ECOWAS Revokes Economic Sanctions Against Mali

After the Malian military regime agreed that it would hold elections in 2024, reversing a previous decision to postpone elections until 2026, the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States, also known as ECOWAS, has lifted economic sanctions placed against Mali in January. This comes after an explosion killed two U.N. peacekeepers and severely injured five others in northern Mali.

The inability to trade with neighboring ECOWAS member countries, on top of rising global prices, has financially devastated Mali. Thus, the international community has celebrated the sanctions repeal, with the U.N. issuing a statement of support and former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan mediating the agreement.

Although the agreement to hold elections in 2024 is a step towards democracy and peace for Mali, many remain skeptical about its regime’s commitment. “The sanctions have been lifted. But the international community is watching the government,” political analyst and professor Kalilou Sidibe told V.O.A. News. “How will they proceed? How will concrete progress be made on the ground? It’s only after all of this that confidence can be re-established.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres celebrated the election agreement and repeal of economic sanctions, but has also spoken out against the violent attack that killed two U.N. peacekeepers. A spokesperson for Mr. Guterres stated that the Secretary-General “expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the government and people of Egypt, whose soldiers continue to pay the highest price in the service of peace in Mali.”

U.N. peacekeepers, many of them from Egypt, have been posted in Mali for nearly a decade due to the presence of rebel forces throughout the country. There are currently 12,000 U.N. military personnel stationed throughout Mali, but their presence, even alongside foreign troops, has done little to ensure the region’s safety – 132 civilians were killed in the central Mopti region of the country in June alone. Mali’s rebel groups, some with links to al-Qaeda and I.S.I.L., have continued to gain momentum in the northern area of the country, and the financial crisis has only heightened the country’s conflicts.

Since the current military regime took power in a coup in 2020, Mali has struggled with both political and humanitarian challenges. The combined effects of the economic sanctions, increased violence between rebel groups and the government, and presence of an undemocratic military regime has made peace in Mali seem unattainable. However, peace is possible. In order to achieve it, it is integral that the international community, including member-states of ECOWAS and the U.N., hold Mali’s military regime accountable for its promise to hold elections in 2024. Additionally, one of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Mali’s objectives has been to support democratic practices, such as free and fair elections. These measures should continue to be implemented.

In 2015, the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was created to curtail the fighting between rebel groups and the government. Though successful in some aspects, it is important that those involved with the agreement continue to implement its measures and work to disarm, demobilize, and re-integrate former rebel members back into society.

Prospects for peace in Mali seem more plausible now than ever, but it is crucial that democratic elections be held in 2024. The international community must take measures to ensure that rebel groups are de-weaponized and re-integrated into Malian society in order to disarm the violence. Both democracy and disarmament are key factors for Mali’s peace and security.