West African leaders meeting at a summit in Nigeria on Sunday demanded that Mali stick to plans for holding polls next February, and threatened further sanctions if Bamako fails to commit to returning to democracy.
“The heads of state… decided to keep the (deadline) of February 27, 2022 for elections in Mali,” president of the West African ECOWAS bloc Jean-Claude Brou told reporters in Abuja, adding sanctions would be imposed in January if Mali did not move to stage polls.
Mali is currently being run by the military. The head of the country’s government had earlier on Sunday promised he would provide the bloc with an election timetable by the end of January 2022.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, sanctioning officials thought to responsible for delaying elections and threatening further measures.
Malian procrastination and the possibility of a stronger response from ECOWAS were the main items for discussion among African leaders, along with the situation in Guinea, COVID-19 and economic recovery. ECOWAS also decided to maintain sanctions against the junta that seized power in Guinea on September 5, demanding a timetable for the return of civilian rule in the nation.
After Mali, ECOWAS was confronted in September with its third putsch in a year, with the overthrow in Guinea of President Alpha Conde. It suspended Guinea and sanctioned the members of the junta, calling for elections to be held within six months.
The head of Mali’s transitional government, Colonel Assimi Goita justified postponing the election and holding a national consultation which he said would be “indispensable” for peace and stability. Several civil society organisations boycotted the consultations.
“The return to constitutional order is and will remain my absolute priority,” Goita said.
In a two-page letter to ECOWAS, Goita highlighted the need to “create the conditions for transparent and credible elections”, including stepped-up security operations, a new electoral law and the beginning on Saturday of a series of national forums aimed at building a consensus for the return to civilian rule.
Mali has been plagued by jihadists and other armed groups, along with violence of self-proclaimed vigilantes and bandits. Despite the deployment of UN, French and foreign forces, the violence has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The regular forces are also accused of abuses, and there has been no improvement in Mali’s security situation since the military took power. At a previous summit in November, West African leaders had been informed by Goita that Malian authorities would not be able to respect their earlier commitment to hold elections by February.
ECOWAS has currently frozen the financial assets and banned from travelling within West Africa all those it deemed guilty of delaying the elections: about 150 people, including the prime minister and almost the entire government, and their families.