What France Wants in Mali

Human Wrongs Watch

Canadian writer and antiwar activist Roger Annis* untangles the web of lies and deceptions that obscure the French and U.S. strategy for Mali.

A French soldier patrols a small village in Mali | SocialistWorker

A French soldier patrols a small village in Mali | SocialistWorker

By Roger Annis*, Socialist Worker*, 25 February 2013 – Two large deceptions are embedded in most news reports and government statements backing France’s military intervention into Mali six weeks ago. The first concerns the circumstances leading to France’s unilateral decision to invade Mali on January 11.

It was a quick decision, says France, prompted by unforeseen military threats by Islamic fundamentalist forces against the South of the country, including the capital city of Bamako.

The second is the claim by France that it wants to exit Mali as soon as possible.

“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,” says a typical report in the Chicago Tribune on February 18.

Getting an accurate picture of what has happened in Mali is a first step in developing effective solidarity with the people of this highly vulnerable and impoverished country.

The U.S. and France are touting a rushed election and an “African-led” military force taking control of the country as the next steps to restoring “stability.” It all points to a Haiti-style, long-term military occupation of Mali, directed by the U.S. and France with rubber-stamp approval of the UN Security Council.

A Planned Intervention

A February 7 report published in the French daily Le Nouvel Observateur provides an extraordinary, blow-by-blow account of the lead-in to war by France.

Columnist Vincent Jauvert and his colleague Sarah Halifa-Legrand spoke to officials in the French government and defense ministry, and the picture that emerges is that deep concern arose in the halls of power in France following the military defeat of Mali’s army and government in early 2012 by the pro-autonomy movements of the Tuareg and other national minorities in the north of the country.

Plans for intervention accelerated following France’s election in May of a Socialist Party president and government. “When the outgoing government passed over the [foreign affairs] files, Mali was on the top of the pile,” one official at the Ministry of Defense told the journalists.

French President François Hollande has strenuously denied any prior intention of intervening. But soon after his election, French special military forces were secretly entering the north of Mali to map aerial bombing targets and conduct other preparations.

The Hollande government masked its intentions by proposing an “African-led” military force to take control of northern Mali. But Jauvert reports that from the get-go, the United States was entirely unconvinced, saying that few, if any, of the African militaries are up to the task.

Even some leaders of African countries told France the same thing. Whether France truly believed its own statements hardly mattered because plans for an intervention were proceeding full steam ahead.

Restoring Stability?

Three UN Security Council resolutions on Mali were voted on in 2012–in July, October and December. They opposed the national rights struggles of the Tuaregs, Arabs and other national minorities in the north in increasingly harsh language. However, none endorsed a French intervention. The December resolution mentioned the creation of an “African-led” military occupation force, but that was left in the dust by the intervention of January 11.

Those seeking to restore capitalist “stability” in Mali now have a tough job on their hands. They face a Mali population sensitive to its national sovereignty and a world that is weary from other, recent “rescue missions” in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Meanwhile, years of military training of a local army to do the job have produced a military and political fiasco.

None other than Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, alluded to this in a talk at Howard University in Washington on January 24.

Ham told his audience that the extensive military training provided to Mali by the U.S. and others has led to “shortcomings.” These became evident, he said, when the U.S.-trained leader of the Malian army, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, led an overthrow of the country’s constitutional government on March 22, 2012.

Mali’s Non-Constitutional Government

If France had no international mandate to intervene, that’s equally the case under Malian law.

There has been no constitutional government in the country since the overthrow last March, and the “interim” prime minister eventually nominated by the “interim” President Dioncounda Traoré was tossed out of office by the military on December 11. Traoré himself was badly beaten by Mali soldiers last May and went to Paris for safety and treatment. The army’s U.S. and French “trainers” then pressured for Traoré’s return and resumption of office.

Adding to the political farce, Sanogo was appointed last week by Traoré to head a commission that is supposed to “reform” Mali’s military.

Apparently, the first fruit of the new commission is the disbanding of a paratroop regiment that intervened last April to try and reverse the March coup. As reported by Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese in January, several dozen of the Canadian-trained paratroopers were kidnapped soon after by the army and have disappeared. Tensions remain high between that regiment and the army.

Without UN approval or a credible Malian authority in place, a fable was needed by France to justify its intervention. This arrived in the form of dire reports in early January saying that a few hundred well-armed Islamic fundamentalists along the demarcation line separating the north of Mali from the south were about to move on the south, possibly to take control of the capital city, Bamako. International news reports were all over this concocted story, further lending it an air of credibility.

Who Are the “Jihadists”?

The entry of heavily armed and well-financed Islamic fundamentalist forces in the north of Mali has indeed been a deeply troubling event for the country. 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.

Their actions harmed the longstanding national rights movements of the Tuareg and other national minorities in the north. France had considerable success at home and in Mali in selling its military intervention as a rescue effort.

Jeremy Keenan, author and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), reported in some detail in a December 2012 article about the shadowy ties that link the fundamentalist forces across North Africa to Algeria, the U.S. and the Gulf States.

“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 U.S., in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002,” he wrote. The article is titled “How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali.”

Keenan is the author of the 2009 book The Dark Sahara: America’s War on Terror in the Sahara and of the forthcoming The Dying Sahara: U.S. Imperialism and Terror in Africa, both published by Pluto Press.

