ECOWAS lifts sanctions against Mali and Burkina Faso

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Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have lifted economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali after its military rulers proposed a 24-month transition to democracy and issued a new electoral law .

The bloc imposed tough sanctions on Mali in January after the military government said it would not hold democratic elections the following month as originally planned.

ECOWAS Commission President Jean Claude Kassi Brou told a press conference on Sunday that the sanctions would be lifted immediately.

Borders with Mali will reopen and regional diplomats will return to Bamako. He said.

“However, the heads of state have decided to maintain the individual sanctions, and the suspension of Mali from ECOWAS, until the return to constitutional order,” said Kassi Brou.

The individual sanctions targeted members of the ruling military government and the transitional council.

The sanctions have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering. The country defaulted on more than $300 million of its debt due to the sanctions, which cut it off from the regional financial market and the regional central bank.

The ECOWAS mediator in Mali, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, visited the country last week. A member of his entourage told the AFP news agency that Mali had made “enormous progress”.

Mali’s foreign minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said on Friday that recent political developments were leading the country towards lifting sanctions.

Transitions Burkina Faso and Guinea

Similarly, ECOWAS leaders had met to assess efforts to secure timetables and other guarantees for the restoration of civilian rule in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Mali suffered coups in August 2020 and May 2021, followed by Guinea in September 2021 and Burkina Faso in January.

The West African leaders meeting in Accra also accepted the commitment of the soldiers who took power in Burkina Faso to restore constitutional order in 24 months.

Kassi Brou said that after a long discussion with the putschists in Burkina Faso, a new 24-month transition proposal was more acceptable after heads of state rejected a 36-month transition proposal.

Economic and financial sanctions against Burkina Faso have also been lifted, he said.

The situation appears more complex in Guinea, whose military government has refused an ECOWAS mediator and announced a 36-month transition – a period that African Union Chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall has called “unthinkable”.

ECOWAS leaders rejected the three-year transition. They told the Guinean military to come up with a new timetable by the end of July or face economic sanctions.

The heads of state appointed former Beninese President Boni Yayi as the new mediator and urged the Guinean military government to work with him and quickly come up with a new timetable.

“Beyond that, economic sanctions will be imposed,” said Kassi Brou.

The political upheaval came as many observers began to believe that military takeovers were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from armed groups.

Some leaders who spoke at the one-day summit in Accra called for action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.

“These terrorist attacks are no longer focused only on the Sahel, but also extend to the coastal states of our region,” said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and coordinate our various security initiatives.”

In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths following 1,600 attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Kassi Brou.

In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on armed groups are on the rise, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the northern Seno province last month.

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