Conflict Alerts # 520, 8 June 2022
Mali: Sanctions to continue until an agreement with junta
In the news
On 4 June, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders met in Ghana's capital Accra and announced their decision to uphold the sanctions against Mali, along with Burkina Faso and Guinea. The sanctions would be lifted only if Mali's military leaders speed up plans for a democratic transition. The bloc leaders said they would continue to negotiate with the junta "with a view of reaching an agreement to ensure gradual lifting of sanctions."
On 5 June, Mali's junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita signed a new decree shortening the transitional period to 24 months starting from March this year. He said: "the duration of the transition is set at 24 months, starting on March 26, 2022."
On 8 June, the ECOWAS expressed its disappointment at the new decree by the Malian military junta. In a statement, the bloc said: "ECOWAS regrets that while negotiations are still ongoing to reach a consensus, the Malian authorities took the decision on the transition."
Issues at large
First, Mali's coup within a coup. In August 2020, Mali's military junta seized power through a coup. Despite the international and regional condemnation, the coup was welcomed by the public, widely discontented with an impotent and corrupt government accompanied by jihadist threats and security issues. Through weeks of negotiation between the coup leaders and the ECOWAS, the junta agreed on an 18-month transitional period. However, enacting another coup in May 2021, the military junta reverted from the commitments of the transitional deal.
Second, delayed elections and extended transition. The coup leaders initially promised a democratic transition in February 2022. However, the elections were delayed citing disorganization and security issues. In January, the army-led legislature decided to extend the transition up to five years.
Third, ECOWAS sanctions and the junta's resistance. Besides being suspended from the bloc’s main bodies, ECOWAS imposed strict sanctions on Mali over the junta's decision to delay elections and extend transition. The sanctions included the closure of land and air borders, and suspension of all financial and commercial trade except for food, medical products, petroleum products, and electricity. It also froze Mali's assets in ECOWAS banks, financial institutions, and financial assistance. Meanwhile, the coup leaders resisted the sanctions calling them stringent, inhumane, and unnecessary. The junta urged the citizens to demonstrate against the sanctions.
Four, economic crisis and public discontent with ECOWAS. Going through the worst food crisis in 10 years, over 7.5 million people in Mali require humanitarian assistance. The sanctions are causing serious disruption to an economy already hurt by multifaceted security challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary to weakening popular support for the transitional authority, the sanctions have provoked a public outcry against the regional body ECOWAS.
First, elections have never been an instrument to measure democratization in the continent, especially in west Africa. Rushed elections after coups would only lead to a dysfunctional political system.
Second, the objective of the ECOWAS sanctions- to destabilize the Malian military regime seems to be a failure. The impacts of sanctions are disproportionately affecting the public struggling with its economy and security. Moreover, the failure of sanctions adds to the ECOWAS legitimacy crisis finally discrediting it.
Third, the military junta is taking advantage of the sanctions to turn the public against the bloc and as an opportunity to legitimize its actions.
Four, the political uncertainty and crisis followed by sanctions are seemly becoming an advantage for the jihadists and insurgents, further deteriorating the security situation in Mali.