West African Coups Back ‘En Vogue’? — ECOWAS, EU, US Pile Pressure on Sanctions-Hit Mali

Written by | Monday, January 17th, 2022

The European Union’s role in an anti-jihadist defense and security mission in the Sahel region is jeopardized as relations with the military government in Mali continue to decline over delayed elections and the presence of Russian mercenaries, EU officials conceded on Thursday (13 January). “We want to stay engaged in Mali, we want to stay engaged in the Sahel, but that should not be done at any cost, ” EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned following a meeting of EU defense ministers. “For now, we are continuing our mission to train and advise the Malian army and security forces,” he said but added that the EU will also impose sanctions in line with the measures taken by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “The risk that the situation in this country deteriorates is evident,” Borrell told reporters and added that there was “no sign of progress from the [Malian] authorities”.
This came after the French pressure (12 January) on the EU to agree sanctions against the West African country in response to its military-dominated leadership’s decision to shelve a timetable for elections. Mali’s junta government led by Colonel Assimi Göita says it wants a five-year transition period before new elections. But French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Mali risked being “suffocated” unless Mali’s military junta lived up to its responsibilities and stopped seeking to “fool” the country’s partners. The EU measures are in line with the unprecedented sanctions the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped on Mali on Sunday (9 January) over delayed elections following two coups. France and the United States underlined their support for the ECOWAS sanctions that are designed to increase pressure on the West African country’s junta. Leaders from the 15-nation West African regional bloc agreed to shutter borders with the Sahel state, imposed a trade embargo and halted financial aid to Mali and freeze its assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
Mali’s junta has condemned the ECOWAS sanctions and urged Malians to stage nationwide demonstrations against them on Friday (14 January). But France, Mali’s former colonial power, which also holds the EU’s rotating presidency, backed the sanctions, with French president Emmanuel Macron declaring his country’s “complete solidarity with the region and with this very courageous and clear stance.” Also the earlier decision of Mali’s junta government to deploy mercenaries from the Wagner Group, triggered a major diplomatic backlash from France, the EU and the US, and risks the collapse of a French-led counterterrorism mission in the Sahel region. In late December, 15 Western countries condemned the deployment of Wagner fighters to Mali and accused Moscow, in a statement, of providing them with material backing. In response, France is moving to draw down forces deployed in Mali and the region to fight a jihadist insurgency in favor of a multinational force called Takuba including troops from EU states.

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