Mali’s ruling junta has called for nationwide demonstrations on Friday to protest regional sanctions imposed over delayed elections, while also stating that it remains open to dialogue.
In a sharp escalation after months of diplomatic tensions, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday agreed to shutter borders with the Sahel state and impose a trade embargo.
France, Mali‘s former colonial power, and the United States backed the decisions, with French President Emmanuel Macron telling reporters on Tuesday: “We are in complete solidarity with the region and with this very courageous and clear stance” by ECOWAS.
Dmitry Polyanskyi, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, said he “understood” the difficulties faced by Mali’s government.
The ECOWAS sanctions came after Mali’s interim government last month proposed staying in power for up to five years before staging elections – despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold elections on February 27.
As well as shutting borders and imposing a trade embargo, the bloc also agreed to halt financial aid to Mali and freeze its assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
Colonel Assimi Goita, the poor Sahel country’s strongman, late Monday called the measures “extreme” and urged Malians to stage protests against the sanctions on Friday.
Goita also called the sanctions “illegitimate, illegal and inhumane”, while adding that he remains open for dialogue with his West African neighbours.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss the situation in Mali on Tuesday.
Mali’s relations with its neighbours and partners have steadily deteriorated since Goita led a coup in August 2020 to topple president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under threat of sanctions following that putsch, Goita had promised to hold presidential and legislative elections, and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.
But the strongman staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable to restore democracy.
Goita also declared himself interim president.
Then in December, his government proposed staying in power for up to an additional five years.
It argued, among other reasons, that rampant insecurity in Mali prevents it from staging safe elections according to the agreed timetable.
The vast nation of 19 million people is in the grip of a jihadist insurgency, and swathes of territory are outside government control.
Goita has called for calm and “resilience” in the face of the ECOWAS sanctions and has assured Malians that the government will take steps to counter their effects.
Mali, a landlocked nation already battered by conflict, is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Despite international anger towards Mali’s military rulers, inside the country, the junta has come under little public criticism over the diplomatic dispute.
Pro-government messages, as well as criticisms of ECOWAS, have flooded social media in Mali in recent days.
Neighbouring Guinea – an ECOWAS member also under military rule – announced on Monday that it would neither close its borders with Mali nor block trade.
Goita, in his address, restated his commitment to restoring civilian rule.
But the way out of the standoff remains unclear, as the strongman failed to detail any specifics for restoring democracy.