By Asad Ismi
France invaded the West African nation of Mali on January 11, with 4,000 troops, jet fighters, and attack helicopters — supposedly to drive out Islamic fundamentalists identified as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who Paris claims were well on their way to taking over the country. These fundamentalists, however, based in the desert areas of northern Mali, are themselves a Western creation and became prominent due to the Western attack on Libya in March 2011.
AQIM is closely allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the main proxy used by France, the United States, and Britain in their overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. The AQIM militants fought alongside LIFG. Currently, France and the U.S. are also arming and financing Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to overthrow the secular government of Hafez Al-Assad.
So the official French reason for invading Mali is not credible. The very term “Al-Qaeda” was concocted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were both set up by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the agencies have long-standing links with these and many other Islamic fundamentalists, whom they have routinely used against secular progressive parties and movements in Pakistan and other Muslim countries such as Libya.
The Mali case shows that Islamic fundamentalist groups created by Western imperialist powers are now being used by them both as mercenaries to attack the established governments of targeted countries and then to provide a pretext for Western invasions. After helping overthrow Gaddafi, AQIM invaded northern Mali and usurped control of a separatist rebellion by the Tuareg ethnic people who live in the area. The Tuareg defeated the Malian army at the beginning of 2012 and drove it out of the northern region of the country. The Tuareg have long demanded independence for their lands from southern Mali.
The military success of the Tuareg against the Malian army resulted from their having fought on Gaddafi’s side in NATO’s war on Libya, as after his defeat they were able to bring a lot of his military arsenal into Mali. That gave them an edge over the corrupt and ineffectual Malian army. However, AQIM too availed itself of the same arsenal and was able to use it to take over control of Northern Mali from the Tuareg, who being nomads are not inclined to occupy and hold territory with defined borders. Thus the pretext for the French invasion. However, the actual reason for Paris sending troops has to do with securing the mineral resources of Mali and neighbouring Niger, both of which are former French colonies.
Mali is rich in gold, uranium, and oil. The country is Africa’s third largest gold producer, with IAM GOLD, a Canadian company, operating two gold mines in partnership with Anglogold Ashanti. IAM GOLD is one of the leading mining operations in Mali. Crucially, 40% of France’s nuclear power comes from Niger’s uranium mines, which also are the main source for France’s nuclear bombs. Uranium from Niger has been regarded as being of strategic importance by successive French governments. Northern Mali and eastern Niger contain the world’s third largest uranium reserves. as well as considerable oil reserves. France depends on nuclear power to provide 75% of its energy needs. French uranium, oil and gold companies “are lining up to develop northern Mali.”
The government of Niger recently gave uranium exploration licenses to Chinese and Indian companies, thus threatening what has been up to now French domination of the country’s uranium exports. This makes Mali’s uranium deposits in the country’s north extremely important to France, and that is the main reason for the French invasion. Paris requires cheap access to this crucial resource to meet its energy needs and cannot compete with China economically. Its answer is to grab the uranium by deploying its military power.
France has followed a similar tactic in Niger, sending its Special Forces to secure uranium mines there two weeks after invading Mali. The mines, located at Imouraren and Arlit, are run by Areva, a French state-owned nuclear power company. According to the French magazine Le Point, this is the “first ever use of the French commandos to directly defend the assets of a corporation.” As Bill Van Auken explains, writing on the Global Research website: “In reality, the dispatch of French commandos to the uranium mines in Niger only underscores the overriding economic and geo-strategic motives behind the French military intervention in Mali. Under the cover of a supposed war against Islamist terrorists,’ and a defence of the central government in Mali, French imperialism is using its military might to tighten its grip on its resource-rich former African colonies.”
These “former” colonies are still very much treated in a colonial fashion by France, as the invasion of Mali shows. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister, even blatantly declared that his aim in Mali is “the total re-conquest of the country.” France colonized not just Mali and Niger in West Africa, but also Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Benin. These countries were given formal independence in 1960, but Paris in actuality merely converted them into neo-colonies, thus continuing its economic and military dominance. Thousands of French troops remained stationed in West Africa, and repeatedly intervened in its countries to guard France’s imperial interests, going so far as to destroy the entire Ivorian air force in 2004 to assert its domination.
