The French-led imperialist intervention in Mali is starting to meet the expected, indeed inevitable, stiff resistance, paving the way for a prolonged conflict.
On 25 February, the New York Times reported that nearly 100 resistance fighters had been killed in the fiercest ground battle of the war so far, in which their protagonists were the Chadian military. Chad is one of the region’s neo-colonial states, whose own politics have long remained dominated by Paris, that are supplying troops to imperialism’s war effort. Chad claimed its own forces, who were reportedly also backed up by French air strikes, had sustained 23 losses, along with a number of injured.
Mindful of the impact that returning body bags can have on the population at home, France is desperately seeking to build up a force of around 6,000 neo-colonial African troops, which it fondly, but most likely vainly, hopes will soon be able to shoulder most of the deadly burden of what the French defence minister has brazenly referred to as the “total reconquest” of Mali.
There is nothing new in such an approach – in Vietnam, it was known as the ‘Nixon Doctrine’ of “letting Asians fight Asians“. Indeed, the French only assumed such an overt high profile in the conflict when the extremely unpopular post-coup regime installed in the Malian capital Bamako appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
Optimistically, French President François Hollande described the fighting with Chadian troops as the final phase of the conflict and officials in Paris said they hoped to begin withdrawing France’s 4,000 ground troops within weeks.
But this planned withdrawal, should it take place within anything like the projected timeframe, which at present seems highly optimistic, is not all that it seems. In the same breath, the French are talking about creating a permanent occupation force, based either in Mali itself or in one of the neighbouring countries, from where it could be rapidly deployed.
The New York Times reflected on the dilemma as follows:
“But the [neo-colonial] peacekeeping mission would require ‘at least two months’ of preparations before deploying, the official said, and would deploy only once Mali had been ‘sufficiently secured’. It remains unclear how those terms would be defined, however, and French officials have offered little indication as to what they would consider a successful outcome for the French intervention in Mali .
“‘The idea is to secure the situation to a maximum’ before peacekeepers are deployed, the diplomatic official said, though ‘pockets’ of Islamist fighters will ‘surely’ remain.
“”‘Sufficiently secured’ does not mean Switzerland'”, the official said.” (‘Nearly 100 Rebels Reported Killed in Mali Battle’ by Scott Sayare)
Growing evidence of atrocities
Journalists are largely being kept out of areas where the heaviest fighting is taking place, but nevertheless reports of atrocities are starting to leak out. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in Sévaré, the site of a strategic airbase in central Mali, at least 11 people were killed at a military camp, near to the town’s bus station and hospital. “Credible information” the FIDH reported, pointed to about 20 other executions, with the bodies “buried hastily, notably in wells“. The soldiers allegedly poured gasoline into the wells and set them alight to destroy the evidence.
Many Tuaregs, who earlier controlled the north, fled south when the Islamists took over and are now being singled out for reprisals. The normally quiescent Amnesty International says it has evidence of “violations of international human rights and humanitarian law“, extrajudicial killings of Tuareg civilians, the indiscriminate shelling of a Tuareg camp, and the killing of livestock, on which such nomadic populations rely for survival.
The US joins the fray
While France is currently taking the leading role, the United States and various imperialist powers in Europe, including Britain, are all joining in this ugly and increasingly ill-disguised renewed scramble for Africa. These various vultures are all united in their determination to suppress the African national liberation struggle as well as to roll back the increased presence on the continent, primarily of China, but also of such other non-imperialist competitors as India, Brazil and Russia. But beneath this façade of unity, the various imperialists, primarily but not exclusively the French and Americans, are also circling each other warily, each trying to strengthen its own position at the expense of the others.
Hence, on 22 February, President Barack Obama officially notified the US Congress that he had deployed “approximately” 100 troops to Niger, next door to Mali. (Pentagon sources added that many more would ultimately be deployed). Their purpose, he said, was to “provide support for intelligence collection” and to ” facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region“. His only other justification, beyond this vague talk of intelligence gathering, was the catch all “furtherance of US national security interests“.
What such cynically studied vacuity on the part of Obama seeks to conceal is the fact that he has initiated a significant and unconstrained US military intervention in north and west Africa, whose aim, an aim shared by all the other imperialist powers, is to recolonise the continent and to regain direct control over its immense treasure house of strategic natural resources.
At the end of January, it was reported that the US had secured an agreement with the government of Niger to establish a US military base in the country. According to the Guardian, there are “no constraints to military-to-military cooperation” within that agreement. Earlier diplomatic cables from US diplomats in the Nigerien capital Niamey, disclosed by