Friday, January 21

Mali: West African leaders hold high-stakes summit

West African leaders meet again Sunday on Mali, with the eventuality of whether or not to toughen sanctions against a junta which, after considering remaining in power for five more years, proposed at the last minute a new calendar.

The head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, on Saturday dispatched two ministers to the Economic Community of West African States which is holding a new extraordinary summit on Mali on Sunday in Accra, the scene of two coups d’etat. Military state since 2020 and in the grip of a deep security crisis.

In order to “maintain dialogue and good cooperation with ECOWAS”, the Malian envoys presented “a new proposal” for a timetable to the current president of the organization, the Ghanaian head of state Nana Akufo-Addo, reported one of the two emissaries, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop.

He did not specify a duration. But this move was obviously aimed at appeasing the anger of a number of heads of state and government on the eve of their summit.

The junta initially asked for up to five years, a period a priori unacceptable for ECOWAS and appearing inevitably to call for new sanctions. The junta reneged on its commitment to hold legislative and presidential elections in February bringing civilians back to the head of the country.

The “transitional” authorities say they are unable to meet this deadline. They invoke the persistent insecurity in the country, plagued by violence of all kinds, jihadist, community, villainous … And the need for reforms, such as that of the Constitution, so that the elections do not suffer from challenges to the like the previous ones.

Since the first putsch of August 2020, reinforced by that of May 2021 inducting Colonel Assimi Goïta as president of the “transition”, the ECOWAS is pushing for the return of civilians as soon as possible.

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.

A calendar spread over five years would set back a year and a half. ECOWAS then demanded a return of civilians within 12 months. The junta asked for five years. The ECOWAS had compromised at 18 months, with elections in February 2022.

– Freezing of financial assets –

Measuring the importance of the stakes for ECOWAS as well as for Mali in the heart of Sahelian instability, this will be the eighth time that West African leaders will meet, face-to-face or by videoconference, to talk specifically about Mali (with the Guinea after another putsch in September 2021) since August 2020, not counting the ordinary summits.

Exceptionally, Sunday’s meeting will be immediately preceded in the Ghanaian capital by another extraordinary summit, that of the leaders of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The eight WAEMU countries are members of ECOWAS. This pre-summit summit is seen as a sign of possible concerted action and perhaps economic sanctions.

The ECOWAS has already imposed a freeze on their financial assets and a travel ban on 150 personalities guilty according to it of obstructing the elections. It must now decide whether or not to strengthen the coercive measures, a delicate choice.

At their December 12 summit, West African leaders brandished the threat of additional “economic and financial” sanctions.

In August 2020, ECOWAS suspended Mali from all its decision-making bodies, a suspension still in force. It had also closed all land and air borders, and instituted an embargo on financial and commercial exchanges, with the exception of basic necessities.

In the midst of the pandemic, the embargo inflicted on a poor and landlocked country had been severely felt. These sanctions were lifted after a month and a half.

ECOWAS must weigh the risks of pointing the Malians against it with a new demonstration of rigor, analysts say.

A large part of the political class boycotted the consultations which the authorities claim to ask for an additional delay. Eighteen months after the colonels took power, the security situation remains very deteriorated, and the economic crisis deep. But the authorities’ discourse of national sovereignty resonates in part of the population, experts say.

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