West African bloc imposes sanctions on Mali leaders over stalled vote


West Africa’s main political and economic bloc imposed sanctions on Sunday against Mali’s transitional leaders after they informed the organisation they would not be able to hold presidential and legislative elections in February.

Mali’s interim government, which took power following the military’s overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020, had promised the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to oversee an 18-month transition back to democracy culminating in elections on 27 February 2022.

But it has made only fitful progress toward organising the vote and repeatedly suggested it might be delayed, in part because of an ongoing insurgency by Islamist militants.

ECOWAS said in a statement following a summit in Ghana that the interim authorities had informed it “of their inability to meet the transition deadline of February 2022”.

The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes on all members of the transitional authority and their family members, the statement said, adding ECOWAS would consider additional sanctions in December if no progress is made.

A spokesperson for the interim government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ECOWAS first imposed sanctions, including border closures, immediately after last year’s coup but lifted them less than two months later after the coup leaders agreed to the 18-month transition.

Since then, the leader of the initial coup, Colonel Assimi Goita, staged a second coup in May, this time ousting the interim president and taking over the position himself.

Mali’s transition is seen as a key test of West African leaders’ commitment to protecting democracy against a return to the frequent putsches that earned the region its reputation as a ‘coup belt’ in the decades after colonialism ended.

In addition to the two coups in Mali, Guinea’s military also staged a putsch in September, ousting longtime president Alpha Conde. ECOWAS said it was appointing Ghanaian diplomat Mohamed Ibn Chambas as a special envoy to engage with Guinea’s transitional leaders.

Guinea’s interim president Mamadi Doumbouya, who led the coup, has promised a transition back to democracy but not said when he will organise elections. ECOWAS imposed travel bans and asset freezes against the coup leaders in September.