Malians hold protests over ECOWAS sanctions
The people of Mali have held massive rallies countrywide to condemn stringent sanctions imposed on the country by the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) over delayed elections.
Thousands of people wearing the national colors of red, yellow and green gathered in a central square in Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Friday for a rally following a request by the government.
People poured into Independence Square in Bamako holding up signs that read, “Down with ECOWAS” and “Down with France”, and singing patriotic songs.
Social media reports showed large crowds in the northern city of Timbuktu as well as the towns of Kadiolo and Bougouni in the south.
Leaders from the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) agreed to sanction Mali last week, imposing a trade embargo and shutting borders.
The move followed a proposal by Mali's junta to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections – despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold the vote in February.
The junta cast the sanctions as "extreme" and "inhumane" and called for demonstrations.
Colonel Assimi Goita, who first took power in a coup in August 2020, has also urged Malians to "defend our homeland".
On Friday, his office said the interim government had developed a "response plan" to the potentially crippling sanctions, without specifying details.
It added that the government remained open to dialogue with regional institutions and did not intend to engage in "arm-wrestling".
As well as closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, ECOWAS leaders also halted financial aid to Mali and froze the country's assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said it is "absolutely essential that the government of Mali present an acceptable election timetable".
Despite the international pressure, many in Mali have rallied behind the military junta, with nationalist messages flooding social media.
Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since the coup led by Goita in August 2020 against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Many Malians welcomed Keita’s downfall because under his rule the country suffered from terrorist, militia, and criminal violence.
Add to that years of unabashed government corruption plus a spring parliamentary election many believe was skewed to favor Keita’s political party, and it gave the military an opening to remove the president amid clear popular dissatisfaction.