The leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS during an extraordinary closed-door gathering in Ghana slammed Mali with a new sanction over election delay and agreed to cut financial support and halt Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
ECOWAS also said it will recall its member states’ ambassadors to Mali.
According to the bloc, the proposal by Mali’s military rulers to hold elections in December 2026 “simply means that an illegitimate military transition Government will take the Malian people hostage during the next five years.”
The meeting was necessitated after months of rising tensions over the timetable for restoring civilian rule in Mali after two coups and a military takeover.
In August 2020, army officers led by Colonel Assimi Goita toppled the elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita amid street protests against his unpopular rule.
Under threat of sanctions, Goita promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022 after holding presidential and legislative elections.
But he staged a second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government, disrupting the reform timetable, and provoking widespread diplomatic condemnation.
However ECOWAS insisted that Mali hold elections in February, but the junta maintained it would set an election date only 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 regime to revise that plan during a visit last week, Mali’s foreign minister said.
It was reported on Saturday that the junta submitted a new proposed timetable.
The move was intended “to maintain dialogue and good cooperation with ECOWAS”, said Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, without elaborating.
“Mali’s counter-proposal is for a four-year transition,” said a senior official from Ghana, which holds the ECOWAS chair.
The 15-nation bloc has led the push for the former French colony to honour its commitment to stage elections early this year.
The bloc’s push to ensure a return to civilian rule has put its credibility on the line as it seeks to uphold fundamental principles of governance and contain regional instability.
At a summit on December 12, ECOWAS leaders reiterated demands that the elections be held by February 27 as initially planned.
They maintained sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans within the ECOWAS region, against around 150 junta figures and their families, and threatened further “economic and financial” measures.
Sanctions have been effective in the past. ECOWAS responded to Goita’s first coup in 2020 by shuttering Mali’s borders, imposing trade restrictions and suspending the vast nation of 19 million people from its decision-making bodies.
ECOWAS did not impose sanctions immediately after the second coup, but in November opted for targeted measures against individual junta members over perceived delays in the election preparations.