MS Risk Blog

New Mali Deadline Set as ECOWAS’ Frustrations Grow

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The crucial 15 September deadline to install a transitional government, including a civilian president, passed with Mali being no closer to having a leadership in place that will usher the way for new elections within 18 months. A day after a mini ECOWAS summit in Ghana, Mali’s junta indicated that it was working to respond to the West African bloc’s renewed demands of installing a civilian leadership. Questions however remain on who will lead the country and there is growing concern of a political standoff and a further terrorist threat to regional security.

Frustrated with a lack of progress, the West African ECOWAS bloc appears to be growing impatient with the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), currently in power in Mali. After meeting with junta leaders in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday, six leaders from ECOWAS called on the CNSP to nominate a civilian transitional government within days not weeks, setting a new 22 September deadline. ECOWAS officials reiterated that once a civilian leadership has been installed, regional sanctions on Mali would be lifted. The major takeaways from Tuesday’s summit are that ECOWAS leaders have again made it clear that a civilian leadership be in charge of the transitional period. While officials on Tuesday firmly rejected the idea that the transitional government could be led by a military individual, one point that ECOWAS has shifted on has been the timeline of the transitional period. Officials accepted the 18-month transitional period, which is a move away from the 12-month period that it had initially demanded, though it is far off from the junta’s first proposal to hold new elections in 2023. ECOWAS further stipulated that the junta would need to be disbanded once the transitional government is in place.

In response to Tuesday’s summit, the CNSP on Wednesday 16 September confirmed that it was working to respond to ECOWAS’ renewed demands. Col. Major Ismail Wague, spokesman for the junta, told reporters that ECOWAS had given the junta an additional week to meet the requirements, warning that it would face further sanctions if the deadline was missed again. ECOWAS has already halted financial flows to Mali and has closed its borders. Questions however remain whether or not the CNSP will yield to growing regional pressure and install a civilian leadership or whether they will attempt to include some military figures within the transitional government, which will be tasked with organizing a new election within the next 18 months.  

While the CNSP and ECOWAS have agreed on a timeline for the transitional period, they remain divided on who will steer the country for the next 18 months. Over the weekend, the junta had noted that the transitional leader could be either a civilian or a military official. ECOWAS however appears, for the time being, to remain adamant that a civilian lead the government, and it is supported by internal actors and regional partners in its position. During Tuesday’s summit, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo reiterated that “we need a civilian leadership for the transition.” This position appears to be supported by the M5-RFP opposition coalition with Choguel Maiga, a member, praising the regional pressure for a civilian leadership. Meanwhile the African Union Peace and Security Council, which met via video conference on Thursday 17 September, also reinforced its appeal that the Malian transition be led by a civilian though like ECOWAS, it has accepted the 18-month transitional period.

The question now remains which side will blink first in Mali’s ongoing political struggle. West African leaders appear to have already given in to the military junta’s timeline, backing down from earlier demands that democracy be restored within a year. With the international community all calling for a civilian leader to be installed, it is unlikely that ECOWAS officials will easily reconsider this demand despite the threat that the ongoing political upheaval could set back efforts to contain Mali’s growing terrorist threat. For the CNSP, the prospect of additional sanctions being imposed on Mali could result in the military junta to install a civilian leader with the hopes that it will still have some degree of influence over Mali’s future. Evidently, Tuesday’s new deadline will be closely watched across the West African region and internationally, and it remains a test for the two sides, with both the CNSP and ECOWAS wanting to achieve their own set goals and maintaining a degree of influence and sense of control.