West African leaders have suspended Mali from their regional bloc in response to last week’s coup but stopped short of imposing new sanctions.
Leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an emergency summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra on Sunday to agree to a response to the Malian military’s toppling of a president and prime minister for the second time in nine months.
Mali’s neighbours and international powers fear the latest revolt will jeopardise a commitment to hold a presidential election next February and undermine a regional fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
Speaking after the meeting, Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway said Mali’s suspension “from ECOWAS takes immediate effect until the deadline of the end of February 2022”, when the country’s interim leaders “are supposed to hand over to a democratically elected government”.
The bloc’s final communique also called for the immediate appointment of a new civilian prime minister and the formation of an “inclusive” government.
However it did not announce sanctions like those it imposed after the coup last August, which saw members temporarily close their borders with landlocked Mali and halt financial transactions.
It also did not call for new interim President Assimi Goita to step down. The army colonel, who led the August coup as well as last week’s revolt, was declared president on Friday.
Instead, the statement said, the head of the transition government, the vice president and the prime minister should not under any circumstances be candidates in the planned presidential election. “The date of 27th February 2022 already announced for the presidential election should be absolutely maintained,” it stressed.
There was no immediate response from Goita, who attended the summit.
The 38-year-old special forces commander was one of several colonels who overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last year. He also ordered the arrests last Monday of interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, hours after a cabinet reshuffle that left out two members of the military.
Goita, who was Ndaw’s former deputy, justified his actions by saying there was discord within the transitional government and that he was not consulted, per the transitional charter, when the new cabinet was chosen.
Ndaw and Ouane resigned on Wednesday while still in detention and were later released to house arrest.
In their statement, ECOWAS condemned the arrests, saying the move violated mediation steps taken in the aftermath of the August coup. The bloc demanded that Malian authorities immediately release the pair.
It also went on to express “strong and deep concerns over the present crisis in Mali”, which it noted “is coming halfway to the end of the agreed transition period, in the context of the security challenges related to incessant terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 Pandemic with its dire socio-economic impacts”.
Other bodies including the United Nations and the African Union have also condemned the power grab. The UN Security Council has said the resignations of Ndaw and Ouane were coerced, while the United States has already pulled its security force support.
France and the European Union have meanwhile threatened sanctions.
French leader Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper published on Sunday that Paris “could not stay by the side of a country where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or a transition”.
And he warned that France would pull its troops out of Mali if the country lurches towards “radical Islamism” under Goita’s leadership.
France has approximately 5,100 troops in the region under Operation Barkhane, which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Underscoring the chronic instability in Mali, as ECOWAS heads of state met in Ghana, attackers killed four civilians and a police officer in southern Mali, a region that has previously been mostly spared from the country’s unrest.
The unidentified men attacked a checkpoint near the town of Bougouni, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Mali’s borders with Ivory Coast and Guinea, before dawn, a security official told the AFP news agency on the condition of anonymity.
A local legislator confirmed the attack.