BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's new president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took the oath of office Wednesday, promising to help unify the country after a rebellion, a coup and an Islamic insurgency plunged what was one of West Africa's most stable democracies into near ruin.
Keita emerged as the overwhelming victor of the first election held since mutinous soldiers overthrew longtime President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012. In the aftermath, al-Qaida-linked jihadists seized power across northern Mali and were only ousted by a French-led military offensive earlier this year.
After taking the oath of office in front of an enormous Malian flag, Keita thanked the international community for its support in retaking the north from the hands of extremists and vowed to prioritize national unity.
"I swear before God and the Malian people to loyally protect the republican regime, to fulfill my functions in the best interest of the people, to preserve democratic gains, to protect national unity, the independence of the homeland and Mali's territorial integrity," Keita said.
While he officially became Mali's president on Wednesday, an inauguration celebration is to take place on Sept. 19. World leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, are expected to take part.
Mali's constitution requires that the swearing-in ceremony takes place two weeks after official results are released.
Keita won Mali's Aug. 11 presidential runoff with 77.6 percent of the vote. His opponent, Soumaila Cisse, conceded defeat even before those results were announced.
Many voters said they thought Keita was best equipped from an initial field of 28 candidates to reunite the nation after more than a year of turmoil. Once he names his government, though, he will have only two months to resume talks with the northern Tuareg rebel group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, the name they call their homeland.
In addition to the simmering rebellion in the north, Keita also faces the tasks of tackling corruption and ethnic tensions, and rebuilding the country's economy.
And even as he tries to move past Mali's coup era, there are lingering ghosts: The coup leader Amadou Sanogo was recently promoted from captain to four-star general, making him the highest-ranking military official even after the recent democratic election.
"After a deeply troubling period, Mali stands at a crossroads," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "President Keita's actions — or inactions — could usher in greater respect for human rights or a return to the problems that caused Mali's near-collapse last year."