At Mali border with Ivory Coast, lines of trucks held up by sanctions


  • World
  • Friday, 21 Jan 2022

Malian Truckers rest near their trucks parked on a site, following the closure of the border between Ivory Coast and Mali, as part of additional sanctions imposed on Mali's transitional government, in the border town of Tingrela, Ivory Coast January 20, 2022. Picture taken January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Ange Aboa

TENGRELA, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - Madou Sidibe should be home by now, the cement product in his truck delivered to a client in Mali. Instead he is stranded at a dusty border crossing in neighbouring Ivory Coast, one of hundreds of drivers shut out by economic sanctions.

Over the phone from Mali's capital Bamako, his five children fire questions that he does not have the answer to: "When are you coming back, daddy? How long will you be there?"

West African political bloc ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Mali this month after a military-led interim government said it planned to extend their rule and delay democratic elections after a coup in 2020.

The restrictions include the closure of the landlocked country's borders and are aimed at squeezing the finances of one of the world's poorest economies.

They do not cover essential goods like food or fuel, yet there is still a growing backlog of trucks carrying wood and clinker, a product used in making cement, at the Tengrela crossing in northern Ivory Coast, according to a Reuters reporter who visited this week.

So far there is little sign of mass shortages in Mali. But the queues at the border point to a potential supply crunch in the gold- and cotton-producing country which relies heavily on imports for goods up and down the supply chain.

"My children and my wife ask me every two days when I'm coming home but... I don't know myself. We were surprised by the closing of the border," said Sidibe, 39, lying in a hammock slung between two 20-tonne trucks at the Tengrela crossing.

COFFEE, CARDS, POLITICS

Sidibe has been there for six days, and he is not alone. A Reuters reporter counted hundreds of trucks lining the road leading to the Tengrela border post. Dozens more arrived on Thursday.

It is not like that everywhere. In Pogo, a border crossing 50 miles (80 km) east that sees more food and gasoline suppliers pass through, the lines are less pronounced.

At Tengrela, drivers kill time drinking tea, playing cards, cooking on charcoal fires or snoozing on cots in the shade. Business is booming for local traders who sell them cigarettes and coffee.

Some drivers, short on cash and food, have abandoned their trucks and found their own way back to Mali.

Among those that stay, the conversation occasionally drifts towards politics, the cause of their limbo. Of the 20 drivers who spoke to Reuters, most were in support of Mali's transitional authorities.

To them, the embargo is unfair and will not loosen the military's hold on power.

"I don't agree with the sanctions," said Ali Badara, a 43-year-old driver. "What ECOWAS does is in its interest. What did it do for Malians before the coup?"

(Editing by Edward McAllister and Angus MacSwan)

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