People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 04

January 27, 2013




Imperialist Evil Eye on Mali


R Arun Kumar


IMPERIALISM has once again bared its fangs in Africa. After Libya, now it is the turn of Mali. On January 11, France had launched an aerial attack on the country and had moved 2500 of its ground troops for action. The purported motive is to save the country from the Islamist fundamentalists. Already reports of civilian casualties are pouring out. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, nearly 230,000 Malians were displaced internally and an additional 144,500 were already refugees in neighbouring countries. This is not all. The recent hostage crisis which led to the death of citizens of many countries in Algeria shows that the crisis in Mali is going to have repercussions on the entire Sahel-Sahara region.




The recent crisis in Mali started with the army coup in March 2012, just a month before the elections were to take place in the country. The events that had subsequently followed, rapidly plunged the country into a deep crisis – political, economic and military. In April, the Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) declared independence to the northern part of the country. Within a few months, they had lost control to three groups of Isalmic fundamentalists – Ansar ed-Dine (Defenders of the Faith); the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is to 'prevent' the 'takeover' of the entire country by these Islamist groupings that France had moved now. Or, so they claim.


French President Hollande said the threat of a radical Islamic takeover was so imminent that he had no choice but to intervene – to save not just Mali, but all of Western Africa, and the French now imply, Europe as well. The public relations machinery of the Western countries was once again put to service to dish out the usual reasons for military intervention – 'jihadists', 'threat to the values of democracy', both to the Malians and the people of the entire world and to 'wipe off terrorism from the surface of the earth and make it a better place to live'. Of course, only by digging beneath this surface can we know the true reality.


Mali was always an important country in the French scheme of things – Françafrique. Historically, French used its control of Mali to ensure its hegemony over other colonial possessions in Africa, particularly in the North, Western and Central Africa. The statement made by 'Socialist' president Hollande, in the current background of military intervention: “The age of what was once called 'Françafrique' is over”, hence reeks of hypocrisy.


Mali is crucial to AFRICOM, created in 2008 and to the Pentagon's overall MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. And Mali is rich in natural resources with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. Studies point to plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali. The US is militarily involved through the training of the Malian army since 2001. In 2005, the US had established the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership comprising eleven ‘partner’ African countries – Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. Every year it conducts joint-military exercises in the region. Incidentally, the army Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the coup was trained by the US and was closely associated with the AFRICOM.  More recently, the US had come out with a National Security Strategy in Africa, in June 2012 with an objective to 'strengthen democratic institutions'; encourage 'economic growth, trade and investment'; 'advance peace and security'; and 'promote opportunity and development'.


Not to be left behind, the European Union and more importantly France, the past colonial master of many of these lands too has an active interest in this region. The uranium deposits in Mali and the uranium mines in neighbouring Niger are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. The EU had come out with its version of 'Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel', in September 2011. The strategy concluded that “Improving security and development in Sahel has an obvious and direct impact on protecting European citizens and interests and on the EU internal security situation”. This shows the active involvement of both the imperialist blocs in the region.


The active participation of China in this region also is a matter of growing concern to both the US and the EU. Chinese presence in the continent is increasing by the day and Africa provides for one-third of the energy needs of China. During this period of global crisis, naturally the control of regions rich in natural resources and markets assumes enhanced significance.




The domestic situation in Mali provided a fertile ground for fundamentalist forces to take root. The global economic crisis too had impacted the country. Employment fell with many companies in the services sector closing or laying off workers. Tourism and hospitality sector were badly hit. Except the mining industry, all other sectors of the economy are in a bad shape due to the crisis. The growing numbers of unemployed, falling wages and increasing prices of food grains and essentials had created discontent among the people. The fundamentalists took advantage of this situation. It is a known fact that the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), as it was known until it was renamed AQIM in 2007, grew out of Algeria’s GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and it is controlled by Algeria’s security and intelligence services. The collapse of the Libyan government and the defeat of Gadaffi led to a widespread availability of arms. This is the ultimate creaming on the pudding, the ingredients for which are supplied by the US and the EU.


There is one another important factor that moved the French into action. In recent elections in Senegal, a president from the centre-left was elected defeating the French stooge. France is losing ground in many of the Western African countries and the only consolation for it is Ivory Coast, where it had militarily intervened two years back. In Mali too, the progressive forces are gaining ground, which is disconcerting to the local elites and their international masters. There were a series of protests and strikes organised by the working class and students in capital city Bomako. Considering all these developments as a real threat to the French hegemony in this region, it had acted to take the situation into control before it spirals out of its hands.


With the pretext of Islamic fundamentalists now available, France had moved first to assume control over this resource rich region. The US, Canada and the major countries in Europe are helping the French with financial assistance, in training the Malian army and in the transportation of troops. The actual fighting at the ground level, it seems would be done largely by the troops from the West African countries – Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS). What these troops will be fighting is not only the Islamic fundamentalists, but also the Tuareg nationalists (though NMLN had welcomed the French troops), who have been consistently fighting for their right to national self-determination. Already reports indicate that widespread atrocities were being committed on Tuareg people and people of other minority ethnicities. Moreover, majority of the Malians are wary of the foreign troop presence, given the experience in next door Libya.


Mali is nearly twice the size of France or Afghanistan. Its terrain is also varied and the troops will be fighting a guerilla war in the region. All these mean that it is going to be another prolonged war in the region with devastating effects on both the people and the resources. The impact is not going to be confined to Mali alone as was witnessed recently in Algeria. The entire Sahel-Sahara region will be effected and many fear that this might lead to the Balkanisation of the region.


It was only after the Second World War that many countries in the African continent secured freedom from colonial yoke. Colonialists left these lands drawing boundaries without any concern for the nationalities inhabiting them. Even before these wounds have completely healed, imperialism is once again trying to re-enter the region using the conflicts arising from them. It is back with its dirty tricks, this time more cannily. Unfortunately, according to some of the surveys done in France, 63-75 per cent of the population are supporting the move of the French government. Even after the imperialist invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Libya, a section of the 'left' has not opposed the government's move.


But people in the occupied lands who are directly and daily experiencing the trauma of imperialist 'projects' are wary. Let us hope that learning from their rich experience of anti-colonial struggle, the people of these lands will once again stand up to resist and fightback imperialism.