Ecowas lifts sanctions on Mali junta, agrees to Burkina transition timeline

·3 min read
© AFP/Nipah Dennis

West African leaders have lifted sanctions on Mali's military regime, accepting a deadline for a return to civilian rule by March 2024 and agreed to allow Burkina Faso two years for its transition back to democracy.

Heads of the Economic Community of West African States were meeting in the Ghanaian capital, Accra on Sunday to assess efforts to secure guarantees for restoring civilian rule in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Mali underwent coups in August 2020 and May 2021, followed by Guinea in September last year and Burkina Faso this January.

Fearing contagion in a region known for military takeovers, Ecowas imposed a swathe of trade and economic sanctions against Mali, but lesser punishments against Guinea and Burkina.

According to Ecowas Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou: "After discussion, the heads of state took a firm first decision to lift the economic and financial sanctions."

Brou said Ecowas would continue to monitor the situation and also maintain Mali's suspension from the bloc for now.

Progress made with Mali

The decision to lift the sanctions, however, stipulates that no junta member can run as a candidate in Mali's future presidential election.

In January, Ecowas imposed a trade and financial embargo on Mali after its military government unveiled a scheme to rule for five years.

The sanctions against Bamako have has a severe impact on a country whose economy is already under extreme pressure from a decade-long jihadist insurgency.

Following months of talks, the Malian authorities approved on Wednesday a plan to hold presidential elections in February 2024.

The vote will be preceded by a referendum on a revised constitution in March 2023 and legislative elections in late 2023.

Ecowas mediator – former Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan – visited the country last week and reportedly made "enormous progress" while dealing with the military leadership.

Burkina gets green light for two year transition

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso and Guinea have so far only been suspended from the 15-nation Ecowas.

Burkina's junta has proposed a constitutional referendum in December 2024 and legislative and presidential elections in February 2025.

The regional heads of state have reportedly agreed to the two-year transition timeline.

Visiting Ouagadougou for the second time in a month on Saturday, Ecowas mediator Mahamadou Issoufou had praised junta leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and his government for their "openness to dialogue".

According to the former president of Niger, the timetable for a return to civilian rule and the situation of deposed leader Roch Marc Christian Kaboré were also discussed.

Political parties allied to Kaboré denounced the junta's plans on Friday, saying they had not been consulted in advance.

Guinea's transition 'complicated'

However, the situation is more complex in Guinea, whose junta has refused an Ecowas mediator and announced a 36-month transition, a period that African Union chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall has described as "unthinkable".

Guinea has of late led a diplomatic offensive to assuage the concerns of regional leaders.

The country's post-coup prime minister Mohamed Beavogui met the United Nations' special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif on Saturday.

The administration in Conakry said it wanted to reassure its Ecowas "brothers" of its commitment to undertaking a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition.

Guinea's military regime met with main political parties on Monday, but their participation in dialogue is conditional on the nomination of an Ecowas mediator.

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