West African leaders are taking a strong and principled stand on restoring legitimate government to their neighbor Mali, where a group of military officers last month seized power and sent President Amadou Toumani Toure into hiding. The United States commends the ongoing leadership of the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to resolve the Mali crisis, and we echo their call to the military junta to return power to civilian leadership consistent with the country’s constitution.
ECOWAS leaders meeting in Dakar, Senegal, determined that a vague pledge by Captain Amadou Sanogo to cede power was insufficient guarantee for restoring civilian rule, and they pressed for immediate action by applying diplomatic, economic and trade sanctions against Mali. The leaders decided to seal the nation’s borders to trade, impose a travel ban and financial freeze on the mutiny leaders, and shut off access to the Central Bank of West African States, among other actions. The ECOWAS leaders also previewed the possibility of creating a military stand-by force to help protect Malians from an insurgency in Northern Mali that threatens regional stability.
The junta say they seized power because the army’s campaign against the insurgents was poorly run. But the rebels, many of them heavily armed Tuareg fighters returned from service in Libya, have taken advantage of the situation and seized much of the northern half of the country.
If Captain Sanogo and his supporters care as much about their country as they say they do, they will release their grip on Mali now. Because of the fighting in the North the country’s territorial integrity is at stake and its political institutions, once a model for all of Africa, will be weakened by the undermining of constitutional order and the rule of law. The economic and trade sanctions pose dire consequences for not just the military junta, but also for the Malian people if they remain in place for long.
Diesel fuel supplies will be blocked, denying power plants the energy source they need to produce electricity during the dry season. Government cash reserves will run out in less than a month, after which there will be no money to pay teachers, clerks and other workers. These consequences will only compound Mali’s current food crisis and its people’s need for emergency assistance from the international community.
As civilian leadership is restored, we also urge all armed rebels to engage in dialogue with civilian leaders in the capital, Bamako, to find a non-violent path toward national elections and a peaceful coexistence.