Mali’s delayed democratic transition leads to harsh regional sanctions
In order to further extend their grip on power, Mali’s military junta announced that they would delay presidential and legislative elections planned for February 2022, to December 2025. As a reaction, on 9 January, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) agreed on the imposition of harsh sanctions against Mali. The regional bodies decided to close their member states’ borders (land and air) with Mali, suspend non-essential financial transactions with Mali, recall their ambassadors from Bamako and freeze Mali’s assets in central and commercial banks. Airlines from neighbouring countries and France cancelled their flights to help isolate the military junta. Still, financial transactions for essential goods will receive an exception under the sanction regime, according to the final communique of the ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit on Mali.
Assimi Goita, together with other colonels, overthrew President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita in August 2020. The coup happened in a context of widespread protests about poverty, corruption and a worsening jihadist insurgency. In the immediate aftermath, ECOWAS imposed terrestrial and financial sanctions on Mali, which were lifted within 2 months after the authorities agreed on a 18-month transition to civil rule. In May 2021, Colonel Goita ordered the arrest of the civilian president and prime minister, after a cabinet reshuffle excluded key junta members. In response to this second military coup in only 9 months, ECOWAS and the African Union suspended Mali’s membership, while some western allies and the World Bank suspended certain aid flows to the country. Despite regional and international pressure, the Malian armed forces further consolidated their power, following the appointment of a majority military leadership in the Transitional National Council, while Goita was sworn in as interim president.
Last week, the military junta proposed to delay elections to 2025, after which regional bodies immediately imposed harsh new sanctions. With WAEMU financial institutions also suspending links with Mali – transfers from Mali are expected to be blocked and regional financing access is closed off (except for essential goods as mentioned above) – Mali will not be able to raise the expected USD 2 billion to finance its budget by selling the Central Bank of West African States’ (BCEAO) T-bills on the regional debt market. Consequently, the freezing of transfers from the BCEAO could lead to serious liquidity shortages and increase the risk of non-payment in international transactions. In addition, current public expenditures are likely to be delayed, including public servant wage payments, which could further raise unrest. As the international community is also raising pressure on the junta, more international sanctions, including from the EU, could still follow.
The idea of these sanctions is to squeeze the military junta into accepting ECOWAS conditions towards a democratic transition, as they become incapable of financing current expenditures. However, as a reaction, Goita stated that Mali has the means to withstand these sanctions but his government remains open to negotiations with the regional blocs. Neighbouring Guinea's transitional authorities – Guinea suspended itself from ECOWAS following a coup in September 2021 – declared that their shared border with Mali will remain open. Other neighbouring countries such as Niger, Senegal and Mauritania (free movement agreement with ECOWAS) have also expressed their reluctance to cut off lucrative trade ties with Mali. Consequently, it remains to be seen whether sufficient regional pressure will be exerted and how long these sanctions will actually be upheld. Either way, they are likely to further distress the economy of one of the world's poorest countries, affected by a worsening jihadist insurgency. Following the latest coup in 2021, France decided to partly pull out its counter-terrorism mission, leaving a gap that is expected to be increasingly filled by the Russia-backed Wagner Group forces, despite reports of severe human rights abuses by the private group in conflicts zones in Central African Republic, Syria and Libya. The sanctions come amid already high tensions with ex-colonial power France and could result in stronger ties with Russia.
Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh – email@example.com