France says it's in Mali 'for the long haul'

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"France is in Mali for the long haul." That's the headline in today's France daily Le Monde. The newspaper's front page, as well as pages 2 and 3, are devoted to a discussion over 'what next' for France and the world in Mali.

The views of the newspaper's editors are explained in a front page editorial (see below for a full translation). 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. The Harper government in Ottawa can be expected to fall seamlessly into line.

There are several important differences with Haiti. One, the French imperialists want the neighbouring, neo-colonial regimes of 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 is going to take many months and positive results are not pre-ordained. (And let us add, these same forces have received "training" by the U.S., European and Canadian militaries for some years already.) That leaves France staring at the uncomfortable prospect of bearing the lion's share of what by all appearance is an occupation sans fin ("France is in Mali for the long haul"!). Articles in the newspaper are filled with news and commentary about this dilemma.

Two, France wants international endorsement and participation in its project. It has already received the enthusiastic participation of its principal imperialist allies. It obtained an endorsement for an "African-led" military force in the UN Security Council resolution of Dec. 20, 2012. But whether this will prove as lasting and universally-supported in the halls of the Security Council as the MINUSTAH force in Haiti, created in 2004 through the initiative of the U.S., Canada and France, is another matter.

A contrary case to military occupation is presented in the February 4 Le Monde by author and academic Olivier Roy You can read it here (in French).

Where does the French left stand in the face of all this? The daily newspaper of the Communist Party publishes a report of the French president's visit to Mali last week with the headline, 'Hollande in Timbuktu: "I don't wish to meddle in the political life of Mali."' The paper is routinely summarizing in its pages the declarations of the French government and military. There has been no editorial comment for several weeks.

There seems not a lot of echo and follow-up by the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) of its early denunciations of the French intervention. A brief commentary in its weekly publication on Jan. 30, by Paul Martial, states:

The Malian people are stuck between mafia gangs and/or jihadists who do not hesitate to commit the worst atrocities, and a bankrupt and corrupt ruling class backed by a French imperialism which sees only its interests.

We dare to say and hope that a third way is possible and desirable. It involves the mobilization of people and their organizations for the re-foundation of a Mali where everyone has a place, whatever their origin or region.

The few articles recently published by the NPA, like its early statements, give no hint of the national rights dimension of the conflict in Mali and The Sahel nor of the process of neo-colonial resource grab and militarization of west Africa undertaken by the U.S. and its junior partners in the past decade. (The latter is documented in an important new article by John Pilger. Meanwhile, the national rights struggle of the Touareg is summarized in an informative news article (in French) in Le Monde online today.)

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. The second one is posted today to It makes insightful comments, observing:

Over the years, in the name of R2P -- 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.

Rather incongruously, the main argument in the commentary is that Canada's participation in the French intervention "makes no sense." He appeals to the Canadian government to increase its aid to Mali from the paltry $13 million announced last week. 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 Canadians, it makes "a lot of sense" for Canada's government to deploy its military forces in west Africa because the new, declared goal of foreign aid policy is, first and foremost, to promote the interests of Canadian capitalists. Equally unfortunate is the absence of a voice in Parliament opposing this newest military adventure.

Therein lies the foreign policy challenge before the Canadian people. Do we want a government that, in the recent words of Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders, pursues a "colonial turn" in Africa, like its earlier and parallel turns in Afghanistan and Haiti? Or should we fight for a government that joins in the worldwide struggle against war, capitalist injustice and environmental destruction?


*Post-publication note: Members of the NPA issued an important statement on February 3, 2013 summing up a three-day convention of the party that took place from Feb. 1 to 3. The statement begins with a ringing denunciation of France's war in Mali. You can read the statement (in French) here.

Roger Annis is a social rights and trade union activist in Vancouver, B.C. He can be reached at rogerannis[at]hotmail[dot]com


Editorial, Le Monde, Februrary 4, 2013 

Without further concealing, France is assuming its military intervention in Mali. François Hollande reminded listeners of it in Timbuktu and Bamako on Saturday, Feb. 2, without arrogance or postcolonial complex. He reiterated the intention of France to remain in Mali for the time it will take. Paris has long sought to avoid appearing on the front line in this former colony. The fate of French hostages kidnapped in the region but held for months in northern Mali by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was a reminder of this rresolve.

Behind the scenes, however, Paris was at the forefront. Its diplomats wrote resolutions at the Security Council of the UN to ensure the legality of military intervention. Its expert were working alongside officers in West Africa to put in place a regional intervention force designed to release the grip of the narco-Islamists that controlled nearly two-thirds of the country during the previous year.

Because the problem of Mali far exceeds preserving the backyard of the former colonizer. The cancer that developed in Mali - the alliance between Islamist groups and drug traffickers - threatens the entire region. The spectacular seizing of hostages at the site of the gas works at In Amenas in Algeria by a group linked to AQIM illustrates the reality of this threat. It shows that the range of terrorist groups extends away from their bases Gao or Timbuktu, where they were trying to install their sanctuary.

To be convinced of the danger, it is enough to note the degree of mobilization of Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, Niger and Chad. From the beginning of the crisis in Mali, they called for urgent military action. Certainly, the countries of the region have geopolitical ambitions. But Mali is not Congo - Kinshasa. Its sub-surface is not full bursting with wealth that drives ambitions. The central issue was security as well as to contain a threat that might spill beyond the vast, arid Sahel region that runs from Mauritania to Djibouti.

France has understood this from the beginning. In his speeches, François Hollande has consistently pointed to a threat of regional destabilization. This made clear that Paris was not preparing to intervene to defend a friendly regime at risk. The French President promised not to repeat the less than glorious episodes of the history of "Françafrique". In Bamako, on Saturday, he went further, saying that France was paying a debt written in blood in Europe by African soldiers who died for France during the two world wars.

He was right, but that does not detract from the relevance of the question today: how to conclude? Paris is counting on African forces to take over, but they are not ready. Reality obliges that this unpleasant truth be stated. If Africa and Europe do not want a French tutelage over Mali, then they must assume their responsibilities. 

- Translation by Roger Annis.

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