Last week, two of Africa’s main governance bodies reversed sanctions they had imposed on Mali in attempt to support the West African nation’s “return to civilian rule”. The punishments were originally placed on the country following a bloodless coup in August that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The return to normality comes after the military leadership named a civilian prime minister, 64-year-old Moctar Ouane.
The African Union (AU), the continent’s main regional body, lifted its suspension of Mali from the 55-nation body on Friday, while a few days earlier, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) lifted the sanctions and suspensions it had placed on the country, allowing Mali to return to the regional community, recognising that “notable progress had been made towards a constitutional normalisation.”
The government will be led by the interim president, Bah N’Daw, while the military plays a dominant role in the 25-member transitional cabinet. Junta leader Assimi Goita will step in as interim vice president. The junta also released a dozen civilians and military officials arrested during the coup.
N’Daw will lead the nation until elections are conducted in 18 months.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission welcomed the suspension lift reiterating the “full support” of the AU “to the Transitional Government and people of Mali towards constitutional order, peace and stability,” he said on Twitter on Friday.
Mali had been without a government for weeks since the ousting of Keita. ECOWAS quickly placed sanctions that included the closure of borders for the landlocked country, halting commercial trade and access to financing. The AU similarly suspended the country from the continental body and called for a return to civilian rule.
“This is a very positive development for the landlocked country’s economy, which had started to show strain under sanctions in August,” Francois Conradie, an analyst with South African-based NKC African Economics told VICE News via email.
The coup came after months of deadly protests calling Keita to step down after the constitutional court overturned the results of parliamentary elections in April in favour of the ruling party, Rally For Mali, despite a clear win by the opposition. The junta took advantage of the situation and deposed Keita.
The 15-member ECOWAS opposed the coup and called for a constitutional transfer of power in an attempt to restore Keita’s presidency. The United States, France and the United Nation issued similar statements.
A similar coup in 2012 ousted Amadou Toumani Touré, opening up the country to Islamic extremists who seized control of northern towns. An intervention by ECOWAS in 2012 helped the country return to civilian rule, with Keita winning the subsequent 2013 democratic election. Since then, the country has been rocked by conflict largely triggered by a power vacuum left in Libya after the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Despite the return to the regional and continental bodies, Mali will continue dealing with the constant threat of extremists from Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist groups. There is also fear that the violence that has gradually spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger could spread further to Senegal. Security in Mali is key not just to the region, but also to Europe. If the situation is not properly managed, militant groups operating in the north of the country could further strengthen their human and drug trafficking networks into Europe. “We firmly believe that a democratic, prosperous, and secure Mali is essential to the future of the Sahel region,” the US Embassy said in a statement on its website last week.
This month, the new government in Mali freed some 200 jailed jihadists in exchange for hostages. The Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, the Al-Qaeda affiliated group freed four hostages including a prominent Malian opposition politician, Soumaila Cisse, together with a French national and two other Italian citizens. A Swiss woman held hostage was killed about a month ago, the Switzerland Foreign Ministry confirmed. There are however more international hostages detained by the jihadist groups with links to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, who also heads ECOWAS, visited Mali on Sunday where he welcomed the actions taken so far towards a successful transition to democracy, further supporting Mali’s return to the international community.