The West African bloc ECOWAS will likely decide on Friday whether to lift potentially crippling sanctions imposed on Mali after last month’s coup, its mediator said.
The mediator, Nigerian former president Goodluck Jonathan, called the 15-nation bloc’s sanctions “unfortunate” during a visit to Mali’s capital Bamako on Wednesday.
West African leaders have heaped pressure on the ruling military junta to return power to civilians since the coup toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18.
ECOWAS has used the sanctions, which include closing borders and restricting trade, as leverage in negotiations with the junta.
Sticking points in those negotiations have included whether civilians or soldiers will run a transition government until fresh elections.
The junta asked for the sanctions to be lifted this week after former defence minister Bah Ndaw was named interim president, tasked with governing for at most 18 months before holding polls.
The 70-year-old retired colonel will be sworn in on Friday, alongside junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita, who will serve as interim vice president.
According to the transition plan adopted by the junta, Ndaw will then appoint a prime minister, with the decision expected within a few days.
Jonathan, in Mali on Wednesday to assess the progress the junta has made in returning an order to the country, said that ECOWAS was “eager” to make a decision on the sanctions.
“ECOWAS doesn’t want any sanctions in any part of the community,” he told reporters.
However Jonathan added that it is up to Ghanaian President and current ECOWAS leader Nana Akufo-Addo to announce the decision.
“I believe that on Friday after the inauguration, probably he will make that pronouncement,” Jonathan said.
– Sanctions have ‘direct impact’ –
Mali’s neighbours are anxious to avoid the fragile nation of some 19 million people slipping into chaos.
Swathes of the vast country already lie outside of government control, due to a lethal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012 and has also inflamed ethnic tensions.
Keen to set an example to other countries, ECOWAS has taken a hard line, threatening a “total embargo” on the country should the junta install military leaders of an interim government.
Current restrictions ban commercial trade and financial flows, but not basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight coronavirus, fuel or electricity.
Junta leader Goita on Tuesday said that “in the coming days ECOWAS must remove these sanctions for the happiness of the Malian”.
“The international community is watching us… which is why we accepted the ECOWAS principles,” he added.
ECOWAS said at a summit on September 15 that the sanctions would be lifted as soon as its conditions were met, including the appointment of a civilian president and prime minister.
But the junta has yet to respond to other ECOWAS demands, such as the release of other officials detained during the coup such as ousted prime minister Boubou Cisse.
Economist Etienne Fakaba Sissoko said that the sanctions — coupled with the coronavirus pandemic — meant that Mali was barrelling into a recession.
“The immediate consequence is a reduction in public expenditure. This has a direct impact on the population,” he told AFP.
Before the coup, the Sahel country had already been facing an economic downturn, aggravated by the jihadist insurgency and chronic inter-ethnic violence.
It was frustrations over this intractable conflict — plus economic concerns and perceived corruption — which spurred anti-Keita protesters onto the streets this year, with the building unrest culminating in the coup.