France is continuing its occupation of northern Mali to the growing displeasure of youth who staged a sit-in in the Malian city of Gao on May 30.
The youth of Gao, many of them women, accused France of favoring the Tuareg rebel movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), over other groups by not consulting broadly about plans for the future of Mali. National elections are scheduled to be held in July, and talks have already been held in neighboring Burkina Faso among various political parties.
The civilian government of Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a military coup on March 20, 2012. The engineer of the seizure of power was Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who was trained in several U.S. military academies.
During the Gao protest, people carried signs reading, “No elections without trust” and “Our thoughts are with the victims, not the killers.”
Much attention was focused on the northern city of Kidal where France appears to be operating in the occupation in alliance with the MNLA. Reports indicate that the Malian army has not been able to enter the city through an agreement between France and the MNLA.
One youth activist at the demonstration in Gao told Middle East Online that “The banners, which were addressed to Francois Hollande, were saying ‘You liberated Mali from terrorists, now free [the region of] Kidal, otherwise Mali is going to brutally divorce you.’” (May 30)
Despite this widespread notion that France played a positive role in driving out several Islamist organizations from several northern cities, criticism against Paris has escalated in recent months. Attacks on the French occupation have taken place within the press and among some Malian politicians who are accusing the occupation forces of working to extend their presence in the country.
Gao was the first city attacked by the French military in January. Consequently, it is significant that the first mass demonstration was held there.
One of the organizers of the Gao demonstration, Moussa Boureima Yoro, said, “We want to give France a heads-up and to tell them that they are allowing a situation to take place in Kidal that we do not understand. We want France to tell us what they are up to — because we are confused when they say on the one hand that Kidal is part of Mali, and at the same time, they act as if it doesn’t belong to Mali.”(Associated Press, May 30)
Humanitarian crisis worsens
Since the rebel campaign of the MNLA and other armed groups in the north of Mali, there have been hundreds of thousands of people internally displaced and forced into exile. Gao, with a population of 70,000, has been severely impacted as well.
In the aftermath of the military coup and the seizure of power by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine in northern Mali, France utilized this internal political crisis as a rationale for intervention. Nonetheless, the social situation of the civilian population has deteriorated with the French imperialist invasion.
A recent United Nations report documents that access to clean drinking water is in serious decline in Gao.
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the international press that available drinking water had fallen by 60 percent over the last few weeks.
“Water is a main issue: some neighborhoods in Gao did not have water at all due to dysfunctional pumps and lack of electricity,” said Laerke. “Outside of the city, the situation is even worse because the Niger River was the only source of water and there were concerns about cholera outbreaks.” (U.N. News Service, May 28)
Food is also in short supply. The U.N. says that only one-third of the population of Gao is being serviced with food distribution.
At present there are approximately 100 humanitarian organizations operating in Mali. According to the U.N., the proposed budget of $410 million needed for humanitarian relief is only 29 percent funded.
Most of the schools in the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal are still not functioning. With these problems continuing, it will be very difficult to organize credible national elections by the end of July. The U.N. reports that 174,000 Malians are living outside the country in neighboring states.
The U.N., whose Security Council is a smokescreen for imperialist interests, claims that refugees will have an opportunity to participate in the upcoming elections. “While details of the out-of-country electoral process are still being worked out, UNHCR [U.N. Refugee Agency] is ready to facilitate the exercise by refugees of their right to vote,” said UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
The bulk of Malian refugees are to be found in Mauritania where some 74,000 people are being harbored. In Burkina Faso, it is reported that at least 50,000 have taken residence there, and in Niger, another 50,000 have fled there from the fighting and dislocation in northern Mali.
France deepens intervention
in West Africa
Although France publicized its withdrawal of what it said was 2,000 troops from Mali during May, the occupation of the country will continue into 2014. French defense ministry officials have said that at least 1,000 troops will remain after the end of 2013 to serve as “trainers” for the Malian army and to work in conjunction with a U.N. peacekeeping force, numbering nearly 13,000 scheduled to take control of the country beginning on July 1.
The French National Assembly and Senate voted on April 22 to extend its occupation of Mali. There was no opposition to the plan by any political party within the legislative body. (Center for Research on Globalization, May 7)
When members of MUJWA and the Signatories in Blood staged a joint attack in two locations in neighboring Niger against the French-owned Areva uranium mining facilities and the local military on May 23, France took the lead in so-called counterinsurgency operations. Over two dozen Niger troops were killed in the attacks, which the government claims were organized from southern Libya.
Since the attacks on French interests in Niger, France has called for military operations in southern Libya to ostensibly prevent further attacks. The U.S. has also dispatched at least 100 Special Forces in Niger, where it is establishing a drone station in the uranium-rich nation.