and the Sahel,” he said in a statement.
“As Mali opens a new page it can count on France, which will be its partner, ally and friend,” he said in a statement.
Ly has spent most of the last two decades as a central bank functionary and is expected to rely on advisers with more political experience.
He has to choose colleagues for a cabinet charged with returning stability to a country upended by a military coup and Islamist insurgency last year.
He began consultations with potential ministers immediately after being appointed on Thursday, his aides told AFP. They would not however say who was in consideration for the major portfolios.
One member of Ly’s inner circle who has known the new premier for 20 years described him as a reserved and exacting man who disliked amateurism.
“I believe that the way the government operates could change,” the aide told AFP. “There will be accountability for results for all members of the government.
“Good governance will be the basis of every action of the new prime minister.”
Ly’s appointment got a cautious welcome in the mainstream media. The daily newspaper Le Soir describing the 49-year-old as “a choice in line with the wishes of Malians”.
The reaction on social networks was mixed, with some taking to Twitter to express doubts over the appointment — as one critic put it — of “an apolitical prime minister in a very political period”.
Others however were more generous.
“The nomination of this man who has had a career first will be a model for the youth of Mali and bodes well for a well-governed Mali…” World Bank economist and Malian politician Madani Tall tweeted.
Born in Paris, Ly quickly became a promising academic, gaining degrees in history and economics from prestigious French universities including the Sorbonne and ESSEC, one of Europe’s top business schools.
He began his career at the World Bank before moving via the general secretariat of the president of Mali to the Central Bank of West African States in 1994. He rose to become national director for Mali, then adviser to the governor.
While has never held high public office, Ly comes from a family deeply involved in west African politics and is considered a close confidante of Keita.
His father was the late novelist and political activist Ibrahima Ly, who fled Mali after being jailed and allegedly tortured under the regime of military dictator Moussa Traore.
Ly’s main task in the months ahead will be to deliver on the president’s pledge when he was sworn in on Wednesday to unite Mali and end endemic corruption.
But his daunting in-tray will also include tackling an economy battered by conflict; healing ethnic divisions in the north; and managing the return of 500,000 people who fled the Islamist insurgency.
Army officers angry at what they considered a lack of support to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in Mali’s vast desert north overthrew the democratically elected government of president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012.
In the ensuing chaos, the Tuaregs seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
They imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions, prompting worldwide condemnation.
In January, France launched a military offensive at Mali’s behest to oust the Islamists.
The country’s return to democracy has allowed France to begin withdrawing some of the 4,500 troops it sent in.