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« The arrival of the Russians in Mali opens a phase of international rivalries in the Sahel »

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An additional dimension has just been added to the crisis in the Sahel. With the arrival in recent days of Russian armed men in Mali – soldiers according to Bamako, mercenaries from the Wagner group according to Paris and its allies – the conflict in the region, which was fueled by religious, community, economic and environmental issues, is also becoming the object of international rivalry.

Analyst at the International Crisis Group, Ibrahim Yahaya believes that only the dialogue, on the one hand between Mali and its external partners, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has just sanctioned Bamako , and on the other hand with the main jihadist group, will calm the situation.

What do you think will be the scope of the sanctions imposed on Mali by ECOWAS?

Ibrahim Yahaya: These sanctions are harsh and their impact, especially economic, should be formidable. The closure of the borders, despite the exceptions on the importation of so-called essential products, could paralyze exports, including those of mining products, in particular gold, which constitutes an important resource for the Malian state.

The transaction embargo and the blocking of access to central bank reserves will deprive the authorities of important opportunities to raise funds in regional financial markets. In short, the capacity of the authorities, even if only to pay civil servants and ensure the regular functioning of the administration, risks being compromised. It is difficult to imagine how the transitional authorities will be able to survive this in the months to come.

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But Mali will not be the only victim of these sanctions. ECOWAS countries such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, through which Malian goods transit, will also suffer from a significant shortfall.

On the other hand, the immediate political impact of these sanctions is mixed. If the Malian political and associative actors have almost unanimously condemned these measures and criticized the ECOWAS, a party has also pointed out the responsibility of the junta in its attempts to remain in power. A majority of actors call for the continuation of the dialogue between the junta and the regional organization, which cannot be excluded.

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