Four days after the ECOWAS sanctions against Mali, the time is for concern. But what will these West African decisions really imply?
Sunday January 9, the presidents of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have heavily sanctioned the Mali of Assimi Goïta. Among the sanctions, the severance of diplomatic relations of all the countries of the sub-region with Mali, the closure of common borders, the suspension of economic transactions between the countries of the area and Mali or the freezing of Malian assets in the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
Since then, France has followed in the footsteps of ECOWAS. Paris says it supports sanctions against Bamako and indicates that Europe is preparing to sanction Mali in turn. This week, European foreign ministers will meet in France to discuss sanctions which will be effective at the end of the month. In the meantime, the airline Air France has suspended its connections with Mali, "in application of the decisions of the French authorities" explains the company.
But what do the sanctions taken by ECOWAS against Mali really imply?
Malians, the first victims of ECOWAS
ECOWAS estimated on Sunday that Assimi Goïta's roadmap "simply means that an illegitimate transitional military government will hold the Malian people hostage over the next five years". But isn't it the sub-regional body which, on the contrary, has just taken the Malians hostage? The Malian press, and more generally the African press, sees these sanctions as a decision “against the Malian people” and not against the military junta. Demba Moussa Dembélé, director of the African Alternatives Forum, deplores "a great gap between the leaders and the people". ECOWAS, he said, “aimed to bring these peoples together and to promote their solidarity and their economic and social development. Unfortunately, the successive leaders of this Community have disguised this ideal and the democratic and integration aspirations of the peoples by forming a union dedicated to defending the power of its members”. And from the West.
An official, present in Accra at the summit on Mali last Sunday, explains to the Journal de l'Afrique that the decision risks having the opposite effect: "It risks uniting the Malian people, a very proud people, around Goita”. The diplomat would have preferred “a dialogue instead of a showdown between ECOWAS and Mali”. Especially since the sanctions imposed on Accra will necessarily legitimize Goïta and his government a little more. The Malian president can indeed surf on two elements: anti-French sentiment and the deplorable image of ECOWAS, a body subservient to the West. The sanctions are also likely to stir up mistrust among Malians towards other African heads of state. Even Umaro Sissoco Embaló, the Bissau-Guinean president, "has turned his jacket around since his visit to France in October", indicates a source close to the head of state.
Senegal, the other victim of sanctions
Did the ECOWAS countries that maintained intense trade relations with Mali shoot themselves in the foot? The first exporting country in the sub-region to Mali was, in 2021, Senegal. Exports of goods from Dakar to Bamako indeed exceeded 470 billion CFA francs last year. However, with the suspension of economic transactions between ECOWAS countries and Mali, with the exception of medical products and basic necessities, Senegal could well be one of the main victims of West African sanctions. The embargo may, however, be an opportunity for other countries that are not part of ECOWAS: Algeria and Mauritania, two countries with common borders with Mali.
On the side of the sub-regional body, it is feared that Algiers and Nouakchott will thwart their plans. So much so that in its press release of January 9, ECOWAS "invited" the two countries bordering Mali "non-members of ECOWAS, in particular Algeria and Mauritania", to comply with its decisions. A West African delegation will visit these two countries “immediately”. Algeria, however, reiterated its support for Mali, claiming to remain faithful to the "principle of promoting African solutions to Africa's problems, which is the basis of qualitative contributions within the African Union". Algeria has "expressed its full readiness to actively support the Republic of Mali and ECOWAS in the salutary path of mutual understanding around a united vision that would safeguard the superior interests of the brotherly Malian people".
Sanctions that pave the way for terrorism?
Were the ECOWAS sanctions dictated by Paris? There is no doubt that Paris intervened to persuade “its” presidents to put Mali on the dock. Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Yves Le Drian, since the announcement of the end of Barkhane, do not support the presence of Wagner in Mali. According to several sources, a few hundred men from the Russian paramilitary group are already stationed in the country. However, the ECOWAS press release clearly targets the agreement between Mali and Wagner. Amazing when you know how much Emmanuel Macron has not respected Libya in recent years. ECOWAS seems to have forgotten this… For its part, Paris is in the process of reducing its 5 soldiers in the region, while they were fighting against terrorists in the Sahel.
By depriving Mali of its assets, ECOWAS therefore knows that Bamako will have difficulty paying its civil servants, and especially its soldiers. However, closing the borders will not stop the insecurity in the north of the country. The decision of the West African body “is likely to play into the hands of the terrorist groups that are rampant in Mali. Indeed, when we seek to isolate and suffocate a country, we necessarily increase its difficulties and weaken its ability to deal with them,” sums up Demba Moussa Dembélé. What to do with the terrorists?