Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

West African countries have imposed a series of severe sanctions on Mali after its ruling military junta announced a postponement of the elections it had promised to hold in February.

The 15-member regional bloc of Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) will close its borders to the country surrounded by the country, impose economic sanctions and sever diplomatic ties.

These moves come as the international community increases pressure on the junta, which has taken power in two coups over the past year. The junta has proposed that elections be held in December 2025. Bamako is also in the middle of a row with Paris over its proposed use of Russian mercenaries.

Ecowas announced the sanctions following an emergency summit in Ghana’s capital Accra, calling the proposed delay “unacceptable”. The central bank of the eight-nation CFA franc zone will freeze Malaysian state assets, along with those held in Ecowas commercial banks.

Mali’s junta on Sunday called the sanctions “illegal” and said they would recall its ambassadors to West Africa, close its own land and air borders to them and possibly reconsider its membership in Ecowas. Eighteen months after it first took power, the junta also came under fire for failing to outline how it would tackle the jihadist uprising that had killed thousands and millions of people across the region.

The sanctions come amid rising voltage with the former colonial power France, leading the fight against jihadism in the Sahel. President Emmanuel Macron expressed contempt for what he called an “illegal” government in Bamako, and a junta clinging to the power it had illegally seized.

Paris announced last summer that it would halve its mission of 5,000 troops against terrorism in the region, Operation Barkhane. Around that time, Bamako began to build a stronger relationship with Russia and began talks to appoint mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked Wagner group, to replace departing French troops.

Reuters reported last week that Russian soldiers had arrived in the northern city of Timbuktu, working from a former French base that had recently left Barkhane. It is unclear whether it was regular Russian soldiers as part of a bilateral agreement or the mercenaries. An official in northern Mali told the FT that some in the region could welcome Wagner’s arrival, despite allegations of gross human rights violations by his mercenaries in Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic.

“The north is actually being taken out of control by the jihadist groups – we pay taxes to the jihadists, everything,” the official said. “So if they can get them out, it might be worth it.”

The EU last month sanctions imposed on Wagner, three related entities and eight individuals for alleged abuse in Africa and the Middle East.

Colonel Assimi Goita, now interim president, led a small group of soldiers to overthrow President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020, amid a wave of street protests against his administration’s alleged corruption, neglect and clumsiness. He forced an interim civilian government last May, which gave the junta full power, but promised to restore civilian rule by this February.

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