By Jemal Oumar
In a sign of souring ties between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Malian state, some members of the West African group recently intercepted shipments of advanced arms destined for Mali.
“Guinea-Conakry is blocking 10 military armoured vehicles in the port of Conakry, while Senegal is blocking some heavy equipment and boxes of ammunitions, as well as large quantities of other military supplies,” military junta spokesman Bakary Mariko told reporters on August 10th.
The move is an attempt to prevent the Malian army from obtaining advanced arms that would enable it to counter the terrorist groups that have been controlling the northern areas for several months, according to Mariko.
He added that the Guinean government had given Malian soldiers who were dispatched to receive the arms 48 hours to leave its soil.
“While ECOWAS is proceeding with its efforts to deploy a military force to counter the armed terrorist groups in northern Mali, we see that some of its members are behaving in a way that contradicts these intentions by preventing the Malian army from enhancing its military capabilities in such a manner that would allow it to free its soil from the terrorists,” Mariko concluded.
Mali’s l’Indépendant, however, reported Thursday (August 16th) that the Guinean government agreed to deliver some arms to Mali in the last few days.
“However, the move was seen as insufficient and didn’t satisfy the Malian side, given that the quantity of arms that were delivered didn’t include all blocked arms,” the Malian daily cited sources close to the files as saying. “The arms were also subject to selection and didn’t include offensive arms. This means that the Conakry government is not serious about the delivery, and all this reflects the ECOWAS’ desire to maintain the Malian state under its command.”
According to Malian chief of staff Ibrahima Dahirou Dembélé, the escalating crisis between Mali and ECOWAS is also evident in “Malian army’s refusal to deploy ECOWAS soldiers in the capital Bamako to secure constitutional institutions”.
“It said that any regional intervention could only take place in the north of the country, currently occupied by Islamist groups, and that the Malian army would secure its country’s institutions,” the Malian colonel said on August 15th following an emergency meeting of ECOWAS chiefs of staffs in Bamako.
An official from the West African bloc explained to RFI the motive behind the recent move.
“The goal behind blocking arms shipments is to stop the military ambitions which may lead Prime Minister Modibo Diarra and coup leader Sanogo to engage in a military venture without international approval and regional blessing,” he said.
The African official said the arrival of arms in Mali is contingent on establishing political stability in the country by consolidating constitutional institutions through an interim national unity government capable of taking collective decisions.
The transitional period, which is led by current President Dioncounda Traore, ended July 30th. However, ECOWAS extended it for an additional ten days to allow the president who has just returned from medical treatment in France to form a national consensus government.
“The formation of national unity government is not a demand for Malians alone, but a demand for all the international and regional communities,” Malian analyst and journalist Saido Maiga told Magharebia. “It will be the key for solving many crises and will remove some obstacles, including those hindering relations with ECOWAS and international community, given that the latter may be convinced of ECOWAS’ calls to support its expected military intervention.”
The demand resonates with many Malians, weary from the protracted conflict.
“We’ve been waiting for the formation of the national unity government for a long time so as to revenge our relatives who were killed by the rebels,” Boubey Kounaté, widow of an officer killed in clashes with Touareg rebels, told Magharebia. “Sanogo deceived us when he led the coup, and we thought he would exact our revenge. However, time has proven the opposite.”
“However, I call upon ECOWAS to supply our army with the necessary arms to strengthen it,” she said.