“The arrival of the Russians in Mali opens a phase of international rivalry in the Sahel”

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Flag change ceremony in Timbuktu, December 14, 2021, during the handover of the French camp of “Barkhane” to the Malian army. Russian elements took up position there a few days later. FLORENT VERGNES / AFP

An additional dimension has just been added to the crisis in the Sahel. With the arrival in recent days of Russian armed men in Mali – soldiers according to Bamako, mercenaries from the Wagner group according to Paris and its allies – the conflict in the region, which was fueled by religious, community, economic and environmental, is also becoming the object of international rivalry.

Analyst at the International Crisis Group, Ibrahim Yahaya believes that only dialogue, on the one hand between Mali and its external partners, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has just sanctioned Bamako , and on the other hand with the main jihadist group, will help calm the situation.

What do you think will be the scope of the sanctions imposed on Mali by ECOWAS?

Ibrahim Yahaya: These sanctions are harsh and their impact, especially economic, should be formidable. The closing of the borders, despite the exceptions on the import of so-called basic necessities, could paralyze exports, including those of mining products, in particular gold, which constitutes an important resource for the Malian State.

The embargo on transactions and the blocking of access to central bank reserves will deprive the authorities of important opportunities to raise funds in the regional financial markets. In short, the capacity of the authorities, if only to pay civil servants and to ensure the regular functioning of the administration risks being compromised. It is difficult to imagine how the transitional authorities will be able to survive this in the months to come.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Mali banned from West Africa

But Mali will not be the only victim of these sanctions. ECOWAS countries such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, through which Malian goods transit, will also suffer from significant shortfalls.

On the other hand, the immediate political impact of these sanctions is mixed. While Malian political actors and associations have almost unanimously condemned these measures and criticized ECOWAS, some have also pointed the finger at the responsibility of the junta in its desire to stay in power. A majority of actors calls for the continuation of the dialogue between the junta and the regional organization, which cannot be ruled out.

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