While ECOWAS has just sanctioned Mali, it is clear that France has succeeded in imposing its own roadmap on the West African body. To do this, it can count on the support of choice.
Is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) trying to take Mali hostage? At a summit devoted to Mali, heavy decisions were taken against the authorities currently in power. Assimi Goïta had tried to impose an extensible roadmap, asserting that the presidential election would take place, at best, in five years. An attempt to impose its conditions which did not pass with the sub-regional institution.
The presidents of the ECOWAS, Sunday, therefore had the choice between a negotiation with the military junta to try to reduce the delays and sanctions. It was the second option that was finally chosen. And ECOWAS did not skimp on the sanctions: closing the borders with Mali within its area, suspension of trade except for basic necessities, freezing of Malian assets at the Central Bank of the States of France. 'West Africa (BCEAO) and recall of ECOWAS ambassadors in Mali.
Ouattara, an interested mediation
West African presidents meeting in Accra on Sunday estimated that the military had "taken hostage" the Malian population. Astonishing when we know that, among the heads of state who participated in this meeting, are Alassane Ouattara, the Ivorian president with the third illegal term, or the Togolese Faure Gnassingbé - absent in Accra and represented by his Minister of Foreign Affairs - whose family has been in power for almost 55 years. For these heads of state, as for the others, it is above all a question of preventing that any inclination of coup d'etat comes to put an end to their respective reigns.
Presidents who have, moreover, in the corridors of ECOWAS, a nickname. The “Françafrique presidents” are in fact the “missi dominici” of Paris. In addition to Alassane Ouattara and Faure Gnassingbé, the Elysée can count on Mohamed Bazoum to defend French interests and, to a lesser extent, on Macky Sall, the Senegalese head of state. On a trip to Paris, in the summer of 2021, the Nigerien president had estimated that "we must not allow the military to take power because they have setbacks on the front where they should be and that colonels become ministers or heads of state". A pike sent directly to the Malian and Guinean soldiers from France, which had preferred to go through Bazoum to send a message to Africa.
The failure of Faure Gnassingbé
Are the Ivorian, Nigerian and Togolese presidents defending French interests? The question can be asked in light of the terms used by ECOWAS. In its press release, the sub-regional body affirms that it will "immediately activate the ECOWAS standby force which must be ready for any eventuality". In other words, the authority asks Bamako to stop discussing with the Russian paramilitary group Wagner. "Despite the denial of the Malian transitional government, ECOWAS remains deeply concerned by the coherent report on the deployment of private security agents in Mali with its potentially destabilizing impact on the region". An exit that goes in the direction of France, which takes a very negative view of the Russian presence in Mali.
Since the overthrow of the president of Mali, Bah N'Daw, in May 2021, the “Françafrique presidents” have increased their attempts to take leadership. Alassane Ouattara was particularly, surprisingly, quickly involved in the case. The Ivorian president spoke to Assimi Goïta as soon as he took power and found organizational skills when preparing for the special ECOWAS summit devoted to the Malian crisis, which took place in Accra at the end of the month. May 2021. And as if to convince his peers to stand up against the putschists, Ouattara had called several of his counterparts when he was supposed to chair a council of ministers.
Bazoum, the VRP of France
Another president to be interested in the file, not without going against the wall, the Togolese Faure Gnassingbé. The latter tried to mediate between Bah N'Daw and Assimi Goïta. But the failure is obvious: four days before the coup, the Togolese head of state had given his advice to Bah N'Daw, telling him to be patient before announcing a new government and waiting for the arrival of ECOWAS on site. N'Daw had not been convinced by the Togolese president and had taken the plunge. Gnassingbé's double play was ultimately fatal to him.
To try to resolve the Malian crisis upstream, Faure Gnassingbé relied on his Nigerian counterpart Mohamed Bazoum. Very quickly, the two men were excluded from the race in this sensitive issue. The President of Niger subsequently condemned the seizure of power by the military after a meeting with Emmanuel Macron.
By heavily sanctioning Mali, ECOWAS has once again shown that it is following in France's footsteps. With influential presidents like Ouattara, Gnassingbé or Bazoum, the sub-regional body seems today condemned to follow the policy dictated by Paris. To do this, it can count on top sales representatives.