Mali conference recommands delaying elections by up to five years

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A four-day forum in Bamako charged with recommending a timetable for a return to civilian rule has concluded that polls scheduled for February should be delayed by between six months and five years due to security issues.

Mali's transitional government initially agreed to hold elections in February 2022, 18 months after an army faction led by Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita.

But progress has been slow, with the junta blaming disorganisation and Islamist violence in the north and centre.

As a result of the delay, Ecowas, West Africa's main political and economic bloc, imposed sanctions on the coup leaders, and promised more if Mali failed to produce a plan for elections by 31 December.

After three weeks of discussions at a regional and national level, the 1,600 delegates at the National Conference on Reform in Bamako recommended elections be delayed by at least six months and up to five years.

The government said it would take the recommendations and decide on a new election calendar by the end of January.

A member of Goita's entourage said a delegation would be sent to Ecowas to present the planned timetable.

Attendee satisfaction

Several major parties and social organisations boycotted the consultations, deeming them useless.

But several attendees expressed satisfaction.

“The date demanded by Ecowas was not tenable,” delegate El Hadj Seydou Patrice Dembélé told RFI. “It's now the job of our highest authorities to make a very clear and precise calendar, and with priorities – the most important of which is of course security."

The conference recommended setting up new military camps particularly in the centre of Mali where jihadist groups are rife. It backed the development of new military partnerships, notably with Russia which has reportedly sent private military contractors to train Malian troops.

It also advocated the disbanding of self-styled militia groups and their integration into the army; a suggestion welcomed by Maouloud Ongoiba of the self-defence group Dan Na Amassagou.

"We recommended that the movement be integrated and it was taken into account so this conference was worthwhile," he told RFI.

Other recomendations related to issues like consitutional reform, education, women's rights: a long-term vision for the country.

“People had lots of grievances and they spoke out," said Nana Coulibaly, a member of the coordinating commitee and civil society worker. "We didn't do this for the transition, we did it for the future elections, the future president; it will provide him with a brief.”

More support

Colonel Goita addressed those who had boycotted the consultations saying they now "had to understand that everyone has a duty to safeguard our nation".

He also asked Ecowas for more "support" and "solidarity" to allow Malians to "reach their country's development objectives".

However, a prolonged transition back to democratic rule is unlikely to get much support abroad, and risks isolating Mali both from its neighbours and former colonial power France.

France is reducing its military presence in the north of the country but still has thousands of troops deployed there fighting against insurgency linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

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