"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing."
Since January 10, 2013 when France began deploying the first of its 2500 troops and its countless air strikes began raining down on Mali, the justifications have sounded very familiar. Once again, we are told they are waging a war against "Islamic Extremists" and "Terrorists". Since September 11th, 2001 we have witnessed the devastation and destruction imposed on the people of the Middle East by the armies of the US, UK, Canada, and France using the exact same excuses. Now these imperialist countries are trying to move their horrific wars and occupations to Africa. Even a little bit of critical thinking unravels their Islamaphobic justifications and reveals the criminal reasons for their interventions.
The Scars of Colonialism
Mali is a landlocked country in the Northwest of Africa. It borders 7 other countries, and is almost exactly two times the size of France. It was one of the largest and most important empires in the world during the 1300's, and an important center of mathematics, astronomy, literature, art, and religion. Islam came to Mali over 800 years ago, and 90% of the population is Muslim.
During the colonial "Scramble for Africa" in the late 1800's, France seized control of Mali as part of its larger empire of "French Sudan." In 1960 Mali finally achieved independence, although French remained the official language and the scars of long decades of colonization remained. In the years following independence Mali was no stranger to instability despite holding national elections since 1992.
While held up by Western governments as a symbol of democracy in Africa, Mali remained one of the 25 poorest countries in the world, with an average life expectancy of 53 years. Mali's infant mortality rate is also second only to Afghanistan as the worst in the world. This is despite being the third largest exporter of gold in Africa as gold prices have increased almost 500% in the last 20 years. Foreign investments and aid programs related to Mali's many other natural resources also increased in this time as well, while quality of life continued to stagnate.
Mali in the Crosshairs
Simmering unrest within the population began to boil over, and on March 21, 2012 a group of army officers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo staged a military coup against President Amadou Tomani Touré . The military said that Touré had not been doing a good enough job containing growing rebellion in the North of the country. Prior to this, the United States Military Africa Command (AFRICOM) had established joint operations with the Malian military, and Captain Sanogo had traveled to the United States for special training. Dioncounda Traoré was then imposed as interim President, promising to "wage a total and relentless war" against opposition in Northern Mali.
Speculation about the composition of the rebellion of the North has been exaggerated and manipulated beyond belief, but the fact is that it was clearly defeating the Malian army and taking control of increasing parts of the country. It was when the balance of forces became obviously against the Malian army that we began to hear all of the stories about the rebels being "Islamic Extremists with connections to al-Qaeda."
However, based on this overplayed messaging, France was able to get a unanimous UN Security Council Resolution in December 2012 authorizing a military force of a 3000 troops for an "African-led" mission to invade Mali. But how can it be "African led" if the orders are coming from the Security Council and it is directed by France? France also wasted no time in putting together its own force of 2500 troops, and also received military assistance from Canada, the US, UK, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. The European Union has also promised to the pay the salaries of African soldiers.
A simple question has been left unanswered in all of this: Why is there such a massive and coordinated military push against Mali by so many countries?
New Era of War and Occupation Continues
Trying to understand Mali disconnected from the rest of the world and recent history only serves to confuse and overwhelm. Since September 11, 2001 the list of countries invaded, occupied, and ransacked by Mali's new best friends has continued to grow. Afghanistan has been occupied since 2001, Iraq since 2003, and Haiti since 2004. US drone strikes have rained down on the people Pakistan and Yemen, and imperialist countries continue to arm and fund a mercenary army trying to overthrow the government of Syria. This is while they continue imposing inhumane sanctions and threaten an invasion against Iran.
The human consequences have been beyond description. The UN Refugee Agency sites more than 4 million Afghans who are "Population of Concern". This includes more than 2.5 million refugees and half a million internally displaced people. Their forecast for the future? "It is expected that humanitarian access will continue to be limited, and perhaps worsen, in 2013." Meanwhile, based on data from several studies including the prestigious Lancet Medical Journal, Just Foreign Policy estimates almost 1.5 million Iraqis have died due to the U.S invasion in a country with almost an identical population to Canada! The list could go on and on, but the most important fact is that in every single country where imperialists have invaded and occupied, the situation for people has worsened catastrophically despite billions of dollars spent and even more promises made.
