ECOWAS sanctions constitute “a dead end for Mali as for its neighbors”

Since January 9, Mali has been subject to an economic embargo which limits trade with its ECOWAS partners to only basic necessities. A situation that heavily affects the economy of the country, but also that of its closest partners.

Engaged in a showdown with the malian junta Since coming to power in the August 2020 coup, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a new step on January 9.

Reproaching the transitional authorities for not having kept their commitments regarding the organization of elections, ECOWAS decreed the border closure of Mali with its Member States as well as a economic and financial embargo.

The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) has also suspended its financial aid to Mali and frozen its assets, drastically reducing the state’s investment capacity.

To better understand the implications of these sanctions for Mali and for the sub-region, France 24 spoke with Thierno Thioune, economist and teacher at UCAD, the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

France 24: these sanctions are the heaviest imposed by ECOWAS against the junta since the military came to power. What concrete effects do they have today in Mali? ?

Thierno Thioune: Mali is a huge, landlocked country, without a maritime border, which depends largely on imports. These pass through its five borders and in particular through the two major ports in the region, Dakar and Abidjan.

The immediate application of these sanctions, from January 9, had a strong impact in the field of transport because many orders in transit were blocked. Several hundred trucks travel daily on the Dakar-Bamako axis, one of Mali’s main supply routes.

If basic necessities such as food, fuel or medicine, which account for nearly half of imports, are still authorized to circulate, many products essential to the Malian economy, such as cement and iron, second-hand cars imported from Europe by the ports, computer equipment or transport equipment are completely blocked.

We are already seeing a rush on certain goods which could lead to high inflation if the situation persists. The freezing of State assets as well as central bank financing to Mali could also lead to a shortage of liquidity and a situation of payment default.

Which business partners are most affected by these sanctions ? Can other regional actors compensate for these economic losses for Mali ?

The two partners of Mali who suffer the most from these sanctions are Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. More than 20% of Mali’s imports come from Senegal and 80% of its freight passes through Dakar. It is its leading international supplier, ahead of China, then Côte d’Ivoire (around 10%).

The embargo, although supported by these two countries, represents a significant loss for their economies, especially since it also deprives them of Malian exports, in particular cotton, gold or cattle, which, unlike meat , is not considered a staple food.

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>> To read also: In Côte d’Ivoire, Malian traders affected by ECOWAS sanctions

On the side of Mali, the effect of the embargo is difficult to circumvent. Three neighboring countries have kept their borders open, Mauritania, Algeria and Guinea.

The first wishes to integrate ECOWAS and, as such, can hardly afford to show too much support for the Malian government. Moreover, the development of trade routes in the north is impossible because this area is beyond the control of the State.

Finally, Guinea, also led by the military and subject to ECOWAS sanctions, wants to play the solidarity card, but does not really have the means. Its limited port capacities cannot replace the ports of Dakar and Abidjan, which are much larger and more competitive.

The government considers these measures illegal and claims to have taken legal action before authorized sub-regional, African and international institutions. Can they succeed ?

It is not surprising that the Malian authorities, fiercely opposed to these measures, file a complaint. The latter consider that they have made a reasonable offer to ECOWAS, which considers the maximum transition period of five years totally unacceptable.

A certain number of remedies are possible and it is perfectly understandable that Mali, cornered by the sanctions, should make use of them. However, if this lever can serve as a tool in the context of the diplomatic standoff between it and ECOWAS, it is unlikely that it will lead to a concrete result.

A complaint filed with the ECOWAS Court of Justice would only have symbolic significance, as Mali is already excluded from the bodies of the African organization. The African Union, whose Senegalese president, Macky Sall, is due to assume the presidency in 2022, could be more receptive.

But it is above all dialogue that can make it possible to get out of this situation. Because these sanctions constitute a dead end for Mali as for its neighbors. They have no interest in this situation continuing: Mali and its partners must do everything possible to find a quick solution to this crisis.

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