UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that Mali’s military government needs to hold delayed elections in “a relatively short amount of time” -- not in 2026 as President Assimi Goita recently announced.
The U.N. chief said in an interview with The Associated Press that he has spoken to president Goita, three presidents from the 15-nation West African regional group ECOWAS, the prime minister of Algeria, and the leader of the African Union about “how to make sure that in Mali, there is an acceptable calendar for the transition for a civilian government.”
The junta, which initially agreed to hold elections in late February, said earlier this month it was delaying the election until 2026 because of deepening insecurity across the country, which would give Goita four more years in power. ECOWAS imposed tougher economic sanctions on Mali in response, saying the transitional government had failed to make progress toward holding a presidential election as promised.
Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies. Insecurity has worsened with attacks on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.
In August 2020, Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita, who died Sunday, was overthrown in a coup that included Goita, then an army colonel. Last June, Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months.
Guterres said that in his native Portugal, after more than 40 years of dictatorship, there was a transition of less than two years before elections were held, and “I think the same applies to Mali.”
He stressed that the transition in Mali started “long ago.”
“We don’t need a transition of five years,” Guterres said. “We need a reasonably reduced period allowing for the measures that are necessary to be taken to be taken.”
He said he hopes Mali’s military leaders will understand that they need to accept “a reasonable period” before elections are held, which a dialogue with ECOWAS should establish. He stressed that elections will also allow ECOWAS to remove sanctions on Mali.
“All my efforts have been in creating conditions for bridging this divide and for allowing ECOWAS and the government of Mali to come to a solution with an acceptable delay for the elections,” Gutteres said.
“In my opinion, we need to come to a relatively short amount of time, but enough to make sure that the elections can be properly organized and enough to make sure that all the measures that are essential to be taken before the elections are taken, knowing that the deep reforms that Mali needs will take much more time,” the secretary-general said.
Guterres said the deep reforms Mali needs will take decades and “the legitimacy of an elected government will be a very important instrument for that.”
On a positive note, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that following “fruitful discussions” between the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, and the country’s authorities it will restart air operations on Friday.
The U.N. grounded all non-emergency flights last Friday after the government instituted new procedures for the U.N. to get clearance for its flights, which Dujarric said made it “extremely difficult for the U.N. to fulfill its mandate.”
The 16,600-strong MINUSMA mission is the most dangerous of the U.N,’s 12 far-flung missions. Nineteen peacekeepers lost their lives in 2021.
Dujarric said Thursday that MINUSMA welcomed “the spirit of cooperation and partnership” that characterized the discussions and conclusion to restart the mission’s air operations.