Why do they do this? As the capitalist market and financial crisis deepens and imperialist competition increases, the western colonial countries which have dominated the world for so long are scrambling to secure whatever remains of the world's natural resources, cheap labour forces, new markets, and strategic areas to expand their influence. Importantly as well, they can no longer rely on local puppets to control increasingly unhappy and frustrated populations demanding change. This was the situation in Mali.
The Scrambling for Africa
While September 11th provided imperialists with a convenient excuse to begin their assaults in the Middle East, it is clear the battle will take place across the world and Africa is the next target. Already we have seen attempts. In 2006 the US backed 8000 Ethiopian troops and carried out its own air strikes to overthrow an emerging government in Somalia. In 2007 there was an attempt to use the United Nations to occupy Sudan, but the rag-tag army they put together was not effective. In 2011, France intervened with air strikes to support one side of a civil war in its former colony of Cote D'Ivoire, and in 2011 we saw NATO forces violently overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The US has also established a new central military command in Africa (AFRICOM), and announced in December of 2012 that it had decided to send approximately 3,500 US troops into as many as 35 of Africa's 54 countries. Their reasoning? Again, to "fight extremists." In a more honest moment, the first Deputy to the Commander for AFRICOM, Admiral Robert Moeller stated in 2008 that AFRICOM was about preserving "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market."
Another factor adding to the urgency of the new surge into Africa is China's emergence as a major player there. According to the Chinese Daily Newspaper Xinhua, "Trade between China and Africa soared from $10 billion in 2000 to $166 billion in 2011, and is expected to have exceeded $200 billion in 2012. China's direct investment on the continent has also been on the rise, with the accumulated total having exceeded $15 billion and related projects covering 50 countries on the continent."
Canada's Colonial Role in Mali
Canada has been right in the thick of it all. The Canadian government has been negotiating to set up military bases in Tanzania, Senegal and Kenya. According to a military briefing note, the bases are to improve the Canadian Forces' "ability to project combat power/security assistance and Canadian influence rapidly and flexibly anywhere in the world."
In Mali specifically, the Canadian Embassy in Mali's website states, "Since 1972 and until the recent coup d'é tat, Mali had been receiving official development assistance from Canada and had figured prominently in Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) programming since that time. In 2009, Mali had been designated as one of CIDA's country of focus. The aid program in the country was one of Canada's largest programs with an overall contribution over $110 million for 2010-2011."
This might have had something to do with the fact that as of 2011, Canadian mining assets in the country were nearly $500 million and there are more than 15 Canadian mining and exploration firms working in the country, according to Natural Resources Canada.
New documents reveal the Canadian government and military began discussing military intervention in Mali as early as last spring. After initially saying it would not get involved in the French operations in Mali, the Canadian government sent a C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft and 40 military personal for "one week" which quickly became "one month." As the situation unfolds the truth comes out more and more. CBC News has now also revealed that Canadian special forces soldiers have also secretly entered Mali to "protect Canadian interests."
Unfortunately when Canadian parliament opened on January 28th, the Conservative Party asked for, and got, broad agreement from the New Democrat Party (NDP) and Liberal Party for the continuing military operation in Mali. Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair even went so far as to say, "The French are our longstanding allies. They have long, deep roots in the region. They asked us for a hand and we're giving a very material, technical support and I think it's the right thing to do." What does he mean "long, deep roots"! Roots of violence, theft, and tyranny!
Keep it Simple
Imperialist countries are moving towards Africa as part of the new era of war and occupation. They are fighting to carve up the world and it's resources to delay their economic collapse. The government in Mali was not able to do the job of controlling the population and protecting business interests, so it was time to literally bring in the big guns. Mali is also a convenient entry into Africa as it is one of Africa's minority of predominantly Muslim countries. This fits with their already established narrative of fighting against "Islamic Extremists."
The imperialist governments are trying to sell a mirage in the deserts of Mali. They promise their tank tracks lead to an Oasis of freedom. The people of the Middle East can tell the world where those same tank tracks have led, and it is to anything but freedom and social justice. As people living in Canada, we need to be clear that the Canadian government is one of the primary aggressors on the world stage today, and we have an important role to play in the international movement against war and occupation from the Middle East, to Africa, and beyond. We must join together to demand:
All Foreign Troops Out of Mali!
Self-determination for people of Mali!
Imperialists Hands Off Africa!
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