*By Paul Ejime
Mali’s junta appears to have won Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe to its side, threatening ECOWAS solidarity and further compounding the regional bloc’s hesitant attempts to secure a swift return to constitutional order in three of its presidentially-ruled member states. ‘army.
Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop and his Togolese counterpart Robert Dussey announced last week in Lomé, after two days of talks, that President Faure Gnassingbé had pledged to “facilitate dialogue with international institutions and regional in order to resolve the Malian crisis”.
Colonel Assimi Goita and his army colleagues staged a coup that overthrew Mali’s elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. Goita orchestrated a second putsch in May 2021 against the interim government in which he was vice president, and reneged on his promise to hold elections last February for handover to civilians.
In response to the junta’s decision to delay the political transition for three years, ECOWAS, on 9and January 2022, imposed sweeping sanctions against Mali.
While some analysts view the punitive sanctions as heavy-handed, with a West African Economic and Monetary Union, a WAEMU court rejecting some of the measures as illegal, the Malian junta has persisted in its hardline stance.
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the officially appointed ECOWAS mediator on the Malian crisis, has carried out more than half a dozen mediation missions to Bamako with little progress.
Goita avoided an invitation to attend an ECOWAS summit in March and his government instead announced a revised 24-month transition schedule.
Military juntas in Guinea and Burkina Faso have not only followed Mali’s lead in overthrowing elected governments, but are also similarly delaying political transitions in both countries. The Guinean junta announced a 36-month timetable, while its Burkinabé counterparts unveiled a 39-month programme.
ECOWAS has suspended the three countries from its fold, but the juntas of Guinea and Burkina Faso have refused to apply regional sanctions against Mali.
Togo’s alignment with the Bamako junta, which could be interpreted as a break with ECOWAS, is not surprising. Lomé has maintained a flexible stance vis-à-vis the Malian military in power, refusing to impose heavy sanctions.
It is also instructive to note that Faure Gnassingbé took power in controversial circumstances, described as a military coup by critics following the sudden death of his authoritarian father, President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, in February 2005. After weeks of national protests and international condemnation, he resigned and a presidential election was held in April, in which he claimed victory. The opposition rejected the results of that poll, leading to more violent street protests, but young Eyadéma has since won re-election and consolidated his grip on power.
He reportedly traveled secretly to Bamako in January for talks with Malian junta officials.
Mali’s Foreign Minister Diop said after the Lomé meeting last week that his country urged President Gnassingbé to use his “good offices missions to mobilize again” actors such as ECOWAS, “whose he essential objective remains the organization of free, transparent and credible elections and the return to constitutional order.
His Togolese counterpart Dussey, tweeted that the Togolese government “is ready to support Mali on the political and security levels in order to restore constitutional order, peace, stability and the integrity of its territory. For Togo, only a permanent and constructive dialogue with the Malian transitional authorities will create the conditions for a rapid return to constitutional order and an effective fight against terrorism,” he added.
Togo has been part of a dialogue group facilitating international negotiations on Mali since February, but the way in which Lomé has agreed to be the interface between Mali and international and regional institutions without any apparent reference to ECOWAS or its designated mediator, suggests a lack or disintegration of coordination.
This could strengthen the position of critics who accuse the regional organization of incoherence and a lack of effective strategy and leadership in the face of military juntas in three of its member states. Or could it be part of a covert maneuver by ECOWAS, France, former colonial Mali and the Bamako junta, “to mend differences?”
The Goita regime did not cover itself with glory on the transition program.
His Guinean and Burkinabé colleagues are not doing any better, but are attracting less severe sanctions from ECOWAS.
French President Emmanuel Macron claimed in a recent statement that he helped impose stifling sanctions on Mali following his talks with ECOWAS leaders.
The leadership of ECOWAS has not disputed this assertion, which only strengthens the diplomatic relations which are torn between Bamako and Paris.
France has never hidden its opposition to the defense cooperation agreement between Mali and the Russian group of soldier Wagner, which now supports the Malian military in the fight against insecurity in the country. This was after France and the United States announced their decision to end military support and cooperation with Mali.
Consequently, Barkhane’s French forces, stationed in Mali, were moved to neighboring Niger, while the junta led by Goita expelled the French ambassador from Mali and also broke the 2014 Mali defense agreement. with France, accusing French troops of “flagrant violations of its national territory”. sovereignty.”
With anti-French sentiments growing in Mali and some other French-speaking African countries, recently re-elected President Macron has his work cut out for him on the inevitable recalibration of France-Africa relations, to deal with corrosive mutual distrust.
Meanwhile, apart from their severe impacts on the Malian economy, ECOWAS sanctions are also having negative effects on neighboring states, such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.
Instead of seeking to manipulate or outsmart ECOWAS, the Malian junta must demonstrate sincerity, good faith and responsiveness to positive interventions and a genuine commitment to restore constitutional order within a reasonable timeframe in the country.
ECOWAS, for its part, should not allow its member states or outside forces to divide its ranks. It must demonstrate clear vision, independent leadership, cohesion and sincerity in negotiations, consistency in decisions and actions with a view to finding lasting solutions to military incursions into politics and regression democracy in the region.
With regional integration as its overriding mandate, ECOWAS has a permanent duty to redouble its collective and unified efforts for lasting peace, security, political stability and democratic consolidation, or lose its relevance.
*Paul Ejime is a global affairs analyst and independent consultant in strategic corporate communications, media, peace and security and elections
(Visited 45 times, 7 visits today)