West African states will uphold sanctions on Mali until it appoints a civilian prime minister, the leader of the ECOWAS regional bloc has said.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States slapped sanctions on Mali after the August 18 military coup, which toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The sanctions “will be lifted when a civilian prime minister is named”, ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said on Friday.
Mali’s neighbours took a hard line after last month’s coup, imposing sanctions in a bid to push the military government to swiftly restore civilian rule.
The trade restrictions include a ban on commercial trade and financial flows, but not on basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight the coronavirus pandemic, fuel or electricity.
Mali’s military government endorsed a plan to restore civilian rule after the coup and appointed a committee which chose 70-year-old retired Colonel and former Defence Minister Bah Ndaw as interim president.
Ndaw, who was sworn into office on Friday, has promised to honour the plan – or “transition charter” – and hand over power within 18 months.
“The charter is my guidebook,” Ndaw said at the ceremony.
“Mali has given me everything. I am happy to be its submissive slave, willing to do everything for it to return to full constitutional legality, with elected authorities, legitimate representatives.
“The transition period which begins will not dispute any international undertaking by Mali, nor the agreements signed by the government.”
Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita, 37, was also sworn in as interim vice president.
The transition charter, however, has never been unveiled.
Brou underlined the importance of publishing the document and warned ECOWAS could not accept that Goita, as vice president, could potentially replace Ndaw.
ECOWAS’s “prime concern is maintaining constitutional democracy in the region”, he said.
Mali’s neighbours have watched the dramatic political upheaval in Bamako with worry, anxious to avoid the fragile country slipping into chaos.
Swaths of the vast country already lie outside of government control, due to an armed uprising that first emerged in 2012 and has also inflamed ethnic tensions.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict to date, and hundreds of thousands have had to flee their homes.
Tensions generated by the conflict – as well as a dire economy, and corruption – contributed to mass protests against Keita, culminating in last month’s putsch.
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc took a hard line, slapping sanctions on Mali and threatening a “total embargo” should military leaders be installed in the interim government.
On Thursday, former Nigerian President and ECOWAS mediator Goodluck Jonathan, had commented favourably on the upcoming swearing-in.
“We are optimistic that this event will signal the beginning of the return to normalcy in Mali,” he said on Twitter.