The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has announced tougher sanctions on Mali after its military junta failed to meet its deadline for a transition to civilian rule.
Effective immediately, Mali is cut off entirely from all Ecowas institutions.
All countries of the 16-member West African bloc have been instructed to shut their borders – both land and air – with the landlocked nation, and to desist from engaging in all commercial transactions with it.
The decision was reached by heads of states and government of Ecowas at an extraordinary summit in the Ghanaian capital, Accra on Sunday.
In a communique, the leaders ordered for the freezing of the assets of Mali in its regional central and commercial banks, and for the suspension of all financial assistance from Ecowas financing institutions.
The communique, however, provides for a few exceptions in a select group of products that include essential consumer goods, pharmaceutical and medical supplies, as well as Covid-19 response-related products.
The summit comes after the Malian junta presented a new plan that defies that of the bloc, which had envisaged a civilian administration in the country by the end of February 2022.
Mali has been at loggerheads with Ecowas over two coups in the last two years. It started in August 2020 when a group of soldiers led by Col. Assimi Goita overthrew the then democratically elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Nine months later, the soldiers staged a second coup, removing the civilian-led administration they had installed in the face of threats of sanctions.
The military-led transition administration was subsequently given an 18-month deadline to conduct elections and transfer power to a civilian administration. But the military argues that the timeframe isn’t sufficient to meet the deadline.
Last week, the military came up with its own plan, which proposes five years to hand over power.
Ecowas leaders described the proposal as “unacceptable,” noting that it “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage.”
Ecowas first imposed sanctions on the Malian junta on November 7, 2021, amid signs of reluctance to meet its deadlines.
About 150 junta and transition government officials were slammed with individual sanctions that include asset freeze and travel ban.
According to Sunday’s communique, those sanctions would be maintained along with the new economic and financial sanctions.
Eleven heads of state attended the summit, among them the Presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo. Also in attendance were leaders of Guinea Bissau, Benin and Gambia.
Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osibanjo represented President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Ecowas summit was held under the chairmanship of Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
The communique said the sanctions will be implemented immediately and will remain in force and be gradually lifted only after “an acceptable and agreed chronogram is finalised and monitored satisfactory progress is realised in its implementation for the elections.”
The bloc also hinted at the possibility of military intervention, noting that given the potentially destabilising impact on Mali and on the region created by the transition, it decided to immediately activate the Ecowas Standby Force, which will have to be ready “for any eventuality.”
Following the summit’s decision, the central bank of the seven French speaking Ecowas countries, called West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), announced the immediate suspension of Mali.
'Illegal and illegitimate sanction'
The junta wasted no time to respond to the decision, terming the sanctions as “illegal and illegitimate.”
In a rather defiant statement, it said the stance by the bloc contrasted with the efforts made by the transition administration and its readiness for dialogue to find a compromise with Ecowas.
Mali slammed the economic embargo imposed by Ecowas, saying it is a “clear violation” of its relevant treaty. They also criticised the decision to freeze the country’s assets, noting that the measures relating to the Central Bank cannot apply as it’s an independent body over which each member state has a sovereign right.
The Malian government further accused Ecowas of being used by “extra-regional powers with ulterior motives.”
It also announced the withdrawal of its ambassadors in all Ecowas member states and the closure of its borders as a retaliation. It said it’s taking necessary measures to ensure the normal supplies of citizens’ needs.
“The Government of Mali strongly condemns these illegal and illegitimate sanctions imposed by UEMOA and Ecowas, organisations based on solidarity and the pan-African ideal,” the statement issued by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization reads.
The junta also warned against any attempt to deploy foreign military forces on its soil, in apparent reference to the activation of the Ecowas Standby Force. It called on its defence and security forces, as well as the population, to be vigilant and mobilised.