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Elections postponed by the army, regional blockade, Russian mercenaries… What is happening in Mali?

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Mali has been the target of a regional blockade since Sunday by several West African countries which accuse the ruling military junta of slowing down the democratic transition. A political crisis that is playing out against a backdrop of a jihadist threat.

Strong political instability

Faced since 2012 with jihadist and independence insurgencies, Mali has been the scene of two military coups in less than a year. In August 2020, a first coup overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. He is succeeded by a National Committee for the Salvation of the People, which appoints the former Minister Bah N’Daw to occupy the functions of President of the Transition of the Republic of Mali. But for a few months only.

In May 2021, a new coup pushes him to resign. Already instigator of the first, in 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta takes power. Emmanuel Macron then denounces “a coup d’etat in the unacceptable coup”.

While elections scheduled for February 2022 were to return power to civilians, the military junta announced in early January a period of “transition” of several years during which it will retain power. In detail, the military plans to hold a constitutional referendum in January 2024, legislative and senatorial elections in November 2025 and a presidential election no later than December 2026.

Harsh penalties

In reaction, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted tough sanctions on January 9: closing the borders of the thirteen member countries of the regional organization with Mali, suspension of trade (excluding essential products), freezing of Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and recall of the various ambassadors. These sanctions will only be lifted if the military power presents an “acceptable” timetable for democratic transition.

Already targeted by ECOWAS sanctions in 2020, the Malian authorities “strongly” condemned these new measures deemed “illegal” and accused members of ECOWAS of being “instrumentalised” by “extra-regional powers”, in particular France.

Emmanuel Macron, very critical of the junta, affirmed France’s support for these sanctions.

A worrying security situation

Mali is tested by nine years of war against jihadist groups and the separatists of Azawad, a desert territory which covers all the north of the country. Today, the situation remains worrying. On January 5, the UN expressed concern over an increase in violence committed “towards the south and west of the country” by “extremist elements”.

Ten days after the second coup d’état in May 2021, Emmanuel Macron announced that he would drastically reduce the French military presence in Mali by putting an end to the anti-jihadist operation Barkhane, which has lasted since 2014. A decision described as “abandonment in the air. »By the Transitional Prime Minister, Choguel Kokalla Maïga.

In the absence of French support, Mali is strongly suspected of calling on the Russian group Wagner, a very controversial paramilitary commando accused of abuses against civilians. If the authorities do not confirm the information, they recognize the presence in the country of a number of Russian instructors.

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