ECOWAS Intervenes In Mali, But Offers Few New Ideas

After an inflammation of tensions and protests in Mali, the nation’s neighbours have at last decided to intervene. West African leaders have come together to call for unity government in a bid to ease the country’s deepening political crisis. This call has been accompanied by a whispered threat: those that stand in the way of the unity government may face sanctions.

Releasing a statement shortly after a video conference on Monday, heads of the 15-nation regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made the call for unity government to be “established rapidly.” Ministers for foreign affairs, finance, justice, national security, and defence would then be nominated before the unity government’s creation. However, many protesters in Mali will view this move as insufficiently progressive. The ECOWAS’s leaders have made clear their belief that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita should continue to enjoy power, and have applied pressure on members of the opposition to join Keita in the proposed unity government.

The ECOWAS’s response was prompted by Mali’s quickly deteriorating situation. Tension had already been building since this March’s highly controversial legislative election, when the Constitutional Court threw out 31 results from parliamentary elections that had already been significantly stalled. This decision served to bolster Keita’s grip on power. When Keita then offered a measly set of concessions to his opposition coalition in early June, protests sparked. Since then, Mali has been gripped by a series of protests that have turned deadly, injuring over 150 and killing 11 innocent civilians.

Addressing this legislative issue, the ECOWAS summit has declared that the 31 members of parliament at the heart of controversy must resign immediately, and that by-elections must take place to ensure a new set of legitimate parliament members. Until these elections, parliament may continue to function with the remaining 116 members. The ECOWAS has also called for broader reforms to Mali’s political structure, specifically the Constitutional Court.

While the ECOWAS merits some praise for addressing the situation in Mali and seeking a remedy, their response is flawed. The heart of the issue is that the bloc’s core declarations are almost identical to a previous set of compromises drawn up by the ECOWAS earlier this month. That set of compromises was rejected by Keita’s core opposition, the June 5th Movement. It seems the ECOWAS assumes Keita’s opponents will simply fall into line with its proposed compromise, and that Keita’s checkered past and controversies as Mali’s leader will be forgotten.

The ECOWAS would do better to push for Keita’s resignation and a much deeper and systemic reformation of Malian political culture. They must call for a truth and reconciliation commission to try to heal the country’s deep ethnic divisions, and they must promote a genuine coalition of politics in government that seeks to bring together Mali’s many disaffected groups.