The West African economic bloc has set a tight deadline that could require Moroccan mediation to resolve.
Rabat – The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has issued a one-week ultimatum to force Mali to pick civilian leadership. West African heads of state discussed the relatively bloodless coup in Mali and set the tight deadline when they met at the 57th Ordinary Session of ECOWAS in Niamey, Niger on Monday.
The ECOWAS deadline mirrors the demands of Mali’s former colonial occupier, France. On August 30, French diplomats told the media that the transition “must be done quickly” as foreign pressure on Mali’s new government increases.
Morocco, meanwhile, has kept relatively neutral in the affair and has stated it has full confidence in its “Malian brothers” to follow through with a transition of power.
Mali’s military government will have a tough choice ahead. Foreign actors have given the new military council a week to find a civilian president and prime minister. While many in Bamako cheered the bloodless overthrow of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, regional and international actors have been less pleased.
The Malian media has called ECOWAS diplomacy in Mali a “game of cat and mouse.” T
The economic bloc is sanctioning Mali while the two political forces involved in the overthrow of Keita are meeting. The military government, which calls itself the “National Committee for the Salvation of the People,” has been negotiating with the “June Fifth Movement,” the main opposition party in Mali.
The new military leadership of Mali announced it intends to hold elections within three years, but foreign powers have “given” the country a year to organize presidential elections. Those elections will have to be organized by a civilian caretaker president and prime minister, whose names should be announced before September 15.
The demands by ECOWAS and foreign pressure have left Mali’s new leadership isolated in the region and within the global community. The military council and the Malian opposition have little time to celebrate their swift revolution. Many in Mali consider foreign pressures unwarranted and see the coup as an expression of the people’s will.
Many Malians saw Keita’s government as one of rampant corruption, failed economics, and a disastrous security policy in the country’s heartland and arid north. While few openly express a desire for a permanent military government, the foreign pressure might be received with suspicion and could complicate ongoing negotiations between the military government and the June Fifth Movement.
As Mali faces local, regional, and international pressures to resolve its current predicament, Morocco could be poised to be a neutral arbiter in the political stand-off. On the day that UN Chief Antonio Guterres “demanded” the release of Keita, Morocco instead urged for “a sense of responsibility” and called for ”values of peace and national harmony.”
With one week left until the expiry of ECOWAS’ ultimatum, Mali is likely to need a neutral country to provide fair arbitration. Mali has enjoyed strong relations with Morocco and its leadership thanked Morocco for its active support in the days following Keita’s overthrow.
Similar to the Libyan conflict, Mali faces a network of international players with competing interests in the nation. Mali’s military junta may draw confidence from this week’s Libyan dialogue in Morocco that received praise from the international community.
With time running out for Mali’s leaders, Morocco could again be in a prime position to help a brotherly nation in achieving the regional peace and stability that both nations aspire to.