West Africa bloc ECOWAS hits Mali with sanctions after poll delay

Regional body to close borders with Mali and impose economic sanctions after coup leaders postponed the vote.

An empty seat of the Mali representative is seen in Accra, Ghana on September 16, 2021
ECOWAS leaders have insisted that elections be held by February 27 as initially planned [Nipah Dennis/AFP]

West Africa’s main regional bloc will close borders with Mali and impose sweeping economic sanctions in response to delays holding promised elections after a 2020 military coup, the bloc has said.

The announcement on Sunday followed an extraordinary summit of the leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Ghanaian capital Accra to discuss a proposal from Mali’s transitional authorities to hold elections in December 2025 instead of next month as originally agreed.

In a communique, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition totally unacceptable.

This timetable “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage”, it said.

The 15-member bloc said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect, including the closure of members’ land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, and the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS central and commercial banks.

Meanwhile, regional monetary union UEMOA instructed all financial institutions under its umbrella to suspend Mali with immediate effect, severing the country’s access to regional financial markets.

There was no immediate response from the Malian authorities.

In August 2020, army officers led by Colonel Assimi Goita toppled elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita amid street protests against his unpopular rule.

Under threat of sanctions, Goita subsequently promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022 after holding presidential and legislative elections.

But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government.

The move disrupted the reform timetable, and was met with widespread diplomatic condemnation.

ECOWAS insisted that Mali hold elections in February.

But the government then said it would only set an election date after holding a nationwide conference – arguing a peaceful vote was more important than speed.

On December 30, after Mali’s reform conference ended, the government suggested a transition period of between six months and five years, starting from January 1, 2022.

But ECOWAS mediator Goodluck Jonathan asked the military government to revise that plan during a visit last week, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said.

On Saturday, the military rulers submitted a new proposed timetable, Malian state television reported.

The move was intended “to maintain dialogue and good cooperation with ECOWAS”, said Foreign Minister Diop, without giving any details.

“Mali’s counter-proposal is for a four-year transition. It’s a joke,” said a senior official from Ghana, which holds the ECOWAS chair.

The return to civilian rule has put the bloc’s credibility on the line as it seeks to uphold fundamental principles of governance and contain regional instability.

Swaths of Mali lie outside of state control, with the government struggling to quell an armed uprising that has raged since 2012.

ECOWAS responded to Goita’s first coup in 2020 by shuttering Mali’s borders, imposing trade restrictions and suspending the country from its decision-making bodies.

Mali’s army installed a civilian-led government in response and pledged to hold elections, which led to a lifting of the earlier economic sanctions, although Mali remains suspended from the bloc’s main bodies.

ECOWAS did not impose sanctions immediately after the second coup, but in November opted for targeted measures against individual army members over perceived delays in the election preparations.

Source: News Agencies