Oxfam warns sanctions could be a tipping point as Malians face a triple food, security and political crisis

Published: 5th April 2012

International agency Oxfam today warned that sanctions imposed on Mali could have devastating consequences on 3.5m people already at risk of hunger, if humanitarian needs are not safeguarded. The agency called for countries in the region to review the imposition of sanctions to ensure populations are protected, and promote diplomatic efforts to find a political solution that would allow basic needs to be met in conditions of peace and security.

“If maintained as they are for more than even a few days, sanctions by ECOWAS could further undermine the efforts to help the 3.5 million Malians already affected by a serious food crisis,” said Eric Mamboué Oxfam Country director in the country. 

Mr Mamboué added: “Some of the sanctions may prove to be a blunt instrument that hurt the weakest first and foremost, without adequate safeguards. The most vulnerable need to be protected from any actions that seek to bring an end to Mali’s political crisis. We call on those imposing and backing the sanctions to think again and ensure that the impact on ordinary people is kept to a minimum, while also taking steps to ensure that assistance can continue to reach those who need it most.”

Whilst welcoming the ECOWAS’s concern to swiftly settle the political crisis, Oxfam is particularly concerned by sanctions to close Mali’s borders, the denial of access to seaports and the closure of some central banking functions. 

Some 40% of essential goods come from outside Mali and it is the most vulnerable households that are most dependent on markets for food - purchasing up to 60% of their staples from local market. Restrictions on fuel imports will also hit hard, needed not only for transportation, but also to ensure access to water. Without fuel, the agencies warn that water services in Bamako could soon grind to a halt.

Mamboué continued, “Everything should be done to ensure that the border closures do not impact on humanitarian supplies, but also fuel and any other goods required to maintain programs. Any limits on banking must also not prevent ordinary Malians from being able to receive vital remittances from overseas, or prevent aid agencies from being able to provide cash programs for populations who otherwise risk going hungry”. 

The agency fears that the devastating consequences of fighting and insecurity, combined with a worsening food security situation, will also produce a further surge in refugee numbers across the region. It is essential that border closures have no impact on the ability for Malians to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. More than 210,000 Malians have been forced to flee their homes since this beginning of the year and this figures looks to set to rise even further. Already in the last week, UNHCR has reported up to 400 people a day arriving in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, twice the previous level.

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Food crisis in Sahel

Some of the sanctions may prove to be a blunt instrument that hurt the weakest first and foremost, without adequate safeguards.
Eric Mamboué
Oxfam Country director in Mali

Notes to editors

ECOWAS sanctions imposed to Mali include:

  1. Recalling all of its accredited ambassadors, and a travel ban on members of the junta and their associates within the ECOWAS territory.
  2. Closing all borders between ECOWAS member states and Mali, except for humanitarian purposes.
  3. Freezing the assets of the leaders of the junta and their associates.
  4. Denying Mali access to seaports.
  5. Freezing the accounts of Mali held at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
  6. Denying the procurement of funds from BCEAO to accounts held by the Malian State in private banks.
  7. Freezing all financial assistance to Mali through the West African Bank for Development (BOAD) and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID).
  8. Suspending Mali from participating in all sporting and cultural events in the ECOWAS space.

Contact information

For more information:

Charles Bambara: cbambara@oxfam.org.uk / + 221 77 639 41 78 

Ian Bray: ibray@oxfam.org.uk / +44 (0)7721 461339

Louis Belanger: Louis.belanger@oxfaminternational.org / +1 917 224 0834