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French President to Visit Mali Amid Successful Campaign

French President Francois Hollande will visit Mali on Saturday, while French troops continue to push Islamist militants out of the country’s northern region. France launched a military campaign last month in cooperation with the Malian army, successfully recapturing many of the rebel-occupied towns in the north. Hollande will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Development Minister Pascal Canfin during the Mali visit.

In the time since the campaign began, Hollande’s approval ratings have risen in France for the first time in half a year. Pollster BVA Opinion marked the president’s approval rate at 44 percent, 4 points higher than the 40 percent he earned in December, the lowest it had been during his term.

France’s motivation behind the Malian conflict are rooted in economic concerns as well, reflecting the long legacy of Françafrique. Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer, and a French-friendly government would provide value beyond the possible security threat of an Islamist-led state.

The first socialist president in decades, Hollande has been charged with leading France through the eurozone’s economic crisis. Though his handling of the Mali conflict has given him a ratings boost, his long-term approval depends on the economy’s recovery. Unemployment in France broke 10 percent in the closing months of last year.

“If we only hear talk about social issues, gay marriage, right to vote for foreigners, medically assisted procreation, the public opinion will backlash because people will say to themselves that these are diversions in order not to talk about the real issues,” said BVA Opinion Associate Director Céline Bracq.

French officials say that their forces in Mali will be extracted after the militants are removed, avoiding long-term involvement. The quick success of the campaign has earned Hollande respect for his government’s intervention, but the question remains whether that respect will translate into domestic approval in the months after Mali.

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