“France is in Mali for the long haul.” That was the headline of France’s daily newspaper Le Monde on February 4. The newspaper's front page, as well as pages 2 and 3, were devoted to a discussion over “what next” for France in Mali.
The views of Le Monde's editors were explained in a front page editorial. (The text of the editorial translated into English is published below.) Describing in the politest of terms France's historic role in Africa as a slave and colonial power, and summarising the political situation in Mali and west Africa as a “struggle against narco-Islamists”, the newspaper argues for a long-term, Haiti-style tutelage of Mali.
France’s imperialist allies in Europe and North America can be expected to seamlessly concur. Intense discussions to this effect have begun at the UN Security Council.
However, several important differences with Haiti are already clear. For one, France wants neighbouring, neocolonial regimes in west Africa to eventually carry the lion's share of responsibility for a police/military occupation regime.
Yet, echoing statements by French military leaders, Le Monde's editors acknowledge that the arming and training of an African force will take many months. Positive results are not guaranteed.
These same African forces have been “trained” by the US, European and Canadian militaries for years with seemingly little to show. So that leaves France staring at the uncomfortable prospect of bearing the lion's share of what by all appearance will be a long occupation.
Le Monde's pages are filled with news and commentary about this dilemma. In the case of Haiti, it has been nearly nine years since the Security Council’s MINUSTAH force landed, three months after the overthrow by US-backed paramilitaries of the elected government.
Also, France wants international endorsement and participation in its project. It has already received the enthusiastic participation of its principal imperialist allies. It also obtained endorsement for an “African-led” military force in a December 20 UN Security Council resolution.
But whether this will prove as lasting and universally-supported in the halls of the Security Council as MINUSTAH has been is another matter.
A case against military occupation was presented in the February 4 Le Monde by author and academic Olivier Roy. He wrote that the issue at the core of the conflict in Mali is not “Islamic fundamentalism” but the national rights of the Touareg people.
“The issue with the Touaregs is national tensions, not Islamism,” Roy said. “This problem cannot be resolved except through negotiations leading to a more equitable sharing of political power.”
An informative news article in the same issue of Le Monde summarised the history of the Touareg national rights struggle.
Where does the French left stand in the face of all this? The daily newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF) continues its support for the intervention. A report it published on French President Francois Hollande's visit to Mali was headlined: “Hollande in Timbuktu: 'I don't wish to meddle in the political life of Mali.'” The paper routinely summarises the declarations of the French government and military.
A statement by France's New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) charts an entirely different course. Issued on February 3 after a three-day convention of the party, the statement opens with a harsh condemnation of the France-led war. It then proceeds to describe how the war policy in Mali is matched by sharpening attacks on the working class in France.
The NPA helped initiate a call for a demonstration against the war in Paris on February 9. The protest will begin at the headquarters of AREVA, the giant French uranium mining and nuclear reactor manufacturer. The company operates several uranium mines in Niger, neighbour to Mali, and is now building in Niger what will be the second largest uranium mine in the world.
The call to join the protest reads: “It is not humanitarian reasons that are motivating the French war in Mali, but imperialist interests in the purest tradition of the actions of ‘France Afrique’. Like a confession to a crime, this war allows France to send troops to secure the uranium mines of AREVA in Niger.”
In Canada, long-time Africa observer and writer Gerald Caplan has published two commentaries on Mali in the Globe and Mail since the onset of the French intervention.
Caplan said: “Over the years, in the name of R2P (Responsibility To Protect doctrine) — the right to plunder — Canadian mining companies have made a fortune out of Mali's resources.
“Significant humanitarian aid would be a good way to pay down some of our debt.”
But rather incongruously, the main argument in the commentary is that Canada's participation in the French intervention “makes no sense”. Caplan appealed to the Canadian government to raise its aid to Mali from the paltry C$13 million (A$12.6 million) boost it recently announced. But he makes no reference to the engagement by Canada's military since at least 2009 in the US-led militarisation of Mali and the region.
Unfortunately for the citizens of France, the US, Canada and other countries pouring their militaries into Africa, and for the Africans themselves, it makes “lot of sense” for the imperialists to deploy military forces in west Africa. These are the shock troops of an expanding neocolonial grab for resources that is documented in an important article by investigative journalist John Pilger.
Therein lies the foreign policy challenge that Mali presents for ordinary people in the invading countries. Do Canadians, for example, want a government that, in the recent words of Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders, pursues a “colonial turn” in Africa similar to its earlier turns in Afghanistan and Haiti? Or do we fight for a government that would join in the worldwide struggle against war, capitalist injustice and environmental destruction?
The new talk by Paris in Africa
Editorial, Le Monde, Feb. 4
(Translation by Roger Annis.)
Further concealment placed aside, France is assuming its responsibilities for its military intervention in Mali. François Hollande reminded listeners of it in Timbuktu and Bamako on Saturday, Feb. 2, without arrogance or postcolonial complex. He reiterated the intention of France to remain in Mali for the time it will take. Paris has long sought to avoid appearing on the front line in this former colony. The fate of French hostages kidnapped in the region but held for months in northern Mali by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was a reminder of this resolve.
Behind the scenes, however, Paris was at the forefront. Its diplomats wrote resolutions at the Security Council of the UN to ensure the legality of military intervention. Its expert were working alongside officers in West Africa to put in place a regional intervention force designed to release the grip of the narco-Islamists that controlled nearly two-thirds of the country during the previous year.
Because the problem of Mali far exceeds preserving the backyard of the former colonizer. The cancer that developed in Mali - the alliance between Islamist groups and drug traffickers - threatens the entire region. The spectacular seizing of hostages at the site of the gas works at In Amenas in Algeria by a group linked to AQIM illustrates the reality of this threat. It shows that the range of terrorist groups extends away from their bases Gao or Timbuktu, where they were trying to install their sanctuary.
To be convinced of the danger, it is enough to note the degree of mobilization of Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, Niger and Chad. From the beginning of the crisis in Mali, they called for urgent military action. Certainly, the countries of the region have geopolitical ambitions. But Mali is not Congo - Kinshasa. Its sub-surface is not full bursting with wealth that drives ambitions. The central issue was security as well as to contain a threat that might spill beyond the vast, arid Sahel region that runs from Mauritania to Djibouti.
France has understood this from the beginning. In his speeches, François Hollande has consistently pointed to a threat of regional destabilization. This made clear that Paris was not preparing to intervene to defend a friendly regime at risk. The French President promised not to repeat the less than glorious episodes of the history of "Françafrique".
In Bamako, on Saturday, he went further, saying that France was paying a debt written in blood in Europe by African soldiers who died for France during the two world wars.
He was right, but that does not detract from the relevance of the question today: how to conclude? Paris is counting on African forces to take over, but they are not ready. Reality obliges that this unpleasant truth be stated. If Africa and Europe do not want a French tutelage over Mali, then they must assume their responsibilities.