On the eve of a major international donors' conference, the European Union announced Tuesday it was pledging 520 million euros ($674.8 million) over the next two years to help rebuild the west African country of Mali as a functioning state.
The announcement was made by Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, who said the investment would benefit Europe as well as Africa.
Until a military intervention by France, followed by the engagement of other African countries, many international officials were concerned that Mali's vast, ungoverned north was a haven for terrorist groups that, unhindered by government control, could feel free to plot attacks anywhere in the world.
"The support of the international community is essential to establish a Mali that is stable, democratic and prosperous," Barroso said after a meeting with the country's interim president, Dioncounda Traore.
The donors' conference, to be held Wednesday in Brussels, has been organized by French President Francois Hollande, along with Barroso and Traore. Officials say 103 international delegations, including 10 heads of state and government, will attend.
Officials in Mali have come up with a 4.3-billion-euro ($5.58-billion) multifaceted plan for what EU officials are calling "a total relaunch of the country." The plan includes rebuilding government institutions and the military, staging elections in July, holding dialogues with rebels in the north, rebuilding roads and schools, reviving the moribund economy so that people get paid for working, and more.
Mali wants to raise nearly half of the amount — 2 billion euros — from the international community. A quarter of that has now been pledged by the EU.
Traore, standing beside Barroso after their meeting, said the country's presidential vote would take place July 28, after months of speculation about the date. Traore also said that neither he nor any member of the transitional government would be a candidate for the presidency.
A field of about a dozen candidates is expected to take part in the election, which faces significant logistical and security challenges.
Some critics have questioned how the vote can go forward when hundreds of thousands of Malians remain displaced.
Radical jihadists have launched a series of suicide bombings across the north, raising fears for the safety of the vote, which will take place more than a year after a coup toppled the previous government.
Don Melvin can be reached at https://twitter.com/Don_Melvin