Bamako – Hundreds of people demonstrated in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday, demanding the nation’s military rulers be given more time to chart a course to return civilian rule.
The protest came after the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) on Thursday said that a previously agreed timetable for restoring civilian rule by February in the coup-prone Sahel state was “non-negotiable”.
Ecowas lifted sanctions imposed on Mali in the wake of the August 2020 coup after the military junta installed a civilian-led government and committed to reinstating an elected administration.
Already struggling with a bloody jihadist conflict, Mali slid into political turmoil last year, culminating in a military coup in August 2020 against elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Under the threat of sanctions, the military then appointed an interim civilian government tasked with steering the country back to democratic rule.
The interim government pledged to hold elections in February 2021, as well as a constitutional referendum on October 31.
But army strongman Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew the leaders of that interim government in May – in a second putsch – and was later declared interim president.
Goita has promised to respect the February deadline, but there are growing doubts about Mali’s capacity to hold an election then given the scale of the task, the ongoing jihadist conflict, and an apparent lack of preparation.
After a summit on Thursday, Ecowas said in a statement that it still expected Mali to hold elections in February.
The 15-nation bloc added that it was reiterating “its demands for strict adherence to the transition timetable”.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Mali’s capital on Bamako the following day.
Moulaye Yaffa, one of the protest organisers, said that he was pushing for a three-year transition period.
“Mali has always listened to Ecowas, resulting in badly organised elections and coups,” he added. “This time we are going to take the time needed to put Mali back on its feet.”
Aida Sissoko, a teacher who attended the protest, also said: “We are opposed to the diktat of Ecowas.”
Swathes of Mali lie outside of government control because of a jihadist conflict that first emerged in 2012, and has since spread to neighbouring Burkina Fasa and Niger.
Picture: Getty Images