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Friday, February 15, 2013

Why France intervened in Mali and why it can only be bad for the Malian people

13 February 2013.

From A World to Win News Service;

The French military intervention in Mali – taking the North of the country in a firestorm of imperialist arrogance and air power – has the French rulers and press gloating about easy victories and the apparent support of much of the Malian population and a majority of French too, arguing "There's no other solution". A small demonstration of Malians in the southern capital city of Bamako disputed this charade of "liberation" with hand-printed signs reading, "Down with imperialist interests, down with ECOWAS".

This crisis in Mali reveals a maelstrom of contradictions in the entire region of West and North Africa known as the Sahel-Sahara that no imperialist army or state will even begin to solve. In fact their role is certain to accelerate the contradictions that have spun into a war and a multi-national occupation of Mali spearheaded by French imperialism. It is the imperialists who are largely responsible for the impoverished, very short and crushed lives most Malians lead.

The immediate war was triggered by the descent from the North of an alliance of armed Islamic forces who had seized control of the key northern cities last spring. In early January 2013 they advanced right up to the doorstep of the southern region where Mali's central state is headquartred, 90 percent of the population live and most of its resources are to be found. Yet the crisis is long in the making, with French colonial and imperialist footprints, along with those of many others, all over it.

Last March 2012, just before national elections, junior army officers, some trained and equipped by the U.S., staged a coup d'etat and ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré, allegedly because he hadn't taken a strong enough stand against the most recent rebellion by the Tuareg minority in January 2012. Within a short time, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), reinforced by a large number of defections from the Malian army itself, including some Tuareg officers, declared the North to be independent, under the name of Azawad. Touré fled to Senegal.

A friend of Muammar Gaddafi who supported the Libyan government and opposed France's intervention there, Touré claims to have warned NATO that overthrowing Gaddafi would have destabilising effects in the region. The interim government that replaced Touré in Bamako has little legitimacy among the population. The national army, quickly overrun by the offensive in the North, was left weakened, dysfunctional and divided, just like the rest of the Malian state.

The French plan to intervene was already in preparation, but was speeded up when the jihadists descended towards the southern cities of Mali in a stream of 300 pick-up trucks. The French government had got a UN Security Council resolution passed in December 2012 to allow military intervention primarily by West African ECOWAS soldiers (Economic Community of West African States) that France would command and train. The neighbouring countries Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria were dragging their boots until the terms of financing this all-African ground force-for hire were spelled out. At the 29 January 2013 meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, a first sum of USD 470 million was raised, mainly by imperialist powers.

The French enlisted the help of these West African troops under the guise of Africans "settling their own affairs" in order to "peacefully [!] restore the territorial integrity of Mali". This meant, at least for public opinion's sake, driving out the Islamist jihadists from northern Mali who reportedly had cast aside the Tuareg-based MNLA and imposed their authority. The French imperialists also clearly aim to prepare the ground for a reinforced central state apparatus in Mali, in line with strengthening French interests in its historical zone of influence. The alternative press in France is calling out Francois Hollande for his hypocrisy, since less than a year ago, during his successful campaign for the French presidency, he was heard insisting on an end to "FrancAfrique" (France's privileged relationship with its former West African colonies and interference in their affairs).

Thus with U.S. and British intelligence and logistical support and the Algerian government's agreement to let France use its airspace, the French moved into northern Mali on 11 January. In what they said was an act of retaliation, jihadist forces attacked a British Petroleum gas production site in southern Algeria, taking some 40 foreign hostages. The Algerian government wasted no time negotiating and brutally ended the operation in its southern desert, bombing the jeeps with hostages on board retreating to Libya and killing some 70 people. Many believe Algeria, which has the largest army in North Africa, is pursuing regional interests of its own.

