Sanctions due to election postponement in Mali are counterproductive for peace in Sahel

After the coup in Mali, West Africa has imposed draconian sanctions. Yet the transitional government can indeed point to successes.

Mali's recent history can be told along different lines. One begins in the early summer of 2020, when tens of thousands gathered for mass demonstrations in Bamako, mobilised by a rainbow coalition of left-wing, civil society and religious forces. The people demanded the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Keita was conspicuous for his corruption and nepotism and his inability to tackle the multiple crises in the north and centre of the country, not least the jihadist terror.

The jubilation was all the greater when the army intervened and formed a transitional government made up of military and civilian members. Even then, the West African Economic Community (Ecowas) stressed that coups were unacceptable. At the same time, it was clear that a broad majority of the population supported the coup, so Ecowas agreed with its member state Mali on an 18-month transition period.

In May 2021, this agreement began to crack when there was another coup, but it was more like an internal rift. At the beginning of 2022, relations with Ecowas collapsed completely. The hitch was the announcement by the transitional government to postpone the elections for up to 5 years, mainly for security reasons.

The announcement was the result of a series of "national assemblies" at which hundreds of local, regional and national conferences discussed key points for the reconstruction of Mali - with strong participation from all sectors of the population. Undeterred, Ecowas imposed draconian sanctions, including closing the borders to Mali, freezing state assets and restricting trade to essential goods. Internationally, this action is approved of; even in the taz on 11 January, the sanctions were described on the front page as unavoidable.

Disastrous consequences

Those who argue in this way not only fail to recognise the internal political situation in Mali, they also conceal the questionable motives of Ecowas, not to mention the disastrous consequences of the sanctions. Above all, the transitional government must be viewed in a more differentiated way. It is neither flawless nor charismatic, but its successes are quite respectable - even beyond the National Assemblies, the implementation of which was one of its central promises.

She is pursuing corruption and embezzlement with verve, which has already put several political and business figures behind bars; she is pursuing a sound economic policy, investments are a priority; and she is taking decisive action against jihadist groups, with initial successes. Against this background, at the latest, it should become clear why the sanctions are highly counterproductive: First, because they expose Mali to an economic stress test, in addition to the Corona, climate and security crises. Second, because they undermine the democratic awakening.

It is above all the established political parties that are boycotting the current developments, i.e. those forces that, from the people's point of view, have significantly driven the cart into the mud. Postponed elections also hold the promise that new political groupings can position themselves on the basis of political and institutional reforms.

Third, because they exacerbate social tensions, one of the most dangerous rifts now being between influential religious leaders such as Mahmoud Dicko and Ousmane Madani Haïdara, some of whom are in favour of postponing the elections and others against. Fourthly, because they favour turning to Islamist forces, but also to countries like Russia, Turkey or China. It was not by chance that Russia and China prevented a resolution in the UN Security Council, introduced by France of all countries, to support the Ecowas sanctions.

Many governments are driven by fear

The population sees through the game of the predominantly pro-Western Ecowas: Ecowas presumes to act in the interest of the Malian people, but Ecowas is ridiculed everywhere in West Africa as a union of the political class. Many governments are afraid that there could be mass protests similar to the one in Mali. The general discontent is high, and young people in particular are extremely alienated from official politics.

If Europe does not want to lose all credibility, it must finally learn to listen. Coups are nothing to be trivialised. But it is paternalistic, even cynical, to talk about wanting to save democracy in Mali while ignoring the fact that a clear majority of society believes that the current path is the right one. And what applies to the question of democracy also applies to the question of peace: Malians know that the conflict against jihadists cannot be won by force of arms, but only through far-reaching socio-ecological transformations.

Nevertheless, they are dependent on military support in terms of training and material. For where jihadist forces enjoy legroom, there is a threat of conditions like those in Somalia, Afghanistan or, in the meantime, Iraq. In short: Mali needs critical solidarity, but not sanctions.

For this, Germany must finally renounce its Nibelung loyalty to France. The former colonial power has lost its way in the Sahel: It acts high-handedly, repeatedly pursues its own interests and relies far too heavily on military solutions. Instead, the transitional government needs to be strengthened - while at the same time maintaining contact with civil society and grassroots social initiatives.

Reaktionen auf den Putsch in Mali: Kontraproduktive Sanktionen -

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