Bamako – Mali is facing increasing isolation after the West African bloc Ecowas imposed new sanctions, including border closures, a trade embargo and a freeze on state assets, over delays in restoring civilian rule.
Experts argue the measures may inflict significant damage to the Sahel state, which is already mired in poverty and fighting a jihadist insurgency.
What are the sanctions?
On Sunday, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) slapped economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali for its ruling military’s failure to organise swift elections.
Mali’s army initially promised to stage elections in February 2022, after staging a coup in August 2020.
But in December, it suggested staying in power for up to an additional five years, citing security concerns.
Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
But the proposed elections delay angered Mali’s neighbours and pushed them to impose sanctions.
Ecowas leaders agreed to shutter the bloc’s borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo.
They also pledged to halt aid to the country and freeze its assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
The leaders also decided to recall their ambassadors from Mali.
How will this affect Malians?
The sanctions are likely to hurt Malians financially, according to Ornella Moderan of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think tank.
“We can expect a cash crisis, but that should occur in a few weeks’ time because it’s the beginning of the month,” said the researcher, who is based in Mali’s capital Bamako.
There are currently no banking problems, several bank officials told AFP.
Hamadoun Bah, the head of Mali’s association of banks and financial institutions, said the state could survive “until the storm passes.”
Not all of the state’s assets are stored at the Central Bank of West African States, he noted.
The closure of land and air borders has already impacted travellers, however.
Several passengers due to travel between Paris and Bamako told AFP that their flight had been cancelled. A Bamako travel agent also said all flights from Mali to Ecowas countries are “closed for the moment”.
Mining operations in Mali “should prepare for significant disruptions to their export routes and logistical supply,” said Alexandre Raymakers, an analyst at risk-assessment firm Verisk Maplecroft.
And the junta?
Relations between Mali and its neighbours have often been tense since the 2020 coup. But Moderan said there was reason to be concerned about the latest developments.
Positions on both sides are “quite firm and final,” she said.
“We have to hope that this is an escalation phase that will lead to negotiation phase,” the analyst added.
The junta – some of whose members were already under sanctions – is facing significant pressure.
It remains an open question whether Mali’s other international partners will now follow the lead of Ecowas in pressuring the junta.
Such a move would “further tighten the screws,” said French researcher Yvan Guichaoua.
Several Malian experts told AFP they expected pro-army demonstrations to take place in Bamako over the next few days.
Similar rallies have taken place in the capital after previous diplomatic standoffs involving Mali’s military.
Moderan suggested the sanctions risk may prove counter-productive, potentially gathering Malians behind the army.
She also warned that the current dispute may lead to “xenophobic tensions” between Malians and their West African neighbours.
Long term, there are also strategic concerns behind Mali’s increasing isolation.
The country plays a key role in the anti-jihadist G5 Sahel military alliance, for example.
J. Peter Pham, the former US special envoy for the Sahel, tweeted: “I hope Ecowas leaders have carefully considered the potential longterm geopolitical and security impacts of their decisions… not just their own immediate political fortunes.”
Picture: Getty Images