The outcome of the recent Ecowas heads of state meeting may have gone against the expectations of Malian authorities, but it could also mean that the bloc is softening the tone, which seems to be paying off.
And Bamako uses it to its advantage.
Mali expected sanctions imposed on January 9 by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to be lifted at the summit in Ghana’s capital Accra on June 4. and government leaders decided instead to keep the sanctions in place pending further negotiations.
Despite expressing “disappointment” with the decision, the military-led interim administration has exposed the bloc’s bluff by unilaterally agreeing to one announced a transition timetable.
A day after the meeting, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, representing the junta in Accra, said he wanted the sanctions to be lifted immediately expected but were disappointed with the result. He continued that the outcome continues to show a positive outlook.
Two days after the summit, on June 6, junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita issued a decree formally accepting the 24-month Transition was announced timeline. The decree, signed by both Goita and Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga, indicates that the schedule will come into effect in March 2022 and end in March 2024.
The Ecowas sanctions were imposed after the junta imposed the failed to meet the original deadline for holding elections, had handed over power to a civilian administration by the end of February. The sanctions include a financial and economic embargo and an asset freeze.
During the appeal by the junta and its supporters, Ecowas has insisted that it can only review the sanctions with evidence of concrete action towards restoration Democracy.
Meanwhile, there are signs on the ground that the sanctions are really tough. On June 4, as Ecowas leaders debated the fate of the country, Prime Minister Maigar met with aggrieved dealers from the dealers’ union.
And that is exactly what Ecowas and its supporters are aiming for, who hope the Junta could soften their stance if sanctions force the masses to direct their anger against the military leadership.
But, if anything, the ordinary Malian’s view of the alleged foreign interference has changed little.
And to make matters worse for Ecowas, it has come under intense pressure from civil society groups in the region to soften its harsh response to the region’s crises through dialogue rather than coercion.
Last month, a group of over a dozen organizations under the auspices of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) released a joint statement calling for what Ecowas wanted engaging the juntas in dialogue and lamenting the impact of the sanctions on the people.
All three countries – Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso – remain suspended from the bloc, meaning they cannot take part in its negotiations or have any say in its decisions.
The heads of state decided to continue the dialogue with the juntas until their next meeting, scheduled for July 3, where they will make further decisions.
But the move by the Malians to unilaterally announce the 24-month timeline angered the bloc, prompting a statement from the Ecowas Commission stating that step “The Malian authorities have made this decision about the transition,” it said. But it promises to go ahead with the engagement.
The timetable has been a major obstacle to negotiations between the junta and the Ecowas mediation team, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
While the junta insists on 24 months, Ecowas sticks to 16 months. The mediators were also concerned about the lack of action showing a commitment to holding elections soon.
Malians have consistently argued that they need enough time to reach certain key milestones , which are relevant to the holding of elections.
“We were hoping from week to week to find an agreement with Ecowas to start an acceleration process, but we have reached a point where we have three months of the discussion, and today we decided not to wait any longer,” Prime Minister Maiga was quoted as saying, telling members of the National Transitional Council (CNT), the government’s legislative arm.
Ecowas says that sanctions will be gradually lifted as transition benchmarks are met.
Arriving in Bamako from Accra, Foreign Minister Diop told journalists that the report presented by the Ecowas mediator by d he majority of delegations was welcomed, noting that as the document is based on the interim government’s proposals, it is a sign that there is “positive momentum at the community level to move forward.”
A key concern of the bloc is the joint mechanism to regularly monitor the implementation of the roadmap.
Diop said all it takes is to provide detailed information on these issues to convince West African leaders that the lifting sanctions.
“It is important that the final conclusions of this summit take into account the government’s proposals and thus the Malians’ aspirations for security, political and institutional reforms in a 24-month transition period.”
While the Ecowas Commission’s statement condemned the junta’s unilateral decision on the timeline, it stuck by outlining its next actions on the matter. For some analysts, this is a tacit sign of acceptance.
And it seems that some of the bloc’s partners are also coming to terms with the reality that the inevitable path of dialogue, not coercion, is the ultimate solution and soften their tone.
The US State Department, for example, in a statement on Thursday confirmed the junta’s position on the transition timetable and called on the two parties to agree on a “robust monitoring mechanism with concrete benchmarks for the rest ‘ of the transition.
‘We call on the Malian transitional government to take sustained, concrete measures to hold elections, including detailed benchmarks and early adoption of the electoral law. Transparent and inclusive processes that respect diverse perspectives and fundamental freedoms are critical to building a strong foundation for the future,” it says.