Make an example with Mali? The strategy is perilous

Strike hard to bring Mali back to the path of democracy. Not sure that the sanctions decided by the neighboring countries reach their goal. Even though France, the United States and Algeria have announced that they are joining retaliatory measures against Bamako, the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday did not follow this path, because Russia and China are there. opposites and have a right of veto.

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Since Sunday and the embargo decreed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the military in power in Bamako for a year and a half have been blowing hot and cold. Tuesday, they called on Malians to demonstrate Friday against the “extreme measures” taken against their landlocked country torn by multiple violence, including those committed by jihadist groups. The army thus maintains the nationalist fiber of the Malians, exasperated by the powerlessness of the international forces in the face of the jihadists. But Monday evening on public television, Colonel Assimi Goïta, the head of the junta, felt that the door remained open to dialogue with ECOWAS.

Also read: “In Africa, when the military cling to power”

The harshness of the measures announced on Sunday against Mali should also serve to deter other coups d’état in the region. A risk far from being hypothetical as evidenced by the arrest of several officers accused of wanting to overthrow the government in Burkina Faso. Unfortunately for its credibility, ECOWAS has not been so intransigent in the past. Above all, it has failed to condemn the maneuvers of the heads of state in the region to cling to power, paving the way for military putsch, as in Guinea last September.

Military threats

The announcement of economic and financial sanctions against Mali came as no surprise. While the Malian military pledged to hold elections next February, their latest proposal for a five-year transition period – the length of a presidential term – seemed unacceptable.

On the other hand, the harshness of the sanctions, the offensive tone and the military threats of the heads of state of West Africa struck the spirits. The ECOWAS has indeed activated its armed wing. The “waiting force” of the regional organization is not permanent and each West African state must be called upon to assemble the necessary troops. An African force is therefore not ready to dislodge the Malian putschists.

But the Malian junta should not take this threat lightly. “Mali is certainly a large country, but it would suffice to take Bamako,” said Ornella Moderan, responsible for the Sahel program at the Institute for Security Studies, based in the Malian capital. The West African “standby force” was used in the past to intervene in conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. In 1997, the threat of a similar intervention had scared the country away. former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

We are not there yet, but the pressure is maximum on the soldiers in Bamako. “Paradoxically, the ECOWAS has played all its cards and, apart from carrying out its military threats, I do not see very well what it could do more to ensure that power is quickly returned to civilians”, continues Ornella Moderan.

“We do not punish a bruised people!”

“The Malian population is the first victim of the sanctions and yet they have already suffered enough. We do not punish a bruised people! ” Young Malian activist Adam Dicko launched Tuesday at the UN Security Council meeting. And to call on the great powers not to make his country a new “land for settling scores after Syria, Libya or Afghanistan”.

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However, the effectiveness of Mali’s economic stifling strategy is uncertain. The Malian soldiers mysteriously announced that they had taken their steps to resist the sanctions. The embargo already has a major breach. Neighboring Guinea, suspended from ECOWAS authorities following the September coup, will not join the embargo.

Algeria, for its part, a border country which is not part of ECOWAS, also raised the tone towards Bamako, demanding a shorter transition. European countries will meet on Thursday to decide whether to align with African sanctions. But they have fewer economic levers than the neighboring countries of Mali. It seems unlikely that the Europeans will withdraw their troops deployed against the jihadists.

Russian military “instructors”

As Mali moves away from France, which intervened militarily in 2013 against the advance of the jihadists, Bamako is getting closer to Moscow. The clues are multiplying on the arrival of Russian mercenaries, Bamako evokes “instructors” who form the Malian army. Without mentioning the Wagner company close to the Kremlin, West African countries were concerned on Sunday in their final press release the alleged deployment of “a private security agency” to “potentially devastating effects for the region”.

Do the provisions evoked by the Malian junta to escape sanctions include other Russian aspects? “Mali can count on Moscow at the UN Security Council to avoid new sanctions,” replied Ornella Moderan. On Russian mercenaries, the researcher recalls: “At independence, during the Cold War, Mali joined the Soviet bloc. Moscow was then the country’s first military ally, more than France. ”

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