West Africa bloc presses Mali junta to hand power to civilians

NIAMEY, NIGER (AP) — West African leaders warned Mali’s military junta on Monday they must designate civilian heads of state by next week to chart a path back to democracy or the country will face further sanctions from the regional bloc.

The latest talks on the Mali crisis came after the 15-nation regional bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in neighbouring Niger and tapped Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo as its new chairman.

Mutinous soldiers forced Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign on August 18 but no agreement has been reached on a transitional civilian leader or a time frame for a new election despite repeated talks with the junta.

ECOWAS wants the process completed within a year and has set a September 15 deadline for implementing a civilian president and prime minister, according to a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to journalists.

However, the military junta already said it wants to rewrite the country’s constitution first, proposing instead a three-year transition with an election in 2023. ECOWAS, backed by former colonial power France, has said that is out of the question.

Mali’s then President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. PHOTO: AP

Mali’s political opposition also has called on the coup leaders to speed up their envisioned time frame. Imam and opposition leader Mahmoud Dicko has publicly urged the junta leaders to “be part of the solution and not another problem”.

The 15-nation regional bloc has already stopped financial transfers into the country and has closed it borders with Mali.

West African leaders fear that protracted political chaos could further destabilise Mali, which has been battling an insurgency with international help since 2013. If extremists are able to flourish amid a power vacuum, it could have disastrous consequences for neighbours like Niger and Burkina Faso, whose armies also face ongoing attacks from extremist groups.