In fact, Francafrique (French Africa) is considered “the representative example of European neo-colonialism.” For five decades, France has maintained a neo-colonial relationship known as “Pacte Coloniale” that gave it control of the new African states, including their economies and military institutions. As one observer put it: “Paris has cultivated the dependency of its former colonies by hand-picking weak regimes that gave them access to resources.” Economically, France imposed the CFA Franc currency on its former West African colonies, thereby ensuring continued financial control and exploitation. The values of the currencies of these countries are determined by Paris.
Also, French representatives are members of the boards of each of the countries’ central banks and have veto power. “No decision can be made without their approval, and France can enforce its policy by threatening to deadlock the economies unless decisions are made in compliance with French suggestions.” Most scandalously, the countries are required to deposit 65% of their foreign exchange reserves at the French National Bank, as well as their gold reserves. As Jean Boissonat, a member of the currency committee of the French National Bank, described it: “All decisions were made in France; the Franc Zone allowed France to deliver certain natural resources to itself without having to spend any foreign reserves.”
In 2001 the West-African gold reserves at the French National Bank were worth 206,528 billion CFR Franc. France profits from the interest generated by the West African nations’ money and then loans their wealth, which it has looted, back to them at a six percent interest rate! As political analyst Dr. Christoff Lehmann, who has written in detail about this subject, puts it “France is indebting and enslaving Africans by means of Africa’s own wealth.”
This enormous exploitation greatly impoverished West African countries and was further compounded by French multinational corporations controlling entire economic sectors in the region, as well as by the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed on the area by the U.S.-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The SAPs enforced disastrous cuts to government spending for health and education, which massively increased poverty in these countries. As a result, Mali is the 13th poorest country in the world today (ranking 175th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index) and Niger is the second poorest. Half of Malians live on less than $1.25 a day.
The former French West African colonies of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, Benin, and Mauritania rank among the bottom 25 of 183 nations in levels of literacy. Mali is the world’s “single most illiterate nation,” with a bare 26.2% literacy rate, followed by Niger and Burkina Faso at 28.7% each. The 2011 UN Human Development Index ranks all of these Francophone countries at or near the bottom of the index list.
When the people of these countries have risen up to demand their economic rights, they have been suppressed by military dictatorships backed by France. The current French invasion of Mali has also been aimed at propping up a military junta. The elites in West African countries have been massively corrupt, acting as agents of French multinationals and the French state. The Malian elite maintains itself through such mercenary services, as well by extensive involvement in drug trafficking.
The French invasion of Mali has been supported enthusiastically by the United States, which has pledged drone operations to it and has provided planes for transporting French troops. Britain has sent 200 troops to Mali, and Canada has given France a C-17 military transport aircraft. The Harper government has made clear that it will not send troops, but Canada has been involved in training Malian troops in 2011 and 2012. These are the same incompetent troops who could not defeat the Tuaregs and lost the entire north of the country. Then they launched a military coup in March 2012 and overthrew an elected government. (Makes you wonder about the effects of Canadian training.) Canada has also long been one of Mali’s largest aid donors.
This imperial Western collaboration is a continuation of the Libyan intervention by NATO, which resulted in the destruction of that country and the plunder of its resources. According to U.K. journalist John Pilger, “A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way. The United States is deploying troops in 35 African countries, beginning with Libya, Sudan, Algeria, and Niger. The invasion has almost nothing to do with Islamism,’ and almost everything to do with the acquisition of resources, notably minerals, and an accelerating rivalry with China. Unlike China, the U.S. and its allies are prepared to use a degree of violence demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine.”
The U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) has built a network of compliant African regimes “eager for American bribes and armaments.” In 2012, Africom staged Operation African Endeavour, with the armies of 34 African nations taking part, commanded by the U.S. military.
As Middle East specialist Tony Cartulucci explains, “It is no coincidence that, as the Libyan conflict was drawing to a conclusion, conflict erupted in northern Mali. It is part of a premeditated geopolitical reordering that began with toppling Libya, and since then using it as a springboard for invading other targeted nations, including Mali and Syria, with heavily armed, NATO-funded and aided terrorists.”
The economically weak imperialist Western alliance has now staked its future on an endlessly expanding world war for resources that entails its re-colonization of the Global South. This is a level and scale of violence that could result in a nuclear confrontation with the main countries that this resource war is aimed at: China, India, and Russia.
Published in Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, March 2013
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent and the author of the radio documentary The Ravaging of Africa which has been aired on 28 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 30 million people.