Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Chair of the West African bloc, ECOWAS, has told Mali’s ruling Junta that elections announced for February must go ahead on schedule and as such, seeks assurance from Mali.
President Akufo-Addo, with his delegation, delivered the message to the country’s strongman, Colonel Assimi Goita, during talks in Bamako.
Goita is behind both Mali’s recent coups, having installed a civilian-led interim government under international pressure after the first one, only to remove it in May and later declared himself interim President.
A senior member of the ECOWAS delegation who spoke to reporters under anonymity said “our message was unambiguous and we said it clearly: the elections have to be held on the scheduled dates”. According to the source, “the aim was to get a firm message across, and we did”.
An ECOWAS delegation will return to Bamako at the end of October when they hope to receive the assurances they are seeking.
Earlier, Goita, who overthrew the elected President last year, met the Ghanaian leader at Bamako airport, Mali’s presidency announced on social media.
Delay in the elections
Ghana currently holds ECOWAS’s rotating chair, but Akufo-Addo was accompanied by Nigeria’s ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, who is mediating in the Malian crisis and Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the ECOWAS commission President.
Goita pledged to hold elections in February next year, but his government has been slow to prepare for the poll and Junta has suggested the deadline may not be met.
Earlier, the prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga said the elections scheduled for early next year in Mali could be postponed by months. He disclosed that the country was looking for alternative security partners to replace France as it prepares to reduce its troop presence in the conflict-torn country.
Maiga suggested the presidential and legislative elections could be postponed by “two weeks, two months, a few months,” adding that a decision will be taken in October following a meeting of a national forum.
The war-torn Sahel country is facing international pressure to swiftly restore civilian rule. As such, the ECOWAS visit also comes at a delicate moment diplomatically.
France is due to reduce the number of its troops in the Sahel from 5,000 currently to 2,500 or 3,000 by 2023 as it reorganizes its presence around a tighter unit centered on targeted strikes against jihadist leaders and on supporting local armies.
Bamako has reportedly considered hiring 1,000 Russian paramilitaries from private security firm, Wagner. France has warned Mali that hiring the fighters from the Russian private-security firm would isolate the country internationally.
ECOWAS last month urged Mali to draw up a timetable by the end of October of “key stages” ahead of February elections.
The regional group of 15 countries said a list of individuals and organizations would be drawn up who would face targeted sanctions if they delay the return to civilian rule.
The elections, promised for February 2022 by strongman Colonel Assimi Goita, are aimed at restoring civilian rule following a coup in August last year against elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The military then appointed an interim civilian government tasked with steering back to democratic rule. But Goita deposed the civilian leaders of the interim government in May, in a second coup, and was later declared president himself.
He has pledged to respect the February deadline for civilian elections set by the interim government, which also set October 31 as a date for holding a constitutional referendum. But earlier this month, the West African bloc ECOWAS said it feared a potential delay.