By Paul Ndiho

West African leaders have lifted economic sanctions on Mali. The move on Sunday by the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States came after Mali’s military leaders submitted a proposal for a transition to democracy within 24 months and published a new electoral law. 

ECOWAS resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali and Burkina Faso.  However, those countries will remain suspended from the regional bloc, according to Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.

“(ECOWAS heads of states) Decided to lift all the economic and financial sanctions taken on January 9, 2022, which meant the closure of the border and the freeze of the financial asset. So, those sanctions are lifted. In addition, they also decided that the sanctions, in terms of recalling the ambassadors of ECOWAS member countries, this sanction is also removed.”

In lifting the sanctions against Mali and Burkina Faso, leaders attending the summit in Accra, accepted transition plans presented by military authorities in those countries. Mali’s junta proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024.  Burkina Faso also proposed a 24-month transition leading to polls. 

“Authority of Burkina Faso has made a new proposal, which is now to have the transition in Burkina last for 24 months starting July 1 (2022) to this is, the progress that has been made. And as I said, with the freedom of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore the heads of states now decided to take the following decision: First is to remove the economic and financial sanctions imposed on Burkina Faso on March 25, 2022.”

Mali was severely sanctioned by ECOWAS in January, shutting down most commerce with the country and closing its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.

The wave of military coups in West Africa began in August 2020, when Colonel Assimi Gotta and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president.  Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself. 

Guinea, the third country under sanctions, received no reprieve because it did not submit a positive roadmap toward elections, adding that the suspension of all three nations from ECOWAS remains in force until they hold elections.

ECOWAS named a new mediator for Guinea, Benin’s former president Yayi Boni, and it is expected to receive a new timetable for its elections by the end of the month.

Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January 2022. 

The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.

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