Mali invaded in new ‘scramble for Africa’

maliby Don Franks

Why have French troops been pouring into Mali?

America’s CNN say it’s because “international leaders are responding to an uprising of Islamist militants in northern Mali, hoping to inject stability in a country once hailed as a model for democracy in Africa.

“Following a coup last year, militants destroyed ancient shrines, once a major draw for Islamic scholars from around the world. They also banned music.

“Reports of human rights abuses soared, including the public stoning death of a couple accused of having an affair.

“The U.N. Security Council last month authorized a peacekeeping mission. This week, French troops joined the fight against militants in its former colony. . .”

CNN sounds reassuringly sensible doesn’t it? Civilized Western democracy selflessly acting to rein in crazy barbaric terrorists.

indexBut that is not why France is bombing and invading this impoverished Third World nation.

Uranium and gold

Mali is the fourth country attacked or meddled in by France in two years, after Libya, the Ivory Coast and Syria. French forces are also deployed in Senegal and Burkina Faso, both former French colonies. French President François Hollande claims that France aims to defend Mali’s “democracy” from Al Qaeda, with total disregard for its own “fundamental interests”.

The hypocritical French government has no objection to working with Al Qaeda when it suits them. Libyan jihadist forces helped Paris and its NATO allies topple Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 Libyan war, and Paris still relys on the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front in NATO’s proxy war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Beneath the politico speak, French imperialism is waging war in Mali very much in line with its fundamental interests.

A colony of France from 1892 to 1960, Mali is located in the geographical centre of West Africa, a resource-rich area once the heart of France’s colonial empire. French imperialist exploitation of Africa has been continuous.

French nuclear energy firm Areva mined 100,000 tons of uranium since 1968 in neighboring Niger and plans to open the world’s second-largest uranium mine there in 2014. The Hollande government is using the war to establish closer ties to the Algerian regime, which has immense reserves of natural gas.

Another  urgent purpose of the French intervention is to protect the Rothschild-owned gold mining operations in the south from being taken over. Mali is the third largest gold producer in Africa after South Africa and Ghana, but the local people don’t benefit from that. Profit from the mines goes overwhelmingly to foreign capitalists. The Rothschild owned Sadiola and Morila mines of Mali took 83% of all gold produced in the country between 1999 and 2001. Meanwhile, nine out of ten people in Mali live in dire poverty and 72% of the population of 15-16 million survive on less than a dollar a day. It has the second highest child mortality rate in the world and is in the bottom 20 for life expectancy.  Such is the situation that France seeks to stabilize.

Anti-colonial struggle

CNN claim that France is “(injecting) stability in a country once hailed as a model for democracy in Africa”.  In fact, the local government France wishes to stabilize 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. Mali’s real history is not one of model bourgeois democracy but anti-colonial struggle

Roger Annis writes in Green Left Weekly: “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. The Sahwari leadership, the Polisario Front, is widely recognised internationally.

“The Touareg were brutally subdued by colonial France at the outset of the 20th century. After 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 (MNLA) and on April 6, last year. 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 last year.

“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 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.”

 The new “scramble for Africa”

The French invasion has received universal support from France’s imperialist allies. The United States, Canada and Europe are assisting financially and with military transport, while British prime minister David Cameron has announced that 40 British military personnel will be helping train the Malian army and a further 200 will be taking part in another training mission outside Mali.

John Pilger noted in his blog of  31 January 2013: “A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way. ( along with the French invasion of Mali) The United States is deploying troops in 35 African countries, beginning with Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger.

“The invasion has almost nothing to do with ‘Islamism’, and almost everything to do with the acquisition of resources, notably minerals, and an accelerating rivalry with China. Unlike China, the US and its allies are prepared to use a degree of violence demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine. As in the cold war, a division of labour requires that western journalism and popular culture provide the cover of a holy war against a “menacing arc” of Islamic extremism, no different from the bogus “red menace” of a worldwide communist conspiracy.”

