Bamako - The West African bloc ECOWAS has lifted economic and financial sanctions against Mali's military government after it vowed to hold elections in February 2024. The move was welcomed by many Malians who have been struggling under the restrictions and the global rise in fuel and food costs.
Early Monday morning, Bamako's grand marche, or central market, slowly comes to life.
On Sunday evening, regional bloc ECOWAS announced the immediate lifting of economic and financial sanctions against Mali following a summit in Accra, Ghana.
The sanctions, imposed in January after military leaders delayed elections until 2026, were lifted after leaders announced a new election timetable in June with elections in 2024.
Mali is a landlocked country and depends on its ECOWAS neighbors for trade. The economic sanctions prohibited the trade of goods and closed borders between Mali and its neighbors, with exceptions for food, fuel and medicine.
Moussa Souare sells clothing in Bamako's grand marche out of a small kiosk. He says his merchandise comes from Senegal, Benin and Nigeria - all countries that were cut off from Mali during the sanctions.
Taking a small break from speaking to clients, he says the sanctions made an already difficult situation worse.
Everyone works a little bit here and there to make a living, he says. Especially here, it's a poor country. Our merchandise, it's not made here. We don't have those factories here.
In Bamako's ACI 2000 neighborhood, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers gathered near a roundabout waiting for dispatches.
Seydou Coulibaly says he only began driving a motorcycle taxi, which pays little, because of a lack of available work in Mali. He says he hopes the lifting of sanctions will open up the country to more investment, and more jobs.
He says the sanctions were implemented, and we had a lot of difficulties. Different products became expensive, and there was also the rise in gas prices.
Though fuel was not subject to sanctions, gasoline prices have risen in Mali recently as they have worldwide.
Political analyst and political science professor Kalilou Sidibe says that though the lifting of sanctions is a turn in the right direction, it's too early to say how the 2024 elections plan will play out.
For the moment, he says, the sanctions have been lifted. But the international community is watching the government. How will they proceed? How will concrete progress be made on the ground? It's only after all of this that confidence can be re-established, he says.
The military government, which first took power in a 2020 coup, originally promised elections in February of 2022. It delayed elections in December 2021, citing lack of security.
Sidibe added that the management of Mali's rampant insecurity will be an important issue for the junta and their ability to hold elections as promised.
With the lifting of sanctions, ECOWAS member states' ambassadors will be able to return to Bamako. During the summit, ECOWAS leaders also agreed to a 24-month transition to civilian rule in neighboring Burkina Faso, which has also been under military rule since January. Burkina Faso and Mali have both seen increasing Islamist violence under military rule.