French-drafted statement endorsing the sanctions imposed by the West African regional group ECOWAS against Mali was blocked by Russia and China on the United Nations Security Council. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who expressed her full support for the sanction decision, also called the UNSC into action. However, the efforts of France and the USA were not enough.
France, which also holds the EU’s rotating presidency, pressed the European Union to agree on sanctions against Mali. French Foreign Minister Le Drian said that EU measures would be in line with the unprecedented sanctions agreed with West African economic bloc ECOWAS which Paris has strongly supported.
Thousands rally in Bamako to protest ECOWAS sanctions
Mali’s military government urged people to take to the streets on Friday to support the homeland protests against the West African sanctions and international pressure – primarily from the country’s former colonial power, France.
The demonstrators gathered in the capital Bamako reacted harshly to the sanctions. Tens of thousands of Malians, who filled the Independence Square, opposed the intervention of France. Anti-French slogans were shouted at the demonstrations. Addressing the demonstrators in the square, Prime Minister of the Transition Government Choguel Kokalla Maiga declared the sanctions illegal. Maiga said the sanctions had no other purpose than to destabilize Mali’s army, government and institutions. Maiga also thanked Russia and China, who opposed the proposal to support the sanction decision prepared by France at the United Nations Security Council.
Mali to oppose ECOWAS sanctions in international courts
The people of Mali see these sanctions as a decision “against the people of Mali”, not against the “military junta”. The Malian government also has said it will seek to overturn the sanctions in international courts. “We have formulated a response strategy against this process to coerce the Malian state. Among the battery of measures (some are) legal in nature. We will contest these measures before the appropriate international institutions,” interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said in an interview broadcast late Saturday.
Anti-French sentiment has been running high in Mali over the past few months. In fact, relations with France gradually deteriorated after the military seized power in Mali on May 24, 2021, with popular support. Experts comment that ECOWAS sanctions may complicate the situation in Africa to the detriment of France.
Antoine Glaser, a leading French expert on Africa, remarked on French24, that the continent is becoming more global and the French military presence gives the impression to a large section of the population that Paris still wants to pull the strings in the old Françafrique style. “This is less and less accepted by the Malian youth and generally by all African youth” he said.
Emphasizing that France’s military strength and presence in Africa is the basis of its authority on the international stage, Glaser also said: “Without Africa, France is weakened. It is thus trapped in this balancing act between African and international interests.” The regional expert stated that the anti-French protests could spread to other countries in the region and damage the image of France.
According to experts, the sanctions could have the opposite effect and further increase the support of the people for the military.
J. Peter Pham, the former US special envoy for the Sahel, urged in his tweet: “I hope ECOWAS leaders have carefully considered the potential long-term geopolitical and security impacts of their decisions… not just their own immediate political fortunes.”