Malian women sift wheat in a field near Segou, central Mali, Jan. 22, 2013. AP
The comment came one day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to decide how to deal with Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, where the military has seized power and does not plan to allow a return to civilian rule for several years.
All three nations are currently suspended from the 15-nation ECOWAS, which imposed strict economic and financial sanctions on Mali in January and is threatening to do likewise to Burkina and Guinea.
Saturday's summit failed to reach a decision, which has now been pushed back to the next ECOWAS summit, on July 3.
On Sunday, the African leaders issued a statement saying they would "uphold" the punitive measures imposed on Mali on January 9 but continue talking to the junta in Bamako "with a view to reaching an agreement to ensure a gradual lifting of the sanctions".
This, they said, would depend on the junta accelerating the transition to democratic rule. The military initially said it would hold on to power for five years but after ECOWAS imposed sanctions reduced that to two.
ECOWAS says the army must leave office within a maximum of 16 months.
In the statement, the region's leaders again demanded Burkina and Guinea come up with "an acceptable transition timetable". Both military regimes plan to cling to power for three years.
A source said Saturday's summit in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, had been "particularly" divided over Mali.
ECOWAS sanctions have exacerbated the economic and social crises gripping landlocked Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, and had a ripple effect on its neighbours.
Several participants said the war in Ukraine was adding to the strains on African economies.
"Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order," Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo said on Saturday.
West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in the past two years. There were two in Mali -- in August 2020 and May 2021 -- followed by one in Guinea in September 2021 and another in Burkina in January 2022.
ECOWAS, keen to stop the political instability spreading, has held several summits since 2020 and piled pressure on the three.
But the military presidents -- Mali's Colonel Assimi Goita, Guinea's Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and Burkina's Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba -- have all resisted that pressure.
They say their countries are facing severe domestic crises -- including jihadist insurgencies -- and they need "transition periods" to rebuild their states before they can organise elections.
At its summit in March, ECOWAS gave Burkina and Guinea until April 25 to come up with an acceptable transition timetable or face immediate economic and financial sanctions.
But after sending a team to Burkina in late May, at the request of the junta, the bloc delayed any sanctions decision, noting on Sunday its "serious concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation".
Unlike Mali and Burkina, Guinea is not battling a jihadist insurrection but public discontent with the junta is rising.
ECOWAS voiced alarm at the growing social and political tensions, and urged the military regime to "desist from any arbitrary act that undermines the rule of law".