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Three African heads of state meet in Bamako to negotiate release of 46 Ivorian soldiers

More than two months after the arrest and subsequent indictment of 49 Ivorian soldiers in Mali for “attempting to undermine the state’s external security”, comes the high-level mission of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which arrived in Bamako on 29 September. Is this the last attempt at a diplomatic settlement to the conflict between the two neighbouring countries? Togo’s President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo and Gambia’s Adama Barrow – he replaced Senegal’s Macky Sall in this delegation, as initially announced – were expected at 10:30 am in the Malian capital.

They stayed at the site for six hours, according to a statement from Mali’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The programme of this visit, which was initially scheduled for 27 September and then postponed by the Malian authorities, was not specified. No meeting with Assimi Goïta, the head of the junta, has yet been announced.

At the end of the Council of Ministers on 28 September, Amadou Coulibaly, the Ivorian government spokesman, assured that President Alassane Ouattara always prioritised “diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation” in this case. Behind the scenes, however, many are impatient to see these 46 soldiers, which Abidjan considers “hostages”, released, following several unsuccessful mediation attempts. Three soldiers were released on 3 September.

Mali, which accuses the soldiers of “mercenarism”, has escaped a new wave of sanctions from Ecowas, whose extraordinary meeting was held last week in New York on the sidelines of the UN’s 77th General Assembly. During this time, the UN called for “the immediate release” of the soldiers.

“No warmongering”

Asked about the recent power cuts in Bamako and other cities across Mali, which depends on its neighbour Côte d’Ivoire for energy, Coulibaly said that “there is no reason for our country to take a warmongering attitude”. In 2019, imports from Côte d’Ivoire represented 27% of Mali’s energy mix.

“It seems to me hasty and unfortunate to link these cuts to the situation of our soldiers,” he said. A senior official from the Ivorian Electricity Company (CIE) told us over the phone that these cuts were the result of “repair work underway on the line”. This statement echoes that of Energie du Mali (EDM – SA), which refers to “an incident that occurred a few days ago on the Ferké-Sikasso transport network”.

In April 2021, Bah N’Daw, the then president of the Malian transitional government, had asked his neighbour for help in dealing with a wave of load shedding in the country. Mali, which had been receiving 100 megawatts (MW) from Côte d’Ivoire for several years, asked for an additional 50 MW. It obtained an agreement for 30 MW.

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