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from The Great Debate:

Democracy emerges in sub-Saharan Africa

The recent re-election of Zimbabwe’s 89-year old president Robert Mugabe, in office for 33 years, resembled a period not long ago when sham elections were the norm in sub-Saharan Africa. Peaceful transitions of power were almost unheard of.

Though the African Union disappointingly endorsed the elections as “honest and credible,” Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has now faced a spate of resignations and international condemnation over allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and state media control.

But Zimbabwe’s election is not representative of a continent that has made real progress toward democracy. Allegations of electoral tampering can seem almost anachronistic in an era of social media and instantaneous information-sharing. Technology has improved the caliber of elections all over the world -- including Africa.

Between mid-July and September 30, seven countries in the region -- with an aggregate population of 80 million -- are due to cast ballots. Not all these elections, though, will be free and fair. Some, like Zimbabwe’s, won’t represent the popular will. But an increasing number will be a sign of progress for a continent with a history of failed democratic traditions.

from Photographers' Blog:

The choice for Mali

Timbuktu, Mali

By Joe Penney

As Mali went to the polls July 28 for the first round of presidential elections meant to restore peace and stability in the vast, landlocked West African country, I traveled from the capital Bamako to the dusty northern city of Timbuktu.

Elections in northern cities like Timbuktu, the storied Saharan trading post and scholarly center around since the early 14th century, were always going to be difficult to organize. The city is roughly 1000 km (620 miles) by road from the capital Bamako, but it takes 20 hours along dirt tracks and extremely potholed pavements to get there. During the rainy season, flooding renders the dirt track from Douentza to Timbuktu nearly impassable.

from David Rohde:

A failure to lead at the U.N.

It is the world’s most important organization, yet remains one of the most dysfunctional.

This week a former United Nations employee described a pervasive culture of impunity inside the organization – one in which whistle-blowers are punished for exposing wrongdoing. James Wasserstrom, a veteran American diplomat, said he was fired from his job and detained by U.N. police – who searched his apartment and placed his picture on wanted posters – after he reported possible corruption among senior U.N. officials in Kosovo.

from Photographers' Blog:

Mali’s war: Far from over

Across Mali

By Joe Penney

Since French troops first arrived in Mali on January 11, 2013, I have spent all but one week of 2013 covering the conflict there. The first three weeks were probably the most intense I have ever worked in my life, and at times, the most frustrating. French troops hit the ground at a pace which far outstripped most journalists’ ability to cover events, and media restrictions forced journalists to focus on something other than fighting.

GALLERY: IMAGING MALI

Many other journalists have lamented the stringent media restrictions, which at a certain point meant that when the French and Malian took control of Gao, most of the journalists were blocked at a Malian army checkpoint in Sevare, more than 600km (370 miles) southwest. But after the initial push resulting in the seizure of nearly all of Mali’s territory, the jihadist groups opted for a more insurgent-like approach, targeting the Malian army with suicide bombs and surprise attacks in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.

from Full Focus:

Imaging Mali: Joe Penney

Since French troops first arrived in Mali on January 11, 2013, photographer Joe Penney has spent all but one week of 2013 covering the conflict. "The first three weeks were probably the most intense I have ever worked in my life, and at times, the most frustrating," Joe says in his personal account here.

from Full Focus:

Photos of the week

Our top photos from the past week.

from Full Focus:

Images of February

Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to poor health, French troops battled Islamist rebels in Mali and Jennifer Lawrence accepted the Oscar for Best Actress.

from Full Focus:

Photos of the week

Our top photos from the past week.

from Photographers' Blog:

The hero of Timbuktu

Timbuktu, Mali

By Benoit Tessier

In order to get to Timbuktu I chose the most arduous route, 800 kms (500 miles) of tracks in the desert, because it was the only way possible. Along the road I saw more French flags than during the Football World Cup in 1998. Two days later François Hollande was arriving in town.

The local VIPs, from the wealthiest families of Timbuktu, waited along with other figures of the city (or at least the last remaining few) for the arrival of the French president in front of the big mosque. Since April and the fall of Timbuktu into the hands of the MLNA rebels and Islamist groups, the town suffered and emptied itself over the past 10 months.

from Ian Bremmer:

C’est Mali: Intervention in a G-Zero world

I’ve just come back from a trip to France last week, where French officials told me that come 2014, they expect there will still be a significant number of French forces in the north of Mali.

That, however, does not make Mali “Afrighanistan,” no matter what The Economist might say. Unlike the American invasion of Afghanistan, the French military operation is a small intervention ‑ France says it has 4,000 troops in Mali ‑ by a country that has no appetite to do any more. There will be no state-building by the French; there will be no great mission to democratize its people and its values (partly because democracy already has a hold in Mali). There are few densely packed urban areas for rebels to stage hard-to-detect insurgent attacks.

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