Voters have been casting their ballots in Mali in presidential polls aimed at reuniting the country and ending 18 months of conflict. There is a lot riding on the outcome.
International donors have promised billions of dollars as part of a peace deal which must include a successful election, and a stable Mali is seen as crucial for the wider Maghreb and Sahel region.
We want to be able to have a voice and decide for ourselves and select who we want to lead this country .... What we have seen today, in terms of crowds, we have never seen it before so even though this is a post-crisis election but it may be by far the most democratic one we will have in terms of participation.
Mali is a landlocked West African nation, straddling the south of the Sahara. It is a poor country, but had built up a reputation for political stability.
That ended at the beginning of last year, when Tuareg separatists rebelled against the government.
In March, a group of soldiers staged a coup over the government's handling of the rebellion. The power vacuum allowed armed groups - some linked to al-Qaeda - to take vast swathes of territory in the north.
In May, rebel groups merged and declared northern Mali an Islamic state.
France sent in troops in to drive them back, and now these forces are slowly being replaced by UN peacekeepers.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, stated in January: "The threat is a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe."
French President Francois Hollande added: The "terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists" in northern Mali "show a brutality that threatens us all."
Tuareg separatists have agreed to allow balloting in northern areas which are largely under their control.
But is Mali ready for elections? Or is it bowing to pressure from the West? And why is Mali's election so important to the world?
Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, is joined by guests: Coumba Bah Traore, the founder of SOS Democratie, a civil society organisation set up to engage Malians in the democratic process; Sylvain Touati, a research fellow at the Africa Programme at the French Institute for International Relations; and Michael Amoah, a research associate at the Centre for African studies.
"It is quite essential that democratic governance [is] assumed in this time so that some form of democracy is in place that would now provide a safe haven for citizens to begin to respond to some kind of institution that they have themselves voted for. It was quite risky for the military limbo to keep lingering on for that length of time. So I think it is timely for this election to take place."
- Michael Amoah, a research associate at the Centre for African studies
Source: Al Jazeera