Mali: ECOWAS announces tough measures to force Bamako’s return to civilian rule

By Kent Mensah
Posted on Monday, 10 January 2022 16:33

Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of two military coups and new interim president, walks during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako
Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of two military coups and new interim president, walks during his inauguration ceremony in Bamako, Mali June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Amadou Keita

West African leaders have decided to push back hard this time to compel coup leaders in Mali to return the country to civilian rule. They have seized power since August 2020.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) wants Mali to hold elections next month to restore civilian governance, however, the military junta is now proposing a five-year transition plan, which has been described by the 15-member bloc as “unacceptable”.

After an extraordinary summit in Ghana’s capital Accra on Sunday, the West Africa regional bloc resolved that all members should close their land and air borders with the landlocked country after the military leaders reneged on promise to hold a poll in February 2022.

The consequences of the people suffering will lead to revolt. And when the people revolt, no army can stop the people, assuming they decided to revolt against the Malian military leaders.

Reading the 17-point strongly worded communiqué ECOWAS president Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said the leaders have “regrettably observed the failure of the transition authorities in Mali to take the necessary steps for the organisation of the presidential elections on 27 February 2022 contrary to the agreement reached with ECOWAS Authority on 15 September 2021.”

According to him, the new timetable “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage.”

Sever economic ties

To this end, ECOWAS has decided to sever economic ties with the French-speaking country effective immediately. Other punitive measures imposed on the transitional authorities in Mali include the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and recalling their ambassadors from Bamako.

Additional sanctions include:

  • Withdrawal of all ECOWAS ambassadors from Mali;
  • Suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Mali, with the exception of the following products: essential consumer goods; pharmaceutical products; medical supplies and equipment, including materials for the control of Covid-19; petroleum products and electricity;
  • Freezing of assets of the Republic of Mali in ECOWAS central banks;
  • Freezing of assets of the Malian state and state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks;
  • Suspension of Mali from all financial assistance and transactions from all financial institutions.

“The authority instructs all community institutions to take steps to implement these sanctions, which will be implemented with immediate effect,” concluded the regional body.

Mali is too small a country to call the bluff of the world. I don’t see how they can survive it. So my advice is that the coup leaders should heed to this.

A security expert, Adam Bonaa, says the sanctions are tough enough to bring about change in Mali.

“It will have a far-reaching consequences for the leaders in Mali. If it’s anything to go by, it will be safe to say that other people who might want to truncate democracy within the sub-region will learn something out of it,” Bonaa tells The Africa Report.

He adds that it is a necessary evil to nip coup détats in the bud in the sub-region. “The consequences of the people suffering will lead to revolt. And when the people revolt, no army can stop the people, assuming they decided to revolt against the Malian military leaders. The people will suffer, but unfortunately, I’ll support these sanctions because if that is not put in place I don’t think any level-headed person within the sub-region would want to see the sub-region becoming another location where every six months there is a military takeover.”

Backup plan?

Despite the tough sanctions, Bonaa advises ECOWAS to have a backup plan, such as declaring the coup leaders “criminals” in the event the transitional authorities in Mali harden their stance.

“I wouldn’t want to see ECOWAS going in to use force to dislodge the military leaders there. That will lead to bloodshed. So what can be done is to try and isolate […] Mali and to probably declare them as criminals who should face the International Criminal Court,” he says, adding: “Mali is too small a country to call the bluff of the world. I don’t see how they can survive it. So my advice is that the coup leaders should heed to this.”

Honest dialogue?

Perhaps ECOWAS would do better to resort to “honest dialogue” to win the trust of both the people of Mali and the coup leaders, says Innocent Badasu, an expert on sub-regional issues.

“It’s important that ECOWAS will take stock from a very honest position to begin to carefully and cautiously review its interventions in the many attempts Mali seem to enter in flames… there is a chance that the Malian government will not budge to the ECOWAS demands and I’m afraid that we’ll get to a situation that there will be an entrenched position in a manner where the Malian military leaders will also be taking reprisal actions to kind of respond to ECOWAS,” Badasu tells The Africa Report.

“I do believe that the manner that ECOWAS is going [about it] is not quite helpful. It’s important to continue to use an honest dialogue, however painful and frustrating that must be. Otherwise sanctions by themselves – closure of borders and de-recognition of Malian ambassadors in West Africa – may rather escalate the situation and may not bring the immediate results that we are looking for,” he adds.

He also argues out that ECOWAS’ continued use of threat could erode all the gains made in the past.

“Both sides are quite aware of how much they can bite. ECOWAS knows its strength and the Malian military know their limit. And they will push towards that limit.”

The Colonel Assimi Goita-led interim government is vowing to retaliate by closing borders with ECOWAS member states and recall its ambassadors.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options