West African leaders will gather on Sunday to discuss Mali’s political crisis, with the military junta submitting a new deadline for transitioning back to civilian rule at the last minute after its first proposal was rejected.
The extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc in Ghana’s capital Accra is expected to discuss possible sanctions on the Sahel state over potentially delayed elections, among other issues.
The meeting is taking place after rising tensions over the timetable to restore civilian rule in Mali after the military takeover in 2020.
In August of that year, army officers led by Colonel Asimi Goita toppled elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita amid street protests against his unpopular regime.
Under threat of sanctions, Goita promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022, after holding presidential and legislative elections later.
But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing the ouster of an interim civilian government.
The move disrupted the reform timetable, and was met with widespread diplomatic condemnation.
ECOWAS insisted that Mali hold elections in February.
But the government then said it would set a date for the election only after holding a nationwide convention – arguing that a peaceful vote was more important than speed.
As areas of Mali remain outside state control, the government has been struggling to quell the jihadist insurgency that has been going on since 2012.
On 30 December, after Mali’s reform conference ended, the government suggested a transition period of between six months and five years, starting on January 1, 2022.
It will enable officials to “make structural institutional reforms and conduct (orderly) credible, fair and transparent elections”.
But ECOWAS mediator Goodluck Jonathan asked the regime to revise that plan during a visit last week, Mali’s foreign minister said.
On Saturday, the junta presented a new proposed timetable to the bloc’s acting president, Malian state television reported – without giving any details about its contents.
ECOWAS from 15 countries has urged Mali to keep its commitment to hold elections earlier this year.
The return to civilian rule has jeopardized the bloc’s credibility as it seeks to uphold the fundamentals of governance and control regional instability.
At a summit on 12 December, its leaders demanded that elections be held as planned for the start of elections by 27 February.
He maintained sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans within the ECOWAS region against about 150 junta figures and their families, and threatened further “economic and financial” measures.
New restrictions are likely to be on the agenda at Sunday’s summit.
A West African Economic and Monetary Union summit will take place in Accra immediately before ECOWAS talks, with eight of its members meeting to potentially lead concerted action and impose new economic sanctions.
The restrictions have proven effective in the past.
For example, the faction responded to Goita’s first coup in 2020 by closing Mali’s borders, imposing trade embargoes and suspending the country from its decision-making bodies.
Mali’s military in response installed a civilian-led government and promised to hold elections, which led to the lifting of economic sanctions, although Mali was suspended from the main bodies of the bloc.
ECOWAS did not impose sanctions immediately after the second put up, but in November it opted for targeted measures against individual junta members due to perceived delays in their election preparations.
Analysts say regional leaders should take into account the risks of pitting Mali against ECOWAS.
A large section of the country’s political class boycotted recent reform consultations, but the story of a government promoting national sovereignty resonates with some of the population.