Experts Call ECOWAS Mali Deadline Unrealistic


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ACCRA, GHANA - Leaders of West African states and Mali's military coup failed to agree on a transfer to civilian rule in talks this week, raising concerns about the political standoff and regional security in that country.

Security experts in Ghana, where the talks took place, say the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) needs to help Mali return to "normalcy," because it is in a dire situation.

Ghana's president and ECOWAS chairman, Nana Akufo-Addo, told reporters after Tuesday's meeting that they "have not reached any agreement with the military junta."

The regional bloc wanted the military leaders to immediately hand over power to a civilian government. The bloc had imposed economic sanctions after the coup and given a Tuesday deadline for the junta to appoint a new president.

There are fears the coup could undermine the fight in Mali and the Sahel region against Islamist militants with links to al-Qaida and Islamic State.

Quick resolution urged

Speaking before the talks began, Akufo-Addo said the situation required Mali to resolve its political crisis immediately.

"The terrorists are taking advantage of the situation in Mali, and to flex their muscles even more," he said. "Today is supposed to be the day when the military junta in Mali is to put in a government which should respond to the criteria we set out at our last summit on 28th August 2020. That has not been."

David Agbee, executive director of the Ghana Institute of Governance and Security, said many factors at play in Mali need to be considered, including ethnic tensions, poverty and the influence of France in the country.

He said the deadline ECOWAS had given the junta would not work.

"We are just jumping the gun, preaching that the country needs to return to democratic rule of governance," Agbee said. "The internal problems, the domestic issues need to be understood by ECOWAS. They need to deal with the domestic issues and look at the significance of the citizens."

He said in these circumstances, citizens generally do not respect civilian rule. He said better outcomes could be achieved by helping the military bring back stability and then handing over power to civilians while building up democratic structures.

If this situation is not handled sensitively, Agbee said, there will be "dire consequences" for the stability of the Sahel region.

Vladimir Antwi-Danso, the dean of academic affairs at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, shared similar sentiments.

More 'mature' tack

Antwi-Danso said he wanted to see a more "mature" approach to help Mali transition to democracy, and for ECOWAS to play a key role with mediation.

"We need to help a transition to that normalcy, but to stampede the junta to hand over quickly - the junta is now to make a charter and make an 18-month transition. Fine, I'm not staying that is best, but we need to help to bring about a kind of understanding between the opposition and the junta," he said.

ECOWAS leaders said they would be willing to allow a transitional government to stand for 18 months, longer than the original year it asked for.

They also said they would fully "accompany" Mali toward the restoration of constitutional order and lift sanctions once the country had a president and prime minister in place for the transitional period.