Aid in Mali after the lifting of sanctions after the coup

Street markets in Mali’s capital Bamako buzzed with excitement after West African states lifted a six-month trade embargo imposed in connection with the country’s latest coup, allowing merchants to once again buy goods from abroad.

“We’ve had the same things (for months),” said Kadiatou Koulibaly, a fabric seller in Bamako’s main market.

“I plan to leave for Abidjan tomorrow to do some shopping.”

The heads of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday lifted sanctions on the country’s military regime, including a trade and financial embargo imposed in January after the junta unveiled a five-year government plan.

The sanctions hit the impoverished state of the Sahel hard, whose economy is already struggling due to a decade of jihadist insurgency.

After months of negotiations, the Malian authorities on Wednesday approved a plan to hold presidential elections in February 2024, a timeline adopted by ECOWAS.

The vote will be preceded by a referendum on a revised constitution in March 2023 and legislative elections in late 2023.

“This is a big relief for the transport sector,” said Youssouf Traore, president of the Malian Road Carriers Council.

“All drivers returned to work after the announcement.”

The landlocked country is dependent on overland trade with its West African neighbors.

The decision to lift the sanctions was taken at the ECOWAS summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, to assess efforts to ensure the restoration of civilian rule in Mali and neighboring Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Mali experienced coups in August 2020 and May 2021, followed by Guinea in September 2021 and Burkina Faso in January this year.

Fearing contagion, ECOWAS imposed tough trade and financial sanctions on Mali, but milder penalties on Guinea and Burkina.

His commission’s president, Jean-Claude Cassi Brou, said he would continue to remove Mali from the bloc for the time being.

According to one of the ECOWAS delegates, the decision also requires that no member of the military junta stand as a candidate in Mali’s future presidential elections.

“We must sell our sheep”

The end of the blockade comes a few days before the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, scheduled for July 9 in Mali.

The festival, called Tabaski, is traditionally an occasion for buying new clothes and special foodstuffs, namely sheep for the slaughter.

Mali, with a large number of herders, is one of the leading suppliers of livestock to the subregion.

“We have to sell our sheep to our Senegalese and Ivorian brothers,” a cattle dealer told AFP.

The June 2 UN report blamed sanctions as well as “political instability, security and social instability” as it cut estimates of gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 3.4 percent from 5.3 percent.

It states that these factors have led to a deterioration in living conditions, “especially for the poor”.

The sanctions hit construction, transport, communications and trade particularly hard in Mali, which imported 42 percent of its needs from other ECOWAS countries last year, the report said.

“We are coming out of a situation that has weakened many businesses,” said Youssouf Batili, president of the Mali Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sanctions have recently led the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to suspend program funding and are “likely” to continue hurting the government’s ability to service its debt, the UN report says.