The West African economic community Ecowas has largely lifted the sanctions imposed on Mali six months ago.

This was decided at a summit meeting of West African heads of state and government on Sunday in Ghana's capital, Accra.

The border crossings to the Sahel state are to be reopened, diplomats are to return to the capital Bamako, and trade and financial transactions are to be possible again.

However, sanctions against individuals remain in place.

Claudia Bröll

Political correspondent for Africa based in Cape Town.

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After much negotiation, Ecowas finally approved a new election schedule presented in June by the Malian transitional government under President Assimi Goïta.

According to this, presidential elections are to take place in February 2024, before which a referendum on the amended constitution and parliamentary elections are planned.

Previously, the junta, which came to power in two coups, only wanted to hold elections after five years.

A member of the Ecowas mediation delegation described the current plan as "tremendous progress".

Previously, however, she had advocated an even shorter transition period.

A sensitive issue remains a change in electoral law in Mali that would allow Goïta and fellow coup leaders to run in the elections.

However, the sanctions did not have the effect that Ecowas had hoped.

They were imposed after the five-year period met with harsh international criticism.

In Bamako, on the other hand, the sanctions triggered the biggest protests in years and gave the military government additional support from the population, which has been exhausted by the security crisis that has lasted for more than ten years.

Above all, this made the everyday life of ordinary citizens even more difficult.

For example, many Malians rely on bank transfers from abroad.

Worry about strengthening Russia

The Sahel region recently experienced a series of coups.

In Mali, a military unit led by Goïta initially overthrew the democratically elected president in August 2020.

After that, due to high international pressure, she installed a civilian president and head of government.

Just nine months later, the military also chased the two out of office, and Goïta appointed himself president.

The military government had initially announced elections for February this year, but this date was considered illusory from the start.

In Burkina Faso and Guinea, where the military also took power, Ecowas has so far refrained from imposing sanctions, probably out of concern about polarizing the population and strengthening Russia, which is also trying to gain a foothold in these two countries.

Aside from military support, Russia is now said to be supplying grain to the Sahel region.

In Burkina Faso, the military government has now announced elections in two years.

In Guinea, the government is sticking to a transitional period of three years.

A new mediator was appointed at the summit to push for a shorter deadline.

All three countries remain excluded from Ecowas.

Government representatives therefore did not attend the meeting.

Mali has been shaken by attacks by armed groups and Islamists since 2012, which have also spread to the surrounding countries.

The state security forces hardly manage to control the wide, sparsely populated regions away from the big cities.

There is no sign of an improvement in the security situation; on the contrary, the attacks have recently increased.

There is also concern that terrorists could advance into the hitherto relatively stable coastal states of Benin, Togo and the Ivory Coast.

Last week, the United Nations (UN) Security Council decided to extend the UN peacekeeping force Minusma by another year.

Russia and China abstained from the vote.

The blue helmet mission in Mali, in which the Bundeswehr is also involved, has been in place since 2013.

The Security Council expressed "deep concern" at the deteriorating political and security situation in the West African country.