As French troops stay in Mali, suffering grows

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the West African state of Mali on April 26, where his troops have been fighting since January. France intervened in the central and northern regions of Mali, supposedly to eject Islamic organizations designated as terrorists by Paris and other imperialist states.

On April 25, the U.N. Security Council authorized the deployment of approximately 12,600 “peacekeeping” troops to Mali to establish bases at various points in contested areas. This U.N. force is also structured to take the place of a 6,000-person regional African force that has been fighting alongside French troops against three armed Islamist groups in the north.

Although Francois Hollande’s government said in January that the French operation in Mali would be short lived, plans have now been revised. France says it has drawn down some of its troops but is leaving 4,000 in the country, with at least 1,000 remaining until the end of the year.

A major area of the fighting has been in Gao, which Le Drian visited. He announced that several hundred troops would be transferred from Timbuktu to Gao, leaving only 20 behind in the ancient city that centuries ago was a center of Islamic scholarship and international trade.

There have also been efforts to draw more imperialist states into the war in Mali. Germany has committed to supplying military trainers through the European Union.

The United States has been involved in Mali for many years; the U.S. Africa Command has supplied training, equipment and monetary resources. However, these efforts have only created instability inside the country.

When junior military officers seized power in March 2012 from elected President Amadou Toumani Toure, they were led by a U.S.-trained colonel, Amadou Sanogo, who had studied in several academies set up by the Pentagon. The Pentagon has been transporting French troops into battle in Mali and has recently deployed 100 Special Forces to neighboring Niger, in addition to establishing a drone station there.

Michael Byers, chair of Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has called for Ottawa to become more involved in the Malian crisis. Byers, in an editorial published in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, attempted to make an argument for the deployment of troops to Mali.

Byers wrote on April 29: “Although Canada has disengaged from peacekeeping in recent years, that shift was a political decision. When Canada’s military leaders sought to have Gen. Andrew Leslie appointed commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo in 2010, it was the Harper government that intervened and claimed that Canada’s commitments to the NATO mission in Afghanistan precluded his taking part.”

Therefore, the priority of the conservative Harper government was to engage in more direct occupation efforts in Afghanistan, rather than take a more neutral stance in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Any U.N. forces placed in Mali could very well become involved in clashes with local groups. The U.N. “peacekeeping” mission will be operating as a supposed neutral force, while at the same time French and Malian troops are continuing offensive operations said to be aimed against Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

There is growing alienation of the Malian people in relation to both French troops and Malian soldiers, which have been accused of committing atrocities against the population leading to deaths, injuries and illegal detentions.

Humanitarian situation worsens

As a result of the military coup and the subsequent civil war in the north between Tuareg separatists and, later, Islamic rebel groups fighting against the national Malian army, large-scale displacements have taken place. The economic impact of the conflict has been devastating to those forced to flee as well as to people remaining in their towns and villages.

Food prices have skyrocketed, impacting working people and the poor. An April 29 article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, examines the growing food shortages in Mali, where French troops have been the most active against the targeted rebel organizations. On April 25 “four international agencies warned that northern Mali will descend to emergency levels of food insecurity in less than two months if conditions do not improve. Recent food crises in the region have left many people weakened and still in a period of recovery.”

The Guardian says that French intervention has worsened conditions for people living in the combat areas. In addition to cutting off supply lines, it has created shortages and therefore precipitated hyperinflation. Until decolonization, it should be remembered, most of Africa was carved up between Britain and France.

The same article points out, “Food distribution has been disrupted by the closure of the Algerian border — an important route for supplies into northern Mali — and the departure of many traders. Aid agencies say herders have been unable to use traditional pastures and water points, while the falling value of livestock has made it harder to buy cereals.”

Will the intervention of U.N. “peacekeepers” normalize the situation? In the Congo, Somalia and Sudan, the deployment of U.N. forces did not lessen but instead exacerbated tensions.

With the increasing intervention of U.S., French and other NATO military forces in Africa, the social, political and economic situations in various African states will inevitably worsen. African states and regional organizations need to deal with this escalation of imperialist militarism, which has implications for the continent as a whole.