One year on, Mali is still struggling to implement a fragile peace deal aimed at ending a cycle of internal uprisings and allowing the government to combat the growing threat of Islamist militants.
Periodic violence continues in the north, carried out by Islamist militants who have also staged a series of high profile assaults in Burkina Faso, Mali and Ivory Coast.
Political analysts say confidence has steadily been eroded, slowing peace initiatives on the ground.
Gao, widely seen as the safest city in northern Mali, is a major base for France’s anti-terrorism force Barkhane which operates across five Sahel countries.
But residents here say they have yet to see changes on the ground and insecurity persists.
“A year after the peace deal, nothing has changed especially when it comes to security. You cannot travel between Bamako and Gao because there is no road. There is nothing. We want to see the benefits of the peace deal but we haven’t seen anything so far,” said Moussa Maiga, a Gao resident.
The deal signed by both pro and anti-government Tuareg-led militias, was meant to bring stability to the desert region.
But some of the militants linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have staged a series of high profile attacks in Mali and beyond this past year.
“Since the singing of the peace deal, many things were done on paper and commissions were set, but people on the ground haven’t enjoyed the gains of this agreement. There’s been a slow process in implementing the peace deal,” said Mohamoudou Djeri Maiga, vice-president of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
The United Nations, which currently has troops on the ground under the MINUSMA mission has voiced concerns that the deadlock could benefit jihadist groups still active in the region.
“It’s clear that all are involved in the peace deal, and there are many: those who signed the agreement, the mediation team, the international community, at this point, no one is satisfied with the implementation of the peace deal. Everybody would have wanted it to go faster,” the UN mission chief in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif Chief said.
In Timbuktu, a city that fell under control of rebels, then jihadists in 2012 before being taken back by the Malian and the French army, life is back to normal, but memory of the occupation remains fresh and the economy struggles to recover.
“I suffered a lot during the crisis because business stopped. Before we could take people across and business was good. We used to be able to make a little money to take care of our families, but now, everything has stopped because of the crisis, things are bad,” said Timbuktu tour guide, Abrahamane Maine.
“The occupants are gone but we still live in fear, because we cannot go anywhere. We cannot even travel outside the city. It’s really bad,” said Abdoulaye Toure, a teacher.
The opposition blames the government for the lack of progress.
“We have a government that doesn’t seem to realise the gravity of the situation in which the country is. That’s why it does not move, it is in stagnation, that’s why we sink. We should not be waiting for events to happen before we can take action. We need a global movement, a comprehensive approach that addresses the serious challenges the country is facing,” said Tieble Drame, who heads the opposition party Parena.
Contacted by Reuters, the government declined to comment.