By Paul Ejime *
A National Conference organised by Mali’s military-dominated transition government has ended in Bamako by recommending a delay of the country’s faltering political transition programme by between six months and five years.
The Col Assimi Goita-led transition government had agreed an 18-month timetable with elections fixed for February 2022 following the August 2020 military coup.
Mali has been suspended from ECOWAS, which also imposed sanctions on the military rulers after a second coup last May, with a threat to apply more pressure unless the Bamako government came up with a transition timetable for the planned February 2022 elections by 31 December 2021.
But Col Goita’s government now says it will only unveil a new timetable by January 2022 based on the recommendations of the National Conference.
According to diplomatic sources, the Bamako government is expected to transmit the 46-page National Conference Report with the recommendations to the chair of ECOWAS Authority and Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.
While the suggestion of a five-year transition could be considered an extreme position, neither are elections in February 2022 realisable.
ECOWAS might therefore have to settle for a delay of the Mali political transition programme within the range of 12 months.
There is also the festering insecurity in Mali, especially in the central and northern regions, part of the larger Sahel area, from where France is currently drawing down on its military Operation Barkhane.
The restive Sahel region has become the epicentre of terrorist and Jihadist insurrections linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS, with Boko Haram causing havoc from Nigeria, thereby making West Africa and the Sahel insecure.
Meanwhile, the Goita-led government has accused France of “abandoning” Mali and this has made the government to turn to Russia for military support to contain the insurgencies.
This move has been opposed by France and other Western powers, but Russian military advisers are on ground in Mali.
There is also an unfinished business for ECOWAS in Guinea where the military, which seized power has yet to make public a transition calendar, ignoring ECOWAS’ demand for a six-month transition period.
To complicate matters, ECOWAS leaders at their last summit earlier this month took a controversial decision to extend by four months the tenure of the management of ECOWAS institutions at a time when tenure elongation is causing military coups and political instability in the region.
Apart from representing a contradiction in terms, the extension has huge financial implications, in the continuation of the top-heavy 15-Commissioner structure, after the regional leaders had agreed to reduce the structure to seven Commissioners by 1st March 2022.
The aim had been to cut costs and make ECOWAS more effective and efficient, especially given the global economic down turn and the Covid-19 devastation.
This and other unmet expectations on regional integration as well as the perceived regression of democracy in the region would, would certainly put the regional leaders at odds with the estimated 400 million long-suffering community citizens.