Reaction from the Right and the Left

France’s right-wing parties rushed to line up behind the war in Mali. Jean-François Copé, the spokesman of the Gaullist Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), promised Hollande his “support.”

French neo-fascist leader Marine Le Pen praised Hollande’s war as “legitimate,” adding: “Our country has been called to assist by Mali’s legitimate government in line with defense agreements between our two countries, in a French-speaking area.”

Shamefully, French imperialism’s attack on Mali is also supported by some elements of the left, like The Left Front, a coalition of the revisionist French Communist Party (PCF), the Left Party (PG) of former PS and ex-members of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA)

According to French Communist Party deputy André Chassaigne, “An international intervention was urgent and necessary to stop the offensive of the Islamist fanatics.”

Left Front deputy François Asensi said, “The position of the Left Front’s deputies, both Communist and Republican, is clear: abandoning the Malian people to the barbarism of the fanatics would have been a political error and a moral sin. Non-intervention would have been the worst act of cowardice.”

French revolutionary tradition upheld

A reaction more in line with French workers’ revolutionary traditions was made in the January 18, 2013 edition of Lutte Ouvriere [Workers’ Struggle], the paper of the revolutionary group of that name active in France. Lutte Ouvriere argue:

“Some inhabitants of Mali hoped that French military intervention might protect the population in the north of Mali from the armed bands that terrorize them in the name of religion. These fundamentalist fanatics, well-armed since the fall of Qaddafi’s regime by mercenaries chased out of Libya, have used “sharia”– Islamic law – to reinforce their power, especially against women.

“Hollande claimed the troops were sent ‘solely in the service of peace.’ But the Malian population will get no real protection from French troops, who supposedly are going to stop the rebels from moving southward. In reality, this war against so-called jihadists is a method for French imperialism to keep control in one of its zones of influence. Whether the troops come from France or from Burkina Faso or other African capitals, these two or three thousand men don’t represent the interests of the Malian population.

“Since the end of colonialism, the whole region has been kept under the control of French and other imperialist powers, in order to obtain the riches under its soil, be it oil or gas or gold or uranium. And this pillage by the multinationals results in the misery of the populations of the whole continent, deprived of their lands, chased out of regions by the armed bands that feed off the crumbs falling from the banquet tables of the great powers.

“This entire situation, no matter which side controls power in Mali, forces the population against their will to submit to pillage and violence. These so-called ‘liberators’, are, from the viewpoint of the population, occupiers.

“We must say ‘NO’ to the military intervention decided by the Hollande government, to serve the multinationals. Bring the French troops back home – for they have no business in Africa.”


  1. I noticed the other day a TV news story about humanitarian work by Australian aid agencies in South Sudan. I suspect the background to this is Australia trying to set itself up to be a minor player in the forthcoming great rush to grab African wealth. This is what I’m starting to call Australian “boutique imperialism” and I would be interested to hear about anything NZ is doing. They went on about Sudanese refugees in Australia and how the two things were kind of connected. I.e. the refugee effort is part of the leverage needed for Australia to find a way into Africa.

  2. Nice term! NZ specialises in this. We wrote quite a bit about it in the ‘old days’ of *revolution* magazine and I must start going through that material and getting some of it up here and updating other stuff.

    ‘Humanitarian’ imperialism and ‘peace-keeping’ are NZ’s specialities. For a smaller imperialist player these are ideal for gaining leverage, especially with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the restoration of the market in China. Smaller imperialists no longer have to line up with the United States to get some of the pickings of imperialism – New Zealand Imperialism Ltd has more opportunities for using its ‘good name’ to leverage access to resources, enhanced trade and investment and so on.

    This also explains why the NZ ruling class have been ‘doing their own thing’ more, and being able to do so more, in the past couple of decades.

    Unfortunately, illusions in the NZ state are especially strong here, including on the left, so there’s little opposition to this kind of boutique imperialism – in fact the wider ‘left’ tends to support it.

    It would be good to get a bit more discussion between Australian and NZ anti-imperialists around these issues.


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