Mali’s Junta Feels Sting of International Isolation
Mali’s military junta has backed itself into a corner.
After the transitional government refused to hold democratic elections in 2022, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) sanctioned Mali on January 9, imposing a trade embargo, withdrawing all ambassadors, and closing its members’ land and air borders with the country.
Col. Assimi Goita, the leader of two recent coups in a nine-month period, proposed elections in December 2025 instead of February 2022, as originally agreed upon with ECOWAS.
The 15-member regional bloc called it “unacceptable.”
“It simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage,” ECOWAS said in a statement.
The harsh penalties against Mali, backed by the United States and the European Union within days, also included freezing its assets in ECOWAS central banks and suspending all financial assistance.
Mali had become, as a Nigerian newspaper wrote, “a pariah state in West Africa.”
After the EU announced its own sanctions January 13, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters the move also was a response to the presence in Mali of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor notorious for human rights violations in a handful of other African nations.
The next day, Sweden announced it will withdraw troops this year from a European special forces mission in the Sahelian country. Sweden cited Wagner’s presence as a destabilizing force in the country.
“We now know [there] is the Wagner group … and if they have a stronger impact, then it will not be possible to continue with those large numbers of troops from us,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told reporters during an EU meeting.
“Of course it will have consequences.”
France insists it remains committed to helping defeat terror groups in Mali, however, it has gradually reduced its military presence, withdrawing from all but one military base in the country.
Mali has struggled with extremist violence since 2012, and terror groups have since expanded outward to destabilize neighboring countries.
The junta insists that the insecurity is the reason for delaying elections. Goita decried the ECOWAS sanctions as “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” while leaving open the possibility of dialogue with Mali’s neighbors.
Former Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamissa Camara believes diplomacy still offers a way forward.
“The country is quite isolated,” she said during a roundtable on French TV station France 24. “I don’t know that Mali can last more than three weeks in this situation. But what we heard from Col. Goita was an open door to further negotiations with ECOWAS.
“I think ECOWAS will have to be more flexible when it comes to the election timetable. The last proposal made by the Malian authorities was a two-year transition, so I think ECOWAS will be able to get closer to the timetable they initially agreed on.”
Despite multiple reports to the contrary, Malian authorities still have not confirmed the arrival of Russian mercenaries, saying only that Russian instructors are there to teach their troops how to use weapons purchased from Russia.
Analysts say the Wagner Group’s presence is a red line for the United Nations and Western countries, which contribute the vast majority of military support to counter violent extremist organizations.
Mali’s neighbors do not want to see the country veer off the path to democracy. They believe good governance is the foundation upon which long-term security can be built.
“As much as we are aware of the complex situation of the country, we think that all political, economical and social reforms looking to reshape Mali can only be headed by democratically elected authorities,” Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said during the emergency ECOWAS meeting.
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