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May 19, 2013
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By Chris Simpson
Although the son-in-law of former president Moussa Traoré, Cheikh Modibo Diarra stayed away from Malian politics for most of his adult life.
Diarra was known instead as one of Mali’s brightest stars in the diaspora. He was a renowned astrophysicist, studying first in Paris and then at Howard University in the United States, before going on to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). At Nasa, Diarra was a leading interplanetary navigator, heavily involved with the Mars Pathfinder mission.
Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modiba Diarra is facing criticisms for a recent statement made in Burkina Faso about talks with rebels occupying northern Mali.
Diarra had said the Malian government was open to dialoguing with the rebel groups MNLA and Ansar Dine as they were Malians whose views needed to be heard.
Malians have adopted opposing views on the timing and essence of a planned national consultative conference to discuss the future of the country hit by rebel incursions in the north.
Leading the opposition to the conference is the United Front for the Protection of Democracy (FDR), the largest coalition of political parties, civil society organizations and labor unions in the country.
Prime Minister Cheikh Mdibo Diarra has said it is possible to dialogue with rebel groups in northern Mali, which has been under secessionists control for the better part of the year.
He said the Bamako government would hold talks with the radical Islamic movement Ansar Dine and the Touareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the MNLA, noting that these are Malians whose voices must be heard.
A senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Africa (ISS) has suggested that the political process of negotiation be continued as the military intervention is being planned for northern Mali.
Lori-Anne Therou-Benoni thinks that the threat of a military intervention could help speed up the negotiations, and noted, however, that the political and military processes could run parallel to bring a solution.
The international NGO Oxfam has warned that the crisis in Mali could get worse before it gets better, even with the anticipated international military intervention in the Islamist rebel-held north.
For months, relief agencies have highlighted a series of humanitarian problems in Mali, where about a quarter million people are internally displaced and a similar number seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
Burkina Faso Foreign Minister, Djibril Bassole, has urged Malian Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine to make good its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the crisis in northern Mali.
Bassole was speaking after he brokered an agreement with the rebel faction to allow humanitarian aid groups into its territory.
Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly has denied that he met representatives of the Ansar Dine Islamic movement in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, as reported by the media.
Coulibaly clarified to reporters in Bamako on Monday that though he was on a visit to the Burkinabe capital at the weekend, he did not meet with any member of the rebel groups Ansar Dine or the MNLA.
As preparations continue for the deployment of an international force in Mali, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has called for increased support to the sub-regional bloc, ECOWAS.
During talks with her Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde at the Conakry international airport, President Sirleaf noted that the Malian crisis also concerns the entire African continent.
A new report by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation says 17 sub-Saharan countries are among the 50 economies making the biggest improvement in business regulation for domestic firms.
The improvement has been going on since 2005.