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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Konare - Mali's spin-master
The enormous pink building, meant to house Mali's national library, is still a hollow shell.
The huge complex is being financed by Libya's Colonel Gadaffi for a cost of several million US dollars. It cannot be opened because of structural faults the budget will not cover.
Mali's state television cameras, and more importantly, the cameras of French media travelling with their minister, zooms in on President Konare - a former archeologist - as he arrives in a modest Renault.
Any concerns about the usefulness and cost of this grandiose but flawed library project are deflected by Mr Konare's schoolboy smile as he emerges from behind the wheel.
Malian viewers, who know their president always moves about in speeding convoys of luxury vehicles that can block traffic for hours, are decidedly unimpressed.
More than half of Malians cannot read or write. Less than half the children attend school and the government claims it has no money to pay impoverished students bursaries to further their education, certainly no money for even a basic library in its one university.
But the foreign media and visitors are wowed by the theatrics of a president who despite 10 years in office is still not above driving his own car.
Ironically, that is an image that opposition leaders claim the foreign media and diplomats created.
It is also why, at the end of his second and final mandate, President Konare has been dubbed by Choguel Maiga, one of 24 candidates running in the presidential elections on 28 April, as "the merchant of illusions".
Mountaga Tall, another long-time political opponent, alleges that the president has "ruled only to please the international community".
Certainly President Konare has pleased the international community.
Diplomats and UN representatives praise him for putting to an end to six years of rebellion by the Tuareg people in Mali's desert north.
They applaud his efforts to end the illegal traffic of small arms in West Africa and to speed up regional integration during his two years as head of the Economic Community of West Africa (Ecowas).
Under President Konare, civil servants have been paid on time, Mali has kept up payments on its $3.3 billion debt and adhered to structural reforms - decentralisation and privatisation.
Largely thanks to cotton and gold, the Malian economy grew at about 5% between 1996 and 1998. Since then, it has stagnated.
And at the end of 10 years of democracy under Konare, Mali still ranks fifth from the bottom of Unicef's human development scale for 193 countries.
A recent World Bank study on corruption in Mali over the past decade contradicts much of the political and economic praise from the outside.
The report says corruption in Mali is "systemic and pernicious".
It describes Mali's democracy as a system in which the ruling party buys political support and votes, with high-level posts or with lucrative government contracts - many not tendered.
This report has made campaigning delicate for some of Mr Konare's would-be successors. Some of the front-running candidates were part of Mr Konare's inner circle for years, notably former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and former Finance Minister Soumaila Cissť.
Even political opponents have muted their criticism in their election campaigning.
One candidate, who boycotted the 1997 elections and then spent three months in prison, says: "We just want him to go. So we want to assure him that no one will bear a grudge or prosecute him for what he has done during his time in power".
But others do not mince their words. In a recent BBC interview, internationally acclaimed Malian musician, Salif Keita said he "hated" Mr Konare and described him as "the worst president Mali ever had".
This echoes complaints by student groups, opposition parties and trade unions that Konare used manipulation and intrigue to split and silence pressure groups in the country.
The majority of Malians, however, are more ambivalent.
There is widespread criticism on the streets of Mr Konare's predilection for expensive monuments, the growing poverty, opacity in public finances and for the crisis that has all gripped Mali's education system throughout his decade in office.
There is also recognition that despite its poverty, as a democracy the country has earned international recognition for its relative peace and stability, culture and glorious history.
All this, because the greatest legacy of President Alpha Oumar Konare may turn out to be his genius in selling not only himself but also his country to the rest of the world.
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