On 11 February 2013, while French and Malian troops with some West African soldiers' assistance had taken control of the northern cities – mostly through air superiority and little on the ground fighting – Islamic Mujao forces re-entered the city of Gao via boats on the Niger River and attacked the police station. The fighting lasted a few hours, backed by French airpower and, significantly, involved suicide bombers for the first time. French and Malian troops have moved into the mountainous areas in the eastern province of Kidal, to where it was assumed the Islamic forces would retreat. Much of the debate around the world has focused on the new "Sahel-istan"– in other words, the potential "bogging down"of the French army in Mali, with Hollande revising the schedule of French troop withdrawal on nearly a daily basis. Sound familiar?

Neo-colonial dependence governed by weak state
Mali – a large country sitting geographically at the heart of the French West African colonial empire and one of the world's poorest – became formally independent from France in 1960 but has continued a dependent (if sometimes strained) relationship since that time, its economy straightjacketed by imperialist domination and international financial institutions. After independence the pro-Soviet "socialist-leaning" Modibo Keita took power. He was a close ally of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and Guinea's Sekou Touré, with ties to Cuba and China, and the Algerian and other liberation movements in Africa. Keita was overthrown in 1968 and replaced by a more imperialist-compliant regime in the first of several military coups d'etat over the past 45 years, reflecting the weakness and instability of the Malian state. A multi-party constitution was adopted only in 1992, after student-led rioting against the government, and a Tuareg revolt had been brutally repressed in 1991 by Touré's predecessor.

For the Malian people it's been a story of overwhelming poverty rooted in neo-colonial relations of domination and dependence under the watch of client governments and the IMF. This has kept the development of the country's productive forces at a very low level. Mali's immense territory straddles the Saharan Desert in the North and Sahel grasslands in the South, and is divided by the Niger River Valley. Only 4 percent of the land is arable but 80 percent of the people are involved in agriculture, either growing crops or animal herding and fishing.

One feature of French colonialism was the cash crop policy of monocultures – peanuts in Senegal for example, and in Mali, cotton for France's own textile needs. So instead of varied food crops for mainly local needs, peasant farmers are contracted to grow cotton even more cotton, in an effort to boost national export earnings, but in the process becoming chained to foreign distributors and volatile imperialist markets like so many countries in Africa and the third world. When world market prices for cotton crashed starting in the late 1990s, caused partly by subsidized dumping of cheaper European and American cotton, Malian farmers were the ones to suffer, and national debts mounted.

In the 1990s under IMF structural readjustment plans, Mali was assigned to the category of Highly Indebted Poor Countries, which after six years of belt tightening supposedly in exchange for debt relief – but in reality to cut the rich countries' losses – ended up with even higher debt service payments than before. The 2006 independent film Bamako by Abderrahmane Sissako stages a mock courtyard trial of the IMF, World Bank and Western interests, showing the devastating effects of structural adjustment on Mali. (

A relatively small bourgeoisie in and around the state has grown wealthy from gold mine profits in the eastern part of the country (although 80 percent are siphoned off, mainly by South African and Canadian multinationals, Mali is Africa's third largest gold producer). They also benefit from the extensive donor aid and skim off profits from the vast networks trafficking drugs and other commodities. Yet the state itself has carried out very little infrastructural and other development in either the North or the South and has never had much support from the population. Of the some 15,000 kilometres of roads, less than 2,000 km are paved, for example. Healthcare is abysmal and life expectancy only 49 years (with only 2 percent living past the age of 65).

In the main, the tiny educated elite travel to Dakar, Abidjan or Paris for their studies and few new schools have been built over the decades, resulting in an astonishingly low literacy rate, especially among women. Less than 30 percent of the population vote in national elections. Keeping the masses illiterate and ignorant is partly a political strategy too, scholars argue: the state fears the rise of politically astute students and educated strata that are more likely to expose and challenge it.

So while many Malians at first welcomed the "rescue"by French forces from the reactionary and intolerable exactions, amputations and suppressions of basic freedoms under jihadist rule in the northern cities, it is important to understand the heavy hand of imperialism in Mali's highly distorted economic development that has been long opposed and exposed by revolutionary and nationalist political movements against the regime and in the region.

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