West African leaders, meeting in Accra on Sunday, decided to close the borders with Mali and put the country under embargo, heavily sanctioning the junta’s intention to take the country “hostage” by staying in power without elections for years.
The heads of state and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), sitting behind closed doors in the Ghanaian capital, reacted vigorously to the project of the junta, which came to power in August 2020 , to continue to lead the country for up to five more years, and to the failure on the part of the colonels to undertake to organize presidential and legislative elections on February 27, which would have brought civilians back to the head of the country.
The ECOWAS has decided to close the borders with Mali within the sub-regional space and to suspend trade other than basic necessities, affirms a press release read at the end of the summit. It also decided to cut its financial aid and freeze Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
Member countries will recall their ambassadors to Mali, the scene of two military coups since 2020 and in the grip of a deep security crisis.
More stringent sanctions than the previous ones
These sanctions take effect immediately, they said. They will only be gradually lifted when the Malian authorities present an “acceptable” timetable and satisfactory progress is observed in its implementation.
The proposal of the Malian junta to organize the presidential election in December 2026 is “totally unacceptable”, believes the ECOWAS. It “simply means that an illegitimate transitional military government will take the Malian people hostage over the next five years.”
These sanctions are even more rigorous than those adopted after the first putsch in August 2020. In the midst of the pandemic, they had been severely felt in a landlocked country among the poorest in the world. They are believed to have forced the junta at the time to agree to commit to returning power to civilians within 18 months of the elections.
The credibility of ECOWAS at stake
The junta says today that it is not able to organize presidential and legislative elections as planned at the end of February, citing the persistent insecurity in the country, plagued by violence of all kinds: jihadists, community, villains … She emphasizes the need for prior reforms so that the elections do not suffer from contestation, like the previous ones.
Since the first putsch of August 2020, reinforced by that of May 2021 inducting Colonel Assimi Goïta as “transitional” president, the ECOWAS has been pushing for the return of civilians as soon as possible.
Sensing West African wrath, the junta sent two ministers from its government to Accra on Saturday to submit a revised timetable. The new offer was presented for the sake of “maintaining dialogue and good cooperation with ECOWAS”, one of the two emissaries, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, said on Saturday on national television, without specifying its content. .
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“The Malian counter-proposal is a four-year transition. It’s a joke, ”said a senior Ghanaian official who requested anonymity, whose country currently holds the presidency of ECOWAS. For the organization whose credibility is at stake, it is a question of defending its fundamental principles of governance, of stopping the contagion of the fait accompli and of containing regional instability.
The risk of robbing the Malians
Measuring the importance of the stakes for ECOWAS as well as for the country at the heart of Sahelian instability, it was the eighth time that West African leaders met, face-to-face or by videoconference, to talk specifically about Mali (with Guinea after another putsch in September 2021) since August 2020, not counting the ordinary summits.
The ECOWAS had already suspended Mali from its decision-making bodies and imposed a freeze on their financial assets and a travel ban on 150 personalities, guilty according to it of obstructing the elections. These sanctions remain in force.
At a summit on December 12, she brandished the threat of additional “economic and financial” sanctions. But the situation called for delicate decisions on her part, exposing her to the risk of pointing the Malians against her, analysts say.