In Mali, an ECOWAS Mediated Agreement that Brings People to Streets in Protest

In another turn of events since the military coup in Mali in late March, the junta leader – Capt. Amadou Sanogo – has agreed to allow the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, to remain in office for the next 12 months, until a presidential election can be organized next year. The agreement was decided upon following a susbtantial ECOWAS mediation, led by Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara. As part of the agreement, Sanogo de facto receives the status of former head of state – with all the benefits it comes with.

But resentment against what is perceived as ECOWAS interference with Mali’s affairs, and a decision that sees Mr. Traoré, a member of the old Malian political class, in office for another year without a genuine mandate from the people, led to violence in the streets of Bamako today. According to early reports from the BBC, three demonstrators were shot dead by Traoré’s security forces, while the interim leader ended up in the hospital after having been injured by protestors who gained access to his office. This development occurs after nearly two months of tumultuous politics, an attempted counter-coup by soldiers loyal to deposed President Touré, foiled by junta soldiers, and increasing resentment against ECOWAS. Meanwhile, the complex crisis in northern Mali continues to deepen as the Malian army has yet to reclaim control of militia-held areas.

Ongoing tensions have been felt in Mali since the beginning of the crisis in March. The lack of consensus around how to bring democracy and constitutional rule to the country makes it very difficult for anyone to govern, and pushes Mali closer to the brink. With two thirds of its territory occupied by various rebel groups, a growing displacement problem and an alarming food security situation, the country is in desperate need of real leadership.

The involvement of ECOWAS has been a divisive issue, and produced mixed results. As one of the founding members of ECOWAS, it seems both understandable and desirable that the regional organization would agree to send troops to protect the territorial integrity of the state, and actively facilitate agreements between the various factions. At the same time, there are concerns about the legitimacy and widosm of ECOWAS decisions. If an ECOWAS-mediated agreement fuels further unrest – social and political – and deepens the crisis, then it hasn’t struck the necessary equilibrium between preserving stability and dealing meaningfully with grievances.