France perpetrated two large deceptions in its military intervention into Mali in January. These have been universally presented as true in mainstream media reporting.
The first was that the unilateral decision to invade Mali on January 11 was hastily made. France said it was prompted by imminent military threats by Islamic fundamentalist forces against the Mali's south where the large majority live.
The second was that France intended to exit Mali quickly. A typical report, in the February 18 Chicago Tribune, said: “French leaders have said they intend to start pulling out the 4,000 troops in Mali in March to hand over security to the Malian army and to the U.N.-backed AFISMA force, an African military contingent.”
Restoring stability in Mali will be a tough job. The people of the former French colony are deeply sensitive to violations of national sovereignty. The world is also weary from the recent military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But the economic stakes leave France, the US and their allies little choice but to carry on. Billions of dollars of capitalist investment is pouring into Africa in an unprecedented grab for resource wealth. Mining investments from Canada alone have risen from C$6 billion in 2005 to $31.6 billion in 2011.
A February 18 Toronto Star article also noted a "troubling trend" in the continent toward "resource nationalism".
“Under pressure from civil society groups and labour unions, governments are driving a harder bargain,” the article said, to obtain a better share of resource wealth and perhaps improve environmental and other regulations.
This is the back drop to the imperialists plans for a long-term military occupation of Mali, likely masked with an “African” component and a rubber stamp approval of the UN Security Council.
A February 7 report in the French daily Le Nouvel Observateur provides an extraordinary, blow-by-blow account of the lead-up to French intervention. Vincent Jauvert and Sarah Halifa-Legrand described the deep concern in France's halls of power after the military defeat of Mali痴 army and government early last year by the liberation movements of the Touareg people and other national minorities in the north of the country.
The defeat became a double fiasco when the US-trained leader of Mali's army, Captain Amadou Sanogo, led an overthrow of the country's constitutional government one month later.
French-led plans for intervention accelerated after French elections in May. “When the outgoing government passed over the (foreign affairs) files, Mali was on the top of the pile,” a defence ministry official told the journalists.
Soon after Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande was elected, French special military forces were infiltrating the north of the country to map aerial bombing targets.
The Hollande government masked its intentions by proposing an “African-led” military force to take control of northern Mali. But Le Nouvel Observateur articles said this was never a serious proposal. The US was entirely unconvinced, saying that few, if any, of the African militaries were up to the task.
A UN Security Council resolution on Mali passed in December mentioned the creation of an “African-led” military occupation force. But this was left behind by France's January 11 invasion.
Mali has no constitutional government at the moment, after the elected government was ousted in a coup last March. The “interim” prime minister was tossed out of office by the military on December 11.
Without UN approval or a legitimate Mali government in place, a fable was needed to justify intervention. This appeared in the form of dire reports in early January that well-armed Islamic fundamentalists along the unofficial line demarcating the north of Mali were about to move on the south, possibly targeting the capital city Bamako. International news happily reported the story.
The entry of heavily-armed and well-financed Islamic fundamentalist forces into the north of Mali last year was indeed a deeply troubling event.
The fundamentalists pushed aside the long standing, national rights movements of the Touareg and other national minorities. They ruled with an iron fist, violating the elementary rights of the populations they controlled and causing Malians to fear they could take control of larger areas of the country.
This has helped France achieve considerable success in selling its military intervention as a rescue effort.
In an article in the December New Internationalist entitled "How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali", Jeremy Keenan wrote: "The catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the Global War On Terror has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002."
In the past decade, the US has initiated a vast militarisation of west Africa. It founded the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership in 2005, now regrouping ten west African countries. For three of the past six years, Mali was the host country of the annual military exercises of the Partnership, termed “Operation Flintlock.”
Such wasteful expenditures of resources are especially repugnant considering the existing difficulties in west Africa, including extreme poverty, public health emergencies and sharp shifts in climate and rainfall patterns that are affecting peasant livelihoods and food production.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an armed group struggling for Touareg rights, responded to France's intervention by offered to cooperate in fighting the fundamentalists. There are reports of coexistence, if not cooperation, in some northern areas. On February 17, the MNLA issued a statement welcoming an eventual UN military force.
However, the MNLA insisted it would not work the Mali army, or accept its presence in the north.
A February 11 MNLA statement listed 12 proposals to assist people in Mali's north, including respect for human rights, meaningful economic and social development and a resolution of decades-old demands for political self-determination.
But there is little evidence that France and its allies have any intention of doing anything but continue the plunder of Mali’s and Africa’s resources. The MNLA’s demand that the Mali army not be allowed into the north has been ignored.
Human rights groups have documented predictable reprisals by the Mali army against civilian populations as it arrived in the footsteps of the France invaders.
One tragic story was the forced exodus of the Touareg and Arab populations from Timbuktu as the French and Malian armies took control of the city in early February. The story has been ignored by the international media.
A February 17 MNLA statement said, "The return of the army, militias and administration of Mali into the territory of Azawad with the support of France has opened the door to reprisals and massacres of the Tuareg and Arab populations".
The MNLA announced on February 22 that it had taken allegations of Mali army war crimes to the International Criminal Court. It said hundreds of innocent people had been killed in northern Mali since January 11.
France has blocked journalists from traveling to and reporting from northern Mali.
Meanwhile, the offensive by the fundamentalists in 2011-12 has stirred an already existing anti-Touareg chauvinism in southern Mali and in neighbouring countries. This has been helped by the MNLA's strategic errors in creating temporary alliances with fundamentalists to try and end the Mali army’s deepening war against the Touareg peoples.
Most political parties in Mali, including on the left, have supported French intervention. Some on the left even backed the military coup last year. The coup’s declared aim was to prosecute a more effective war against “secessionists” in the north (this was even before the arrival of large numbers of armed fundamentalists).
Regional tensions are heightened by the French intervention, particularly with neighbouring Niger. Like Mali, it is a desperately poor country with a non-democratic government and with an even larger Touareg population.
AFP reported on February 10 that Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou “has made forceful demands for the disarmament of the MNLA and spoken out against talks with the movement on self-determination”.
At least one mining industry observer in Canada does not hold out much hope for peace and reconciliation in Mali. Canadian Business reported that Toronto mining analyst Pawel Rajszel, head of the precious metals team at Veritas Investment Research, told investors in January to, “take their money and run”.
“We haven’t changed our opinion,” he told The Canadian Press more recently.
France and its allies are now working at the UN Security Council to cobble together a Haiti-style military mission in Mali. Ground soldiers will be African as much as possible, but the overall direction will be firmly in the hands of the US and Europe.
This will be all the more the case in Mali than in Haiti for there is no African military that can assume the same leading role as Brazil and Chile have done in the occupation of Haiti.
The European Union has already dispatched a military “training” force of 500 soldiers to Mali.
Another parallel with Haiti is the insistence by foreign powers to stage quick elections. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people in Mali have been driven into refugee camps or other harsh living conditions, or that the country’s military is still in control of political decision-making.
During a visit to Mali by a delegation of US senators and members of Congress, Senator Christopher Coons said: "After there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our support for the Malian military."
Mali’s population has been weakened and disempowered by decades of neo-colonial plunder, foreign aid and military intervention. As they recover from the disastrous policies of their pliant governments and foreign overseers, active solidarity is needed to assist them in their fight for their interests.
[Roger Annis is an anti-war activist in Vancouver. His website is www.rogerannis.com.]