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The tug-of-war between Ecowas and the Malian authorities is rapidly escalating. Furthermore, Bamako’s response is just as harsh as the measures decided by the West African organisation on 9 January in Accra. “Mali’s government vigorously condemns these illegal and illegitimate sanctions,” said government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga on national television that evening.
Dressed in uniform, he also announced that ambassadors accredited in Ecowas member countries would be recalled along with the closure of land and air borders with these countries. “The government of Mali regrets that West African sub-regional organisations are being manipulated by extra-regional powers with ulterior motives,” he added, without naming these “powers.”
On 9 January, Ecowas and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) adopted a series of economic and diplomatic measures against Mali, designed to sanction the junta, which wants to remain in power for several more years. Although the transitional government had initially pledged to hold presidential and legislative elections on 27 February 2022, it is now planning to hand over power anywhere between six months to five years.
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“The Malian junta’s proposal to hold presidential elections in December 2026 is totally unacceptable,” said Ecowas. It “means that an illegitimate transitional military government will hold the Malian people hostage for the next five years.”
Ecowas also decided to cut off financial aid and freeze Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), while continuing to trade basic necessities. Member countries will recall their ambassadors to Mali. Furthermore, they have stated that the sanctions will take effect immediately and will be gradually lifted once the Malian authorities have presented an “acceptable” timetable and satisfactory progress has been made in implementing it.
The sanctions are even tougher than those adopted after the August 2020 putsch, which, in the midst of a pandemic, were severely felt. They forced the junta to commit to handing over power to civilians within 18 months of holding elections.
Citing the continuing insecurity in the country, the junta now says it is unable to hold presidential and parliamentary elections as planned by the end of February 2022. It stresses the need for prior reforms to ensure that the polls are not contested, as they have been in the past. Sensing West Africa’s wrath, the junta sent Abdoulaye Diop, its minister of foreign affairs, and Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga to Accra on 8 January, asking them to submit a revised timetable to their interlocutors.
“Mali’s counter-proposal is a four-year transition period. It is a joke,” said a senior Ghanaian official, whose country is currently leading Ecowas. According to our information, the Malian ministers proposed that the additional five years of power they were asking for be reduced to two.
The organisation, whose credibility is at stake, believes that it is a question of defending the fundamental principle of governance, putting an end to the “contagion of fait accompli” and containing regional instability. This was the eighth time since August 2020 (not counting ordinary summits) that West African leaders had met, either face-to-face or by video conference, to talk specifically about Mali (and Guinea, which in September 2021 also experienced a putsch).
Ecowas had previously suspended Mali from its decision-making bodies, imposed a freeze on its financial assets and issued a travel ban against 150 Malian figures, who are – according to it – guilty of obstructing the elections. These sanctions remain in force.
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