By Delcio Maianhi
International economic sanctions against the impoverished West African country of Mali will punish the people fighting for democracy, freedom and a better future for their society.
The 2021 sanctions on Mali were the harshest imposed on the country and they hurt millions of vulnerable people, many of whom believed the coup d’état that year against a French-backed regime, was necessary to liberate them from a power-hungry, corrupt and incompetent government.
The regime ignored nationwide protests demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) resign. About 7.5 million people, a third of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid. Thirteen NGOs are pleading with the international community to ease the sanctions that affect humanitarian aid for the vulnerable population who are affected by the food crisis, insecurity, and Covid-19.
The group says new “sanctions will have devastating consequences for the people and the humanitarian situation. The people of Mali already face the worst food insecurity seen in 10 years”. The food crisis worsened due to insurgency from the north, forcing the country to export about 70% of its food. The sanctions prevent Mali from importing.
Mali is a landlocked country, surrounded by members of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and non-Ecowas members. The country relies on its Ecowas neighbours’ seaports for import and export. Prices of basic commodities began to rise due to the sanctions and with no access to the seaports and closure of borders, many traders in Mali run the risk of going out of business as their goods are stranded in neighbouring ports. Goods such as vegetables, meat, and onions became “expensive” for many Malians.
The international community believes that economic sanctions would coerce the military junta to return power to civilian rule, release the political prisoners and return to the barracks.
The sanctions are also aimed to isolate Mali from the rest of the world, cripple its economy and inspire Malian citizens to demand a quicker election from the military. It backfired because the international community and Malian citizens do not share the same sentiment about IBK’s government.
The international community saw IBK’s government as a democratically elected government that was illegally removed from power in 2020 by the army in a coup, while the Malian citizenry saw it as corrupt and incompetent. They demanded it step down.
IBK was also accused of nepotism. The corruption robbed many Malians of education, health, jobs, and security. Hence, the economic sanctions that were supposed to turn Malians against its military government instead turned them against the international community, awakening a feeling of patriotism. Malians took to the streets to demonstrate their dissent against the sanctions and support the military junta with the coup.
The coup came after months of anti-government protests demanding IBK resign due to corruption that created poor socioeconomic conditions and opened the country to instability. Sanctioning Mali under these circumstances sends the wrong message to the Malian people.
Western and Ecowas support IBK’s corrupt government and neglect the suffering Malian people. As argued by Dr Antwi-Danso, the Dean at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College: “Ecowas must help those countries to step up and get a workable constitution which will help the country, rather than insipid sanctions that do not work.”
* Maianhi is an Honours Student at the University of Johannesburg. This is an edited version of the article first published by The African.