February 2013        


Another imperialist intervention in Africa

Imperialism has once struck in Africa. After Libya, now it is the turn of Mali. On 11 January, France launched an aerial attack on the country and had moved 2,500 of its ground troops for action. The purported motive is to save the country from Islamist fundamentalists. Already reports of civilian casualties are pouring out. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, nearly 230,000 Malians were displaced internally, and an additional 144,500 were already refugees in neighbouring countries.
      This is not all. The recent hostage crisis, which led to the death of citizens of many countries in Algeria, shows that the crisis in Mali is going to have repercussions for the entire Sahel-Sahara region.
      The crisis in Mali began with the military coup in March 2012, just a month before the elections were to take place. The events that followed rapidly plunged the country into a deep crisis—political, economic, and military. In April the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) declared the independence of the northern part of the country. Within a few months they had lost control to three groups of Islamic fundamentalists. It was to “prevent” the “takeover” of the entire country by these Islamist groups that France moved in. Or so they claim.
      President Hollande said the threat of a radical Islamic takeover was so imminent that he had no choice but to intervene—to save not just Mali but all of western Africa and, the French now imply, Europe as well. The public relations machinery of the Western countries dish out the usual reasons for military intervention: “jihadists,” “threat to democracy,” “wipe out terrorism from the surface of the earth,” and “potential threat to European long-term security.”
      Historically, France used its control of Mali to ensure its hegemony over other colonial possessions in Africa. The statement by the “socialist” president Hollande that “the age of what was once called ‘Françafrique’ is over” reeks of hypocrisy.
      Mali is crucial to the Africa Command of the US Army, created in 2008, and to the Pentagon’s general “Middle East-Northern Africa” (MENA) outlook. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast. and Guinea.
      And Mali is rich in natural resources, with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin, and copper. Studies point to plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali.
      The United States has been militarily involved through the training of the Malian army since 2001. In 2005 it established the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, comprising eleven African “partner” countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. Every year it conducts joint military exercises in the region.
      Incidentally, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the coup, was trained by the United States and was closely associated with Africa Command. More recently, in June 2012, the United States came out with a National Security Strategy in Africa, with the usual guff about “strengthening democratic institutions,” encouraging “economic growth, trade and investment,” “advancing peace and security,” and “promoting opportunity and development.”
      Not to be left behind, the European Union and, more importantly, France have an active interest in this region. The uranium deposits in Mali and the uranium mines in neighbouring Niger are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy.
      In September 2011 the EU came out with its own version of “Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel.” This concluded that “improving security and development in Sahel has an obvious and direct impact on protecting European citizens and interests and on the EU internal security situation.”
      The active participation of China in the region is also a matter of growing concern to both the United States and the EU. The Chinese presence in the continent is increasing by the day, and Africa now provides a third of the energy needs of China. During this period of global crisis, naturally the control of regions rich in natural resources and markets assumes enhanced significance.
      The domestic situation in Mali provided a fertile ground for fundamentalist forces to take root. The global economic crisis had seriously affected the country. Employment fell, with many companies in the services sector closing or laying off workers. Most branches of the economy, with the exception of the mining industry, are in bad shape because of the crisis. The growing numbers of unemployed, falling wages and increasing prices of food grains and essentials created discontent among the people.
      The fundamentalists took advantage of this situation. It is a known fact that the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, as it was known until it was renamed AQIM in 2007, grew out of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and is controlled by Algeria’s security and intelligence services.
      The collapse of the Libyan government and the defeat of Gadaffi led to a widespread availability of arms.
      France is losing ground in many west African countries. In recent elections in Senegal a president from the centre-left was elected, defeating the French stooge. The only consolation for France is Côte d’Ivoire, where it staged a militarily intervention two years ago.
      In Mali too the progressive forces are gaining ground, which is worrying to the local elite and their international masters. A series of protests and strikes were organised by the workers and students in the capital city, Bamako.
      All these developments are viewed as a real threat to French hegemony in this region, so France acted to take back power before the situation spirals out of control.
      With the pretext of Islamic fundamentalism now available, France has moved to assume control over this resource-rich region. The United States, Canada and the major countries in Europe are helping the French with financial assistance, in training the Malian army, and in the transporting of troops.
      The plan would seem to be to have the actual fighting on the ground done largely by soldiers from the Economic Community of Western African States. What they will be fighting, however, is not only the Islamic fundamentalists but also the Tuareg nationalists (though the NMLA had welcomed the French troops), who have been consistently fighting for their right to self-determination.
      Already reports indicate that widespread atrocities were being committed against Tuareg people and people of other minorities.
      Mali is nearly twice the size of France or Afghanistan. Its terrain is varied. A prolonged guerrilla war would have devastating effects on the area, which would not be confined to Mali, as was witnessed recently in Algeria. The entire Sahel-Sahara region will be affected, and many fear that this might lead to the Balkanisation of the region.
      It was only after the Second World War that many countries in Africa secured freedom from the colonial yoke. But the colonialists left these lands with boundaries that disregarded the nationalities inhabiting them. Now imperialism is re-entering the region, using conflicts that stem from these artificial boundaries.

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