Sanctions on Mali could have ‘devastating impact’, warn NGOs

Collective warning issued after junta plans dropped for scheduled February election

A group of 13 prominent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have warned that new sanctions on Mali could have a "devastating impact" on a country where one in three people is dependent on humanitarian aid.

The European Union has said it will propose similar sanctions to those already announced by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) earlier this month, after plans for a scheduled February election were dropped, with the junta that seized power in Mali in 2020 announcing it would stay in control of the country for another five years.

Ecowas said it will impose a trade embargo, close borders, cut off financial aid, recall ambassadors and freeze the country's assets at the Central Bank of West African States. Former colonial power France has suspended flights to Mali, while the United States has also announced its support for Ecowas.

On Monday, Emanuela Del Re, the EU's special representative to the Sahel, said the bloc would like to continue dialogue. "The position of the European Union is to be firm on certain principles without closing doors completely," Ms Del Re told Reuters news agency. "We don't want to isolate Mali, we want a Mali that is capable of overcoming this crisis."

The list of NGOs calling for humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, World Vision, Mercy Corps, Action Against Hunger and Plan International.

“The people of Mali already face the worst food insecurity seen in 10 years, with over 7.5 million people . . . in need of humanitarian aid,” said the NGOs in a statement. “It’s critical that these new restrictions do not further hamper people’s ability to access humanitarian assistance and basic social services in a country where 70 per cent of the food is imported and where 1.2 million Malians are facing a food crisis.”

Essential assistance

"Malians are already bearing the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe, punctuated by horrifying attacks against civilians," said Elena Vicario, Mali director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. "Sanctions must not hold us back from delivering essential assistance in a country where drought, rising insecurity, and the economic impacts of Covid-19 are already pushing millions of Malians over the edge."

Thousands of Malians protested against sanctions on the streets of capital Bamako last week. "All of Africa is watching Mali," said interim prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga, addressing the crowd. "To some extent, the fate of Africa is being played out in Mali today."

Mali, a landlocked west African country of roughly 20 million people, has gone through a decade-long crisis, with the UN peacekeeping mission there dubbed the “most dangerous” in the world.

Former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who was elected in 2013 following a coup, and ousted seven years later, died on Sunday aged 76. The cause of death was not specified.