Reacting to Mali’s most recent military coup, the Economic Community of West African States placed heavy economic sanctions on Mali to try and encourage them to permanently stabilize their leadership. However well-intentioned these efforts, the already poor civilians of Mali are feeling the actual effects. The damaging sanctions are supported by the European Union and the United States, and France has suspended all flights to Mali.
Mali’s governmental structure has been precarious since it gained independence in 1958. Since then, it has experienced five government coups, including two in the last nine months. The most recent coup was led by former Malian Vice President and military leader Assimi Goïta in May of 2021. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was removed from power, and new elections were held this year. The instability of leadership in Mali has led neighbouring countries to become reluctant to trade and interact with Mali. They have placed strict sanctions on economic activity to push them towards stabilizing and solidifying their governmental leadership and structure.
Mali is highly dependent on external aid. Healthcare, for example, is 33% funded by external donors, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Sanctions mustn’t further restrict access to humanitarian assistance and essential social services, especially in a country where 70% of the food is imported 1.2 million Malians face a food crisis. The imposed sanctions exclude restrictions on food products, yet ultimately, the lower class will be hit the hardest in an overall worsening economy.
Not only are Mali’s civilians hurting financially from the sanctions, but they also have recently endured significant amounts of violence from the coup nine months ago. Numerous non-governmental organizations have been calling for either lighter sanctions or aid to be sent to civilians. “Despite more than a third of the country’s population is dependent on humanitarian aid, organizations working in Mali already face severe access constraints. It’s imperative that the international community keeps responding to people’s urgent needs and that any new sanctions have concrete humanitarian exemptions. These must be monitored and implemented, or the most vulnerable people in Mali will pay the price,” says Franck Vannetelle, the County Director for the International Rescue Committee in Mali.
As several diplomatic leaders predicted, these sanctions have made things harder for a population that has already endured violence, poverty, and political instability. International involvement needs to take a different route that is not financially damaging to the state. In the past, protests in Mali have resulted in high death tolls and tense governmental and civic relations. If other countries genuinely wish to help the civilians of Mali, they should aid and protect civilians and challenge only the current coup leaders in seats of power.
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