Mali Coup Leader Condemns Sanctions Imposed After He Delayed New Elections to 2026

Mali's transitional military leaders condemned the Economic Community of West African States for imposing sanctions on them following their decision to delay elections until 2026.

Colonel Assimi Goita led a coup 18 months ago and another nine months ago. The second of which made Goita president. After taking power from the democratically-elected president, the ruling group had announced its intentions to hold another election, but now many worry it is going back on its word.

Goita's military group originally said elections would take place in February, but now say they would not happen until 2026, which would give Goita another four years as president.

Leaders in the region expressed their concern for this move, calling it "totally unacceptable," adding it "simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage during the next five years."

The ECOWAS, which is made up of 14 nations, responded by canceling flights, activating a military standby force and imposing economic sanctions. All of Mali's financial assets in ECOWAS central and regional banks have been frozen.

On a state television show, Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, spokesman for Goita's transitional government, described the group's reaction to the sanctions as "stupefaction," TRT World reported.

"The government of Mali energetically condemns these illegal and illegitimate sanctions," he said.

Assimi Goita, Mali
A bloc of 14 West African nations imposed sanctions on Mali after its transitional military government headed by coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita delayed elections by four years. Above, Goita (center), stands with members of the Supreme Court during his swearing in ceremony in Bamako on June 7, 2021. Photo by Annie Risemberg/AFP via Getty Images

West African leaders who met Sunday in Ghana's capital said they had activated the ECOWAS standby military force, hinting at the threat of military intervention if the junta in Mali continues to defy international calls for democratic elections.

The business sanctions won't apply to essentials like pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies and equipment to fight COVID-19. Petroleum products and electricity are also excluded, the regional bloc said.

Mali's junta maintains that elections can't be held because of deepening insecurity across the country, where Islamic extremists have been fighting a decade-long insurgency. They also say it's essential to draft a new constitution and put it before voters in a referendum, a lengthy endeavor that would pave the way for new local and legislative elections before any presidential vote.

The French military, which helped push the militants from power in northern Mali in 2013, is now in the process of reducing its troop presence in Mali. Many fear their departure will only deepen the crisis despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers and regional forces bolstering Malian troops' efforts.

Critics of the junta fear that the political turmoil will further undermine the Malian military's response to Islamic extremist attacks at a time when they will increasingly be bearing the responsibility for fighting militants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Colonel Assimi Goita
Colonel Assimi Goita speaks to the press at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali, on August 19, 2020, after confirming his position as the president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). Goita was sworn in as Mali's president of a transitional government following his second coup in nine months. Malik Konate/AFP via Getty Images