The military junta that seized power in Mali last month said Wednesday that the country could face a “total embargo” from West African countries if it does not quickly appoint civilian leaders.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali after the August 18 coup in a bid to push the junta to return the nation to civilian rule.
The putschists, who have vowed to hold fresh elections, on Wednesday appointed officials to lead the fragile country through the transition, spokesman Colonel Ismael Wague said.
When asked about the sticking point in negotiations between the junta and ECOWAS — whether soldiers or civilians will run the transition government — Wague said “all options are on the table”.
West African leaders met with the junta’s leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, for talks on the issue in Ghana on Tuesday.
ECOWAS called for a civilian-led transition government to be installed in Mali “in days”, and said the bloc would lift its sanctions — which include closed borders and a ban on trade and financial flows — once the change has been made.
The junta had asked ECOWAS to “give them some time” to carry out necessary consultations, Wague said at the Kati military camp outside the capital Bamako.
The spokesman made clear that the junta would prefer the transition be run by the military, and claimed that was also the preference of the majority of Malians following meetings with political parties and civil society groups last week.
ECOWAS had previously demanded that the transition last no more than 12 months, but has relented to the junta’s request for 18 months.
“They even said that, for the moment, the sanctions are not yet severe,” Wague said.
But if the junta insists on a military-led transition, “they are capable of imposing a total embargo, that is to say totally closing the borders — nothing comes in, nothing goes out and we will suffocate quickly,” he added.
Two days after the coup, ECOWAS stopped financial and commercial trade with Mali, except for basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight coronavirus, fuel and electricity.
The sanctions could bite in the poor country already facing a severe economic downturn as well as a simmering jihadist insurgency and chronic inter-ethnic violence.
It was these state failures that provoked people into the streets earlier this year, with months of protests and unrest building up to the military arresting the country’s leaders and seizing control.