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Who supports the Malian junta?

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Bamako (AFP) – The Malian military junta urges the population to take to the streets on Friday to protest against regional sanctions imposed following delayed elections in Sahel state.

The sanctions, which include closing borders and a trade embargo, could cripple the economy of an already impoverished country.

But few in Mali openly criticize the state’s military rulers.

What are the sanctions ?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has 15 countries, imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali on Sunday over the junta’s failure to hold swift elections.

The Malian army initially promised to hold elections in February 2022, after staging a coup in August 2020.

But in December, he suggested staying in power for up to five more years, citing security concerns.

Mali is struggling to contain a brutal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The land borders with Mali have been cut except for the borders with Mauritania and Algeria, which are not members of the ECOWAS regional bloc, and Guinea. Eléonore HUGHES AFP

The proposed postponement of elections angered Mali’s neighbors and prompted them to impose sanctions.

ECOWAS leaders have agreed to close the bloc’s borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo.

They also pledged to suspend aid to the country and freeze its assets at the Central Bank of West African States.

Who supports the junta?

Many in Mali have rallied to the army-dominated government and its leader, Colonel Assimi Goita.

One of the country’s main unions, the National Union of Workers of Mali, said ECOWAS had “once again betrayed Africa”.

The teachers’ union also suspended an indefinite strike it called in January.

The High Islamic Council of Mali, as well as the country’s main press association, also made statements in support of the junta.

In a rare reprimand, nearly a dozen political parties have publicly criticized the military, accusing it of bearing “sole responsibility” for the sanctions.

But they also said they “regret” the ECOWAS measures.

No significant voice in Malian public life has so far supported the sanctions themselves.

Why such support?

“Malians have national pride,” said Nouhoum Sarr, a member of Mali’s transitional legislature and junta supporter.

He added that the people are “determined to defend” their country.

Malians are rallying to support the junta weeks after the 2020 coup. The sign reads: 'An army-led transition'
Malians are rallying to support the junta weeks after the 2020 coup. The sign reads: ‘An army-led transition’ MICHELE CATTANI AFP

Such national pride was reflected in the media coverage. The weekly Mali-Horizon urged the country to “unite or perish” this week, while the Malikile news site called for a “sacred union” in defense of the homeland.

Rhetoric plays well in a country where some criticize the democratic regime.

“What good are elections if they cannot be organized in two-thirds of the country? Bouba Touré, a Malian teacher, told AFP.

Sections of Malian territory escape government control because of the jihadist insurgency.

– What is the junta’s record? –

Sarr said there had been “real progress on the security front” – an issue he called a prerequisite for further reforms.

He said there had been a drop in jihadist attacks.

In a January report, the UN noted a “slight decrease” in the number of attacks against civilians in the last quarter of 2021.

But he also stressed that there were few reports of violent incidents in areas controlled by extremists, which could indicate coercion.

Goudebou refugee camp in northern Burkina Faso hosts more than 11,000 Malians who fled violence
Goudebou refugee camp in northern Burkina Faso hosts more than 11,000 Malians who fled violence OLYMPIA DE MAISMON AFP

The UN highlighted a number of ongoing judicial investigations in Mali, notably related to high-level corruption.

Such initiatives are popular in the country, although some believe the junta is using corruption probes to screen out political opponents.

Some measures have also been taken to reform the electoral law in Mali, according to the UN.

For supporters of the junta, one of its notable achievements was the organization of a national conference on the reform of the country, with a view to restoring a democratic regime.

The conference ended in December, but it was boycotted by a large group of political parties and social organizations.