rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Foreign military intervention wrong response to Mali crisis

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

French soldiers patrol streets. Photo: Ian Glover/Flickr

Change the conversation, support rabble.ca today.

France is knocking on Canada's door seeking assistance for its intervention in Mali, and Canada's door seems to be open a crack. Besides providing the French military, a military transport plane, at least temporarily, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada wants to offer both humanitarian aid and "support for the restoration of democracy." This will come as a pleasant surprise to many Malians.

Those who care deeply about the plight of Mali, including Canada's role there, should read Joan Baxter's revelatory book Dust From Our Eyes: An unblinkered look at Africa. Ms. Baxter, a Canadian journalist who lived in Africa for two decades, witnessed first-hand the contempt, cynicism and implicit racism that characterizes the way so many western governments and corporations regard Africa.

Sad to say, this indictment applies in substantial part to Canada. As the Mali crisis has garnered attention, too many media reports have lazily peddled government propaganda about Canada's long and apparently constructive relationship with a democratic and developing Mali. Much of this is self-serving hooey. Mali ranks 175th of 187 countries on the UN's 2011 Human Development Index, has grown obscenely unequal in the past decade, and its democracy resembled a Potemkin's village.

But what Mali does have is gold in the south, much of it being mined by Canadian companies, and the hope of oil in the north. Canadian aid to Mali totalled $110 million last year, before the coup against the government, but how much ever got to help poor Malians is impossible to know; CIDA's website is particularly unhelpful. No doubt some did. More persuasive, however, is Joan Baxter's research, since she was there and spoke to everybody.

In a telephone interview from her present home in Nova Scotia, Ms. Baxter said that much Canadian government interest in Mali in recent years focused on its gold and oil, and both CIDA and our diplomats worked assiduously to make life easier for Canadian mining companies. Despite all the usual PR mumbo-jumbo about Corporate Social Responsibility, Ms. Baxter saw that these companies care infinitely more about their share prices than about the Malian people, a truth reflected in the extremely generous tax holiday granted by the deposed neoliberal government.

As for France's interest in Mali, its record over many years speaks for itself. Caveat emptor, Mr. Baird. Have you yet been briefed on France's remarkable history in Africa? Do you not find it just a bit off-putting that yet another French socialist president has now decided to save Africa, if possible with our help? It raises an intriguing question: How long would it take AQIM -- al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the target this week of French forces in Mali -- to kill as many Africans as France has done, directly or indirectly, over the years?

The last time a French socialist president intervened in Africa, Francois Mitterrand threw his active support behind the genocidaires in Rwanda for the usual reasons of French realpolitik. The actual attitude towards Africans of much of the French establishment was unabashedly racist. As Bruno Delaye, Mitterrand's chief adviser on Africa, told a delegation of human rights advocates, it was true France's Rwanda allies had committed unspeakable deeds, but "that was the way Africans were." Rwanda was only another in a long series of "routine bloodlettings" on the continent.

This one wasn't quite routine, of course. Yet the French worked with the extremists every step of the way, becoming actively complicit in the 1994 slaughter of perhaps a million innocent Rwandan Tutsi. French soldiers in Rwanda then allowed large numbers of the genocide leaders to escape into Congo where they promptly began to re-mobilize. The appalling wars of the Congo had begun.

In one of their phone calls, Mr. Harper or Mr. Baird might ask President Hollande, who cares so deeply for the people of Mali, when the French government will apologize for France's role in Rwanda.

No one knows exactly how many dead Africans France has been responsible for, directly or indirectly, during its colonial and post-colonial pursuits in Africa. Horrendous massacres by French soldiers in Madagascar, and Algeria. Rwanda of course. Tens of thousands of Africans conscripted to fight in France's European wars. Countless thousands murdered by the many tyrants whom France installed in their former colonies in west and central Africa. It's quite a rap sheet.

France has already elicited the logistic support of the Americans for their Mali mission. After all, both have been longtime proponents of R2P -- the Right to Plunder -- and the Americans too have a record to perpetuate in Africa: conspiring to murder the first democratically elected head of Congo, supporting the Congo's Mobutu as he tore the very heart out of the continent, conspiring with the apartheid regime in South Africa, betraying the Rwandan Tutsi and the Darfuris of Sudan, and, like France, colluding with a legion of sadistic, venal rulers only too pleased to aid and abet American geopolitical and corporate interests.

What's happening in Northern Mali and surrounding areas is in reality extremely complex, worlds beyond the simplistic narrative of marauding al-Qaeda terrorists. That foreign military intervention is capable of "fixing" the crisis, whatever that means, seems wildly unrealistic, though I certainly don't pretend to know what might. But another interminable foreign war by the white world against another group of Muslims seems the least useful strategy possible, certain to fuel even more extremism, to provoke retaliation against the intervening powers, as already witnessed, and to exacerbate the humanitarian disaster.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

Photo: Ian Glover/Flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.