Canadian troops arrive amid heightened tensions, raised hopes over Mali election

The arrival of Canadian troops in Mali is coinciding with raised hopes and heightened tensions over what is expected to be a decisive moment in the West African country's recent history: presidential elections later this month.

The elections, scheduled for July 29, are being hailed as an important milestone for the country, which has been riven by political unrest and growing instability marked by widening internal divisions and frustration at the government.

The hope among many Malians, as well as the international community, is that successful elections will begin to reverse the country's lagging fortunes and pave a path out of the current morass, which has endured for six long years.

However, preparations for the vote have been marred by fighting between different ethnic groups and attacks on government forces by Islamic jihadists, as well as more mundane challenges, such as registering voters.

There are also questions about whether the election will be free and fair, and whether any of the 24 candidates running for the presidency can truly bring the country together and begin to address its many deep-seated problems.

Mali was considered an example of democracy and stability in Africa until a separatist rebellion in the north of the country in 2012 threatened the capital, which was itself in turmoil after an army coup that ousted the president.