The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has cut off economic and diplomatic relations with Mali for failure to adhere to the election timetable agreed upon earlier with the community.
The action includes the withdraw of ambassadors and closure of both land and air borders with the country and also impose tough economic sanctions.
This was part of the outcome of the Extraordinary Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government held on Sunday in Accra, Ghana.
In a communique issued after an emergency summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule totally unacceptable.
This schedule “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage”, ECOWAS added.
The organisation said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect. These included the closure of members’ land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and recalling their ambassadors from Bamako
Meanwhile, regional monetary union UEMOA instructed all financial institutions under its umbrella to suspend Mali with immediate effect, severing the country’s access to regional financial markets.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, has disclosed on Monday in a statement titled, ‘ECOWAS countries to shut all borders against Mali, recall ambassadors, reject junta’s transition schedule.’
He stated that after reviewing the situation in Mali at the summit, the sub-regional leaders rejected the transition schedule proposed by the Malian military junta which they said was totally unacceptable.
The body also imposed additional sanctions on the junta, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS states and Mali.
It, however, exempted some products such as essential consumer goods, pharmaceutical products, as well as medical supplies and equipment, especially materials for electricity and the control of COVID-19.
Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in West Africa and the eighth-largest country in Africa
The communique also disclosed that the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government “instruct all Community institutions to take steps to implement these sanctions with immediate effect.”
It stated that the sanctions will only be gradually lifted “after an acceptable and agreed transition chronogram is finalised and monitored-satisfactory progress is realised in the implementation of the chronogram for the elections.”
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who attended the summit, explained that there was a strong resolve by the ECOWAS Member States to stand against coup d’etats in the sub-region.
“What is being done is unprecedented,” he said while briefing reporters after the summit. “In the years gone by, the African Union, then known as OAU and ECOWAS, never came down heavily on Coups d’etats.
“But there is evidence now that there is a very strong resolve that ECOWAS and, indeed, AU and the international community will not accept unconstitutional takeover of government.”
The Malian interim government said it was astonished by the decisions. In response, it vowed to close its side of the border with ECOWAS member states, recall its ambassadors, and reserve the right to reconsider its membership in ECOWAS and UEMOA.
“The government strongly condemns these illegal and illegitimate sanctions,” it said in a statement read on state television by spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga in the early hours of Monday, calling on Malians to remain calm.
They have previously blamed the election delay partly on the challenge of organising a democratically robust vote amid a violent Islamist insurgency.
Special forces commander Assimi Goita was one of several colonels who overthrew Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita in August 2020, after which the interim authorities promised an 18-month transition to civilian rule.
Goita staged a second coup in May 2021 when he pushed aside the interim president and took the job himself.
The tougher response from ECOWAS reflects the pressure the organisation is under to show it can protect democracy from a backslide to military rule after West and Central Africa saw four coups within 18 months.
The new measures will be gradually lifted only after an acceptable election timeframe is finalised and progress is made towards implementing it, ECOWAS said.
Under previous sanctions, Mali’s ECOWAS membership is suspended and members of the transitional authority and their relatives are subject to travel bans and asset freezes.
Immediately after Keita was ousted, ECOWAS temporarily closed its borders with Mali and halted financial flows – short-term sanctions that caused a sharp fall in imports to the landlocked country.
Mali’s political upheaval has also deepened tensions with former colonial power France, which has thousands of soldiers deployed across West Africa’s Sahel region to battle Islamist insurgents.