US Initiated and Led a Vast Program of Militarization of the Countries of West Africa

In the past decade, the United States has initiated and led a vast program of militarization of the countries of West Africa. In 2005, it founded the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, now consisting of 10 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 doubly repugnant considering the existing difficulties in West Africa, including extreme poverty, public health emergencies and sharp shifts in climate and rainfall patterns affecting peasant livelihoods and food production.

No Peace or Reconciliation

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has offered to cooperate with France in battling the fundamentalists. There are reports of coexistence, if not cooperation, in some northern areas.

On February 17, the movement issued a statement welcoming an eventual UN military force. (Azawad is the name given by the Tuareg people to their historic homeland consisting of territories in present-day Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Libya and Algeria. For background on the Tuareg people, read (“Who are the Tuareg?”)

An earlier communiqué issued by the group on February 11 listed 12 eminently reasonable proposals for the future of the north of Mali, including respect for human rights, meaningful economic and social development and a resolution of decades-old demands for political self-determination. These could well serve as a social and economic blueprint for the whole country.

Atrocities against Civilian Populations

But there is little evidence that France and its imperialist and regional 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 of Mali has been ignored. Leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and FIDA, as well as some media in France have documented atrocities by the army against civilian populations as it followed in the footsteps of the France invasion.

Ethnic Cleansing

That includes the ethnic cleansing of Timbuktu in the days during and after the French and Malian armies took control of the city in early February, a story that has been ignored by the world’s media.

“The MNLA has established that 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,” reads a February 17 statement by the MNLA.

France has blocked journalists from traveling to and reporting from northern Mali.

Meanwhile, the offensive by the fundamentalists in 2011-12 (complicated by decisions of the MNLA to enter into temporary alliances with them to put an end to the Mali army’s low-intensity war in the north) has stirred an already existing chauvinism in southern Mali and in neighboring countries.

One capitalist politician in Mali calls the MNLA and its demands for political autonomy a “Trojan horse” of Islamic fundamentalists. Another, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (1994-2000), says Mali should never talk to the MNLA because of its pro-autonomy program.

Most political parties in Mali, including those on the left, have supported the French intervention. Some even backed the military coup last year, again including parties of the left. The coup makers’ declared goal was to preserve at all cost the national borders that harken back to Mali’s colonial past and its independence from France in 1960.

Regional Tensions Heightened by French Intervention

Regional tensions are heightened by the French intervention, particularly with neighboring Niger. Like Mali, it is a desperately poor country with a non-democratic government. It has an even larger Tuareg population than Mali. AFP reports 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.”

Obfuscation by media of the numbers and origins of people made refugees by the conflict in Mali further confuses the situation. The “hundreds of thousands” of refugees from northern Mali reported in the mainstream press refer mostly to those who fled the Mali army’s low-intensity war against the peoples of the north during the late 2000s.

Looking at prospects for peace, Peter Pham of the U.S. think tank Atlantic Council (himself a supporter of the French intervention) described in an IRIN News report on February 12 the political choices before the Tuareg: “The Tuareg historically have had three deals with Malian governments that were legitimate, but all of them are now in the dustbin of history. Why would they possibly believe that a deal with the current batch of characters [Mali’s “interim government” and military] would hold?”

At least one mining industry observer in Canada doesn’t hold out much hope for peace, either. Canadian Business reports that Toronto mining analyst Pawel Rajszel, head of the precious metals team at Veritas Investment Research, told investors in a January 24 note to “take their money and run.” “We haven’t changed our opinion,” he told the Canadian Press more recently.

Occupation Mission 

France and its allies are now working at the UN Security Council for approval of a Haiti-style military/political occupation mission in Mali. Ground soldiers will be African as much as possible, but the overall direction will be firmly in the hands of the U.S. and Europe. That will be all the more evident in Mali, for there is no African military that can take the same leading role that Brazil and Chile have assumed in Haiti.

The European Union has already taken a big step towards an occupation force through its decision this week to send a military “training” force of 500 members. Lead contingents, including from Germany, are already en route.

Another parallel with Haiti is the insistence by the foreign powers to stage a quick national election. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people in the country have been driven into refugee camps or other harsh living conditions and that the Mali military is firmly in control of political decision-making. This part of the plan for Mali was stated during a visit to the country this week by a delegation of U.S. senators and members of Congress.

Senator Christopher Coons said U.S. law prohibited direct assistance to Mali’s armed forces because of the military coup last year. But, he added, “after there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our direct support for the Malian military.” Coons is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa.

Mali’s population is weakened and disempowered by decades of neocolonial plunder, “foreign aid” and military intervention.

As they recover from the disastrous policies of their weak and pliant government and get back on their feet, they will need active solidarity to help them assert their class and national interests. The MNLA proposals of February 11 point to some of the key issues facing the entire country–lack of economic investment, need for basic social services and recovery of national sovereignty.

*Roger Annis’ article was published by Socialist Worker. Go to Original

Read also:

Storm Over the Sahara: US, France Creating another Osama?

US Considering New Drone Base in Africa – Report

‘Pentagon’s Hand Behind French Intervention in Mali’

A U.S. Military Command to Grab Africa’s Natural and Mineral Resources

U.S. Africa Command, a Tool to Re-colonise Continent

Britain, US Escalate War as France Advances into Northern Mali

French, Malian Military Restrict Access of Media to Conflict Areas

Western Powers’ Plans to Re-Colonize Africa

Severe Food Shortage In Former French Colony

Crisis in Former French Colony ‘Has Far-reaching Impact on Rest of West Africa’

Mali: Hijacked Autonomy, Outsized Ambitions, French Military Intervention

2013 Human Wrongs Watch

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