Mali military ruler Assimi Goita said Bamako was open to dialogue after the 15-member West African economic bloc, ECOWAS, imposed additional sanctions over the troubled Sahel country over delayed elections.
Military Commander Goita took power last May – for the second time in a year – with sanctions from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“Even though we deplore the illegal, illegal and inhumane nature of certain decisions, Mali remains open to dialogue with the Economic Community of West African States to find a consensus,” Goita said on state television on Monday.
“There are concerns about the consequences of these measures, but I assure you all that we are taking action to address this challenge.”
Mali’s military government announces the recall of its ambassadors to ECOWAS states and the closure of its borders in response to the latest sanctions. It promised to “take all necessary measures to retaliate” against the measures, which he said would “affect populations already severely affected by the security crisis and the health crisis”.
Leaders of the West African bloc on Sunday agreed to close borders with the Sahel state and impose a trade ban proposal by the army-dominated government last month to stay in power for up to five years before elections are held.
US Ambassador Richard Mills urged Bamako to “return to democracy in time”, but stopped taking a stand on the ECOWAS sanctions, which he reviewed.
The bloc’s decision was backed by France, Mali’s former colonial power, at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on West Africa on Monday.
The French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere, expressed his country’s full support for ECOWAS ‘efforts.
Airlines from Côte d’Ivoire have canceled flights to Mali. Air traffic from Senegal was also disrupted, according to a Reuters reporter trying to enter Mali.
Guinean authorities, where a similar military government took power last year and were also targeted by the ECOWAS sanction, have announced they will keep their borders open, giving Mali, which is surrounded by the country, continued access to a seaport offer.
Second round of sanctions
Relations between Mali and France, which has thousands of troops in the country, have deteriorated since Goita took power in a military coup in August 2020, removing President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Earlier sanctions by ECOWAS in the immediate aftermath of Keita’s removal were lifted after Goita promised an 18-month transition to civilian rule, which culminated in presidential and legislative elections in February 2022.
But he carried out a second coup in May 2021, which forced an interim civilian government, disrupted the reform roster and provoked widespread international condemnation.
The bloc hopes that renewed economic pressure, including cutting off Mali from local financial markets and trading in non-essential goods, will force Bamako to reconsider the latest proposal to postpone presidential and legislative elections until December 2025 – almost four years after it was supposed to be. held.
However, sanctions are likely to further hurt the economy in one of the world’s poorest countries, where a rebellion is raging, fueled in part by widespread poverty.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, who reported from Bamako, said “a sense of panic and anger” was spreading in Mali’s capital.
“People rushed to banks’ filling stations and markets for supplies … after the West African body ECOWAS announced a series of sanctions,” Haque said.
Activist Evelyne Zeinab Jacques told Al Jazeera: “Mali will not be able to withstand the latest sanctions.”
“We are a country surrounded by land that depends on our neighbors. We do not have access to the sea, we need the ports of Senegal and the Ivory Coast to get goods into our country. “For business owners, the economic sanction is suicide,” she said.
Mali has struggled to thwart an armed rebellion that began in 2012 before spreading to Burkina Faso and Niger. Regions of its vast territory lie outside government control.
The military-led government has argued that unbridled uncertainty means peaceful elections cannot be guaranteed at present.
Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore said: “As much as we are aware of the complex situation of the country, we think that all political, economic and social reforms that Mali wants to reform can only be led by democratically elected authorities. “
Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda have gained ground in central Mali.
Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, a government spokesman, said: “It is strange that these sanctions come at a time when the Malian army is making spectacular progress in the fight against terrorism, something that has not happened in the last decade.”
Meanwhile, Russia has demanded that the army’s efforts to restore order in the country be supported.
Moscow has said it “understands the difficulties” in organizing new elections when a lack of security could undermine the outcome.
Western politicians have condemned what they say is Moscow’s growing influence in Mali, with some claiming that the military regime has hired mercenaries from Russia’s controversial Wagner group.