France’s “long haul” in Mali

February 11, 2013

Canadian socialist Roger Annis reports on the French government's plans for Mali.

"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. Describing in the politest of terms France's historic role in Africa as a slave and colonial power, and summarizing 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 neighboring, 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.

French troops on patrol in Mali
French troops on patrol in Mali

These same African forces have been "trained" by the U.S., 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 U.S.-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 Tuareg people.

"The issue with the Tuaregs 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 summarized the history of the Tuareg 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 François 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 summarizes 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, neighbor 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 $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 U.S.-led militarization of Mali and the region.

Unfortunately for the citizens of France, the U.S., Canada and other countries pouring their militaries into Africa, and for the Africans themselves, it makes a "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?

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