Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

ECOWAS meeting comes after months of increasing tensions over the timetable for the restoration of civilian rule in Mali following a military takeover in 2020.

West African leaders are meeting to discuss Mali’s political crisis with the military government over the submission of a new timeframe for a transition back to civilian rule at the last minute after its first proposal was rejected.

The extraordinary summit of the bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday in Ghana’s capital Accra is expected to discuss, among other things, possible sanctions against the Sahel state over possible delayed elections.

The meeting comes after months of increasing voltage on the timetable for the restoration of civilian rule in Mali following a military takeover in 2020.

In August of that year, army officers led by Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita amid street protests against his unpopular rule.

Under threat of sanctions, Goita subsequently promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022 after holding presidential and legislative elections.

But he carried out a de facto second coup last May, forcing an interim civilian government. The move disrupted the reform roster and was greeted with widespread diplomatic condemnation.

ECOWAS has insisted that Mali hold elections in February.

But the government then said it would only set an election date after a nationwide conference was held – arguing that a peaceful vote was more important than speed.

Transparent elections

The parts of Mali are out of state control, with the government struggling to revolt since 2012.

On December 30, after Mali’s reform conference ended, the government proposed a transition period of between six months and five years, from January 1.

This would enable the authorities to “carry out structural institutional reforms and [organise] credible, fair and transparent elections, ”it said.

But ECOWAS mediator Goodluck Jonathan asked the leadership to review that plan during a visit last week, Mali’s foreign minister said.

On Saturday, the military government presented a new proposed timetable to the bloc’s acting president, Malaysian state television reported – without giving any details on its contents.

The 15-nation ECOWAS has led Mali to uphold its commitment to hold elections early this year.

Opinion polls expected in February

The return to civilian rule has put the bloc’s credibility at stake, as it seeks to uphold fundamental principles of governance and contain local instability.

At a summit on December 12, its leaders reiterated demands that the February 27 election be held as initially planned.

They maintained sanctions such as asset freezing and travel bans within the ECOWAS region against the 150 military government figures or so and their families and threatened further “economic and financial” measures.

The possibility of new sanctions is expected to be on the agenda at Sunday’s summit.

A summit of the West African Economic and Monetary Union will immediately precede the ECOWAS talks in Accra, with its eight members possibly meeting to lead joint action and impose new economic sanctions.

Sanctions have proven effective in the past.

The bloc, for example, responded to Goita’s first coup by closing Mali’s borders, imposing trade restrictions and suspending the country from its decision-making bodies.

Mali’s army has in response installed a civilian-led government and promised to hold elections, which led to the lifting of economic sanctions, although Mali remains suspended of the block’s main bodies.

ECOWAS did not impose sanctions immediately after the second, but in November it opted for selected measures against individual military government members over alleged delays in its election preparations.

Analysts say regional leaders need to consider the risks of pitting Malians against ECOWAS.

A large part of the country’s political class has boycotted the recent reform consultation, but the government’s narrative promoting national sovereignty resonates with some of the population.

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