West African sanctions imposed on Mali this week, after the country’s military government postponed elections, block all but essential commercial and financial transactions. While the punitive move aims to pressure the military to hold elections as promised in February, experts say ordinary Malians are also set to suffer.
Regional bloc ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, imposed sanctions on Mali after a special summit on January 9 held in Accra.
ECOWAS had already sanctioned members of Mali’s military government and threatened further sanctions if Mali’s military leaders did not abide by a formerly agreed upon election date of February 2022.
In December, Malian leaders proposed holding the next presidential elections in 2026.
Malian President Assimi Goita said that he remains open to further dialogue with ECOWAS to find a solution, despite “illegitimate, illegal, and inhumane” decisions by the regional bloc, and urged them to reconsider sanctions.
He said, we call on ECOWAS once again, for a thorough analysis of the situation in our country, placing the best interests of the Malian population above all other considerations.
Salimata Coulibaly, like more than 70% of Malians, works in the informal sector.
After finishing school, she was unemployed, and opened a shop with her family selling used appliances, children’s toys, and clothes brought by shipping container from France via Senegal.
This merchandise will not be able to pass into Mali along with other nonessential goods, while the sanctions are in place. Salimata and her family rely on the store’s income for basic living expenses.
Right now, she said, everything we do depends on the store. If we can’t get the containers here, it’s going to get us into trouble. Frankly, it will really get us into trouble. But we pray to God that ECOWAS and Mali can find an agreement, so that all this is over.
Kobi Annan, a risk consultant based in Accra with Songhai Advisory, a firm that does political and economic risk analyses in sub-Saharan Africa, said that Senegal is Mali’s biggest import partner.
He said that the widespread support of the military government in Mali will play a role in how Malian citizens view the sanctions.
“People will probably be willing to take a bit of suffering for a kind of patriotic stand, to show that Mali will not just back down in the face of opposition from ECOWAS. I think they will get to a point where it will start to get difficult. Mali is an import-heavy economy. They do well, relatively, in terms of food subsistence, but other things have to be imported, and as a landlocked country that’s especially difficult if your land borders are closed,” he said.
Guinea’s military junta released a televised statement Monday affirming the country’s support for Mali and stating that borders between Mali and neighboring Guinea will remain open.
Guinea’s former president Alpha Conde was ousted in a coup d’état in September 2021, and the country has been under military rule since. ECOWAS has mounted pressure on Guinea to return to constitutional rule.
An open border with Guinea, just 130 kilometers southwest of Bamako, gives Mali access to the port of Conakry.