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France launches war in Mali to secure resources, stamp out national rights struggles
"The military attack in Mali has been condemned by groups on the political left in France, including the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party [its newspaper pictured above]) and the Gauche anticapitaliste (Anti-Capitalist Left). The latter is a tendency within the Front de gauche (Left Front). Shockingly, the Left Front leadership group has come out in favour of the intervention."
By Roger Annis
January 18, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- France, the former slave power of west Africa, has poured into Mali with a vengeance in a military attack launched on January 11. French warplanes are bombing towns and cities across the vast swath of northern Mali, a territory measuring some one thousand kilometres from south to north and east to west. French soldiers in armoured columns have launched a ground offensive, beginning with towns in the south of the northern territory, some 300 kilometres north and east of the Malian capital of Bamako.
A French armoured convoy entered Mali several days ago from neighbouring Ivory Coast, another former French colony. French troops spearheaded the overthrow of that country’s government in 2011.
The invasion has received universal support from France’s imperialist allies. The United States, Canada and Europe are assisting financially and with military transport. To provide a fig leaf of African legitimacy, plans have been accelerated to introduce troops from eight regional countries to join the fighting (map here).
‘Islamist terrorists’ etc., etc.
The public relations version of the French et al invasion is a familiar refrain. “Islamic terrorists” and “jihadists” have taken control of northern Mali and are a threat to international security and to the wellbeing of the local population. Terrible atrocities against the local populace are alleged and given wide publicity by corporate media. Similar myths were peddled by the war makers when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over in 2012. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world’s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.
The uranium mines in neighbouring Niger and the uranium deposits in Mali are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Niger’s uranium mines are highly polluting and deeply resented by the population, including among the semi-nomadic Touareg people who reside in the mining regions. The French company Areva is presently constructing in Imouraren, Niger, what will become the second-largest uranium mine in the world.
Notwithstanding the fabulous wealth created by uranium mining, Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth. As one European researcher puts it, “Uranium mining in Niger sustains light in France and darkness in Niger.”
Mali (with a population of 15.5 million) is the third-largest gold producing country in Africa. Canada’s IAMGOLD operates two mines there (and a third in nearby Burkina Faso). Many other Canadian and foreign investors are present.
A key player in the unfolding war is Algeria. The government there is anxious to prove its loyalty to imperialism. Its lengthy border with northern Mali is a key zone for the “pacification” of northern Mali upon which France and its allies are embarked.
Further proof of the hypocrisy of the “democracy” that France claims to be fighting for in Mali is found in the nature of the Mali regime with which it is allied. Often presented in mainstream media as a “beacon of democracy” in west Africa, the Mali government was little more than a corrupt and pliant neocolonial regime before last year when the US-trained and equipped Mali army twice overthrew it – in March and again in December. The Mali army now scrambling to fight alongside its French big brother was condemned and boycotted by the US, Europe and Canada during a brief, sham interlude of concern following the first coup.
Today, the Mali government is a shell of a regime that rules at the behest of the Mali military, the latter’s foreign trainers, and the foreign mining companies that provide much of its revenue.
At the political heart of the conflict in Mali is the decades-long struggle of the Touareg people, a semi-nomadic people numbering some 1.2 million. Their language is part of the Berber language group. Their historic homeland includes much of Niger and northern Mali and smaller parts of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. They call themselves Kel Tamasheq (speakers of the Tamasheq language).
The Touareg have fought a succession of rebellions in the 20th century against the borders imposed by colonialism and then defended by post-independence, neocolonial regimes. They are one of many minority nationalities in west Africa fighting for national self-determination, including the Sahwari of Western Sahara, a region controlled by Morocco and whose Sahwari leadership, the Polisario Front, is widely recognised internationally.
The Tuareg were brutally subdued by colonial France at the outset of the 20th century. Following the independence of Mali and neighbouring countries in 1960, they continued to suffer discrimination. A first Touareg Rebellion took place in 1962-64.
A second, larger rebellion began in 1990 and won some autonomy from the Mali government that was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1997. A third rebellion in Mali and Niger in 2007 won further political and territorial concessions, but these were constantly reneged. A Libya-brokered peace deal ended fighting in 2009.
The Mali state and army constantly sought to retake what they had lost. Violence and even massacres against the Touareg population pushed matters to a head in 2011. The army was defeated by the military forces of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad and on April 6, 2012. The MNLA declared an independent Azawad, as they call northern Mali and surrounding region. The Touareg are one of several national groups within the disputed territory.
The independence declaration proved premature and unsustainable. The MNLA was soon pushed aside by Islamist-inspired armed groups that oppose Touareg self-determination and an independent state. The army, meanwhile, continued to harass and kill people. A group of 17 visiting Muslim clerics, for example, were massacred on September 22, 2012.
According to unconfirmed reports, the MNLA has renounced the goal of an independent Azawad. It entered into talks with the Mali regime in December for autonomy in the northern region. A January 13, 2013, statement on the group’s website acquiesces to the French intervention but says it should not allow troops of the Mali army to pass beyond the border demarcation line declared in April of last year.
Militarisation of Mali and west Africa
Mali is one of the poorest places on Earth but has been drawn into the whirlwind of post-September 2001 militarisation led by the United States. US armed forces have been training the Mali military for years. In 2005, the US established the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, comprising 11 “partner” African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
The “partnership” conducts annual military exercises termed “Flintlock”. This year’s exercise is to take place in Niger and, according to the January 12 Globe and Mail, “Canada’s military involvement in Niger has already commenced.”
Canadian troops have participated in military exercises in west Africa since at least 2008. In 2009, Mali was named one of six “countries of focus” in Africa for Canadian aid. Beginning that year, Canadian aid to Mali leaped to where it is now one of the largest country recipients of Canada aid funds.
In 2008, Canada quietly launched a plan to establish at least six, new military bases abroad, including two in Africa. (It is not known exactly where the Africa part of the plan stands today.)
Only days into the French attack, evidence is mounting of significant civilian and military casualties. In the town of Douentza in central Mali, injured civilians can't reach the local hospital, according to Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders). "Because of the bombardments and fighting, nobody is moving in the streets of Douentza and patients are not making it through to the hospital", said a statement by the agency’s emergency response coordinator Rosa Crestani.
The International Red Cross is reporting scores of civilian and military casualties in the towns coming under French attack.
Amnesty International‘s West Africa researcher, Salvatore Saguès, was in the country in September and saw the recruitment of children into the Mali army. He is worried about retaliatory attacks by the army if it retakes control of the towns and cities it has lost, notably in the northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
He also warned of the plans to bring neighbouring armies into northern Mali. "These armies, who are already committing serious violations in their countries, are most likely to do the same, or at least not behave in accordance to international law if they are in Mali", he said.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the latest crisis has internally displaced nearly 230,000 Malians. An additional 144,500 Malians were already refugees in neighbouring countries.
UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards says half the population of the town of Konna, some 5000 people, sought as French bombs threatened to fall by fleeing across the River Niger.
In an ominous sign of more civilian casualties to come, and echoing the excuses for atrocities by invading armies against civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine in recent years, French military commanders are complaining of the difficulty in distinguishing fighters they are bombing from non-combatant populations. France’s army chief Edouard Guillaud told Reuters that France's air strikes were being hampered because militants were using civilian populations as shields.
No to the war in Mali
The military attack in Mali was ordered by French President François Hollande, the winner of the 2012 election on behalf of the Socialist Party. His decision has been condemned by groups on the political left in France, including the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) and the Gauche anticapitaliste (Anti-Capitalist Left). The latter is a tendency within the Front de gauche (Left Front). The Left Front captured 11 per cent of the first-round presidential vote last year.
Shockingly, the Left Front leadership group has come out in favour of the intervention. Deputy François Asensi spoke on behalf of the party leadership in the National Assembly on January 16 and declared, “The positions of the deputies of the Left Front, Communists and republicans, is clear: To abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of fanatics would be a moral mistake… International military action was necessary in order to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”
His statement went on to complain that President Hollande did not bother to seek the approval of the National Assembly.
A January 12 statement by the French Communist Party (PCF), a component of the Left Front, said, “The PCF shares the concern of Malians over the armed offensive of the Jihadist groups towards the south of their country… The party recalls here that the response to the request for assistance by the president of Mali should have been made in the framework of a United Nations and African Union sponsorship, under the flag of the UN…”
Unlike the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, which the PCF and Socialist Party supported at the time, France and its allies did not feel the need to obtain a rubber stamp of approval from the UN Security Council in Mali. But doing so would not have changed the predatory nature of this latest mission, just as it didn’t in Haiti.
A January 15 statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance explains: “The real reason for NATO's involvement is to secure strategic, resource rich areas of Africa for the West. Canadian gold mining operations have significant holdings in Mali as do may other western nations…
“It is ironic that since the death of Osama Bin Laden, the US military boasts that Al-Qaeda is on the run and has no ability to wage its war. Meanwhile, any time there is a need for intervention, there is suddenly a new Al-Qaeda threat that comes out of the woodwork.
“Canada must not participate in this process of unending war.”
That’s a call to action which should be acted upon in the coming days and weeks as one of the poorest and most ecologically fragile regions of the world falls victim to deeper militarisation and plundering.
[Roger Annis is an anti-war activist who lives in Vancouver, Canada.]
Nigerian socialists: Nigerian troops out of Mali!
By Baba Aye
January 16, 2013 -- 776 Nigerian troops are expected to arrive in Mali today to support the attacks by French forces in the north of Mali. They are expected to be joined by 124 more, and another 2000 troops from other West African countries. This action confirms Nigeria’s imperialist role across West Africa and gives backing to the French attacks which have already killed hundreds with bombing raids on the three main towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
Aid agencies expect the number of refugees from the fighting to increase to 70,000 and the level of malnutrition, which doubled last year, will also increase. As the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have found out, Western imperialism never comes to bring democracy but to defend its own crude interests.
The north of Mali has suffered great poverty and little investment by the central government for decades. Early last year Tuareg separatists took over most of the region and declared an independent state of Azawad.
The action by the Nigerian government just supports the right of French and other imperialist powers to intervene at will across the world. French troops are being supported by both the US and UK.
The French government claims that the attacks are needed to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism as part of the US war on terror. However, the real terror in the world today is poverty which kills an estimated 3000 people every day. This is the equivalent of an al-Qaeda attack on the scale of the 2001 World Trade Centre every single day.
We demand the Nigerian government immediately withdraws its troops from Mali.
[Baba Aye is national chairperson of the Socialist Workers League (Nigeria).]
Algerian socialists: Stop the French military intervention in Mali! No to Algerian cooperation!This statement was issued by the national secretariat of the Socialist Workers Party of Algeria (PST, Algerian section of the Fourth International) on January 17, 2013.
After the Ivorian episode in 2010, the French military intervention in Mali, with its colonialist overtones, is above all an expression of France’s determination to regain its “African garden”, which is being gnawed away at by China and other powers, in a context of a major economic crisis of the capitalist system on a world scale.
The “terrorist” alibi of Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq is being used again by French President François Hollande, who tells us with a straight face that “France has no political or economic objectives” in its Mali campaign, and that its Rafales and its armada, without witnesses and without visual evidence, “are in the service of freedom” alongside troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries where there is no freedom. This “altruism” of France clearly reminds us of its “civilising mission” in the 19th century, of which the Algerian people was a victim during the long colonial night.
But the Algerian regime, whose eyes are riveted on the 2014 presidential elections, has eventually yielded to imperialist pressure. Mr Bouteflika has authorised French bombers to use our airspace and ordered the closure of the border. This unacceptable about face in the Algerian position seriously contradicts the historical fight of our country for emancipation and the dignity of peoples. At a time when we are still celebrating the 50th anniversary of our independence, the about-turn of the Algerian regime, which is cooperating with France in its war-like enterprise, is the expression of a political turning point that reduces national sovereignty and locks Algeria into an unholy alliance of colonial reconquest.
Like the uprisings of the peoples in the Arab countries and even in Europe, the Malian crisis has its roots on the one hand in the economic and social disaster caused by liberalism, imposed by the imperialist powers and institutions, and on the other hand in the dictatorial regimes which act as guarantors of their interests.
The Malian people, whether in the North or the South, needs development, dignity and prosperity and not bombs and servitude. It is for the people of Mali to drive out a few armed Islamist gangs which want to impose their laws. It is for the people of Mali to freely decide its future.
Stop the French and imperialist intervention in Mali!
No to the colonial war in Mali!
No to the opening of Algerian air space to the French bombers!
Solidarity with the Malian people and the refugees!
For a political solution guaranteeing democratic rights and development to all the components of the Malian people!