The international sanctions against Mali have triggered the largest protests since months of demonstrations against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who was ousted by the military a year and a half ago.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Bamako and other cities on Friday.

Malian, but also some Russian flags hung everywhere.

Claudia Bröll

Freelance Africa correspondent based in Cape Town.

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The anger was directed against the West African community of states ECOWAS, Western governments and above all against France.

"Down with ECOWAS" and "Death to France and its allies" could be read on some posters.

Patriotic songs were sung.

"We want a new Mali," said demonstrators in interviews, "we don't need France, we need Malians."

France not only plays an important role in the region in the international fight against terrorism.

In a televised address to the nation, military leader and interim president Colonel Assimi Goïta called on all citizens to “defend their country”.

Leading clergy have been urged to organize prayers for "Mali's salvation."

As observers from Bamako told the FAZ, there are very few other voices.

“Supporting the transitional government is seen as tantamount to supporting Mali.

Anyone who speaks out against it is considered anti-patriotic,” says Ornella Moderan, head of the Sahel program at the Pan-African Institute for Security Studies in Bamako.

In a video, the influential Malian imam Mahmoud Dicko, who has been supporting the opposition in Mali since 2017, endorsed the willingness to engage in dialogue propagated by Goïta and the unity of the Malians.

EU does not want to “stay at any price”

ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union imposed very harsh sanctions on Mali last week after the military government announced that the elections would be postponed by up to five years. The elections were originally scheduled to take place on February 27th. The land and air borders were closed, trade relations ended and all of Mali's funds at the ECOWAS central bank were frozen. International bank transfers, on which many citizens depend, are hardly possible anymore.

The European Union also announced similar sanctions. "The risk that the situation in this country will deteriorate is obvious," said the EU Commission's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. There are "no signs of progress by the Malian authorities". The EU will not remain "at any price". The United States had also endorsed the sanctions. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had demanded that the military government set an "acceptable timetable" for elections. He hopes to get in touch with the military quickly.

The postponement of the elections was the result of a "national dialogue" organized by the military government and attended by tens of thousands of representatives of government levels, from local to national. After the coup against then President Keïta, the government under Goïta's leadership had granted an 18-month transition period until democratic elections. It was already clear in December that the February elections would not take place. After bad experiences with previous elections, many Malians are initially calling for reforms to the constitution and the electoral law.

They seem to have higher hopes for the military government than for the political elite.

In May last year, the junta ousted the civilian president and prime minister who were installed after the first military coup.

The sanctions and heated sentiment towards ECOWAS and Western nations come at a time when Russian troops have landed in Mali while French troops are gradually withdrawing.

According to official information, the Russian soldiers act as "trainers".

The AFP news agency reported on Sunday that former President Keïta, who ruled Mali from 2013 until the 2020 coup, died at his home in Bamako on Sunday.

Several family members confirmed this.

He was 76 years old.

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