W African bloc wants civilian transition in Mali, polls in a year

ECOWAS demands return to civilian rule and elections within 12 months as they considered sanctions over military coup.

    Mali's West African neighbours say sanctions they imposed over the coup were needed to stamp out 'disease' of military takeovers [File: John Kalapo/Getty Images]
    Mali's West African neighbours say sanctions they imposed over the coup were needed to stamp out 'disease' of military takeovers [File: John Kalapo/Getty Images]

    Mali's West African neighbours have told the military which seized control 10 days ago that it must transfer power to a civilian-led transitional government immediately and hold elections within a year.

    In exchange, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) committed to gradually lifting sanctions as the coup leaders complied with its demands, the bloc's chairman said.

    ECOWAS suspended Mali from its institutions, shut borders and halted financial flows with the country following the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18.

    On Friday, the 15-member grouping reinforced its a hard line because of concerns about prolonged instability in Mali and its potential to undermine the fight against armed rebels there and in the wider Sahel region.

    It outlined four main points it wanted to see progress on before sanctions could be gradually lifted.

    Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, who currently chairs ECOWAS, said Mali's transitional president and prime minister must be civilians, and would be banned from running in the next legislative and presidential elections.

    "No military structure should be above the transitional president," Issoufou said.

    It also asked for the quick establishment of a government that will tackle the various challenges Mali is facing, and in particular, to prepare for legislative and presidential elections within 12 months.

    Mali economy could fall further after ECOWAS sanctions: Experts

    Military spokesman Djibrila Maiga said its leaders were still studying the bloc's decisions.

    Mali's opposition coalition, the M5-RFP, which held several demonstrations calling for Keita to resign before the coup, said it would examine the ECOWAS decision before making a statement.

    The military leaders said after taking power that they acted because the country was sinking into chaos, insecurity and corruption, blaming poor leadership.

    The soldiers behind the coup are anxious to get the sanctions lifted and, as a gesture of goodwill, released Keita on Thursday and allowed him to return home.

    They also cut their proposed duration of a transition to democracy to two years from three.

    Two diplomats who attended the conference said there was room for the transition to be extended for a couple of months beyond the ECOWAS deadline.

    Regional leaders are scheduled to meet again on September 7 in Niger's capital Niamey, where they will take stock of the situation in Mali and take other measures, if necessary, Issoufou said.

    Coup leaders have no 'carte blanche'

    Keita, 75, was elected in 2013 as a unifying figure in a fractured country and was returned in 2018 for a second five-year term.

    But his popularity crashed as he failed to counter the armed rebellion and brake Mali's downward economic spiral.

    After an escalating series of mass protests, young army officers mutinied on August 18, seizing Keita and other leaders and declaring they now governed the country.

    The coup leaders formed a National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), led by a 37-year-old colonel, Assimi Goita, to rule the country.

    Meanwhile, Mali's influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, a key player in the mass opposition protests that led to Keita's removal, on Friday said the new military rulers did not have "carte blanche".

    "We will not give a blank cheque to anyone to run this country, that's over," he said.

    "We led the fight," he said. "People have died and the soldiers who have completed (this fight) must keep their word."

    Mali has struggled to regain stability since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 was hijacked by armed rebels.

    A French intervention drove back the rebels but since 2018, the country has seen a sharp increase in violence and insecurity that has driven more than half a million people from their homes.

    SOURCE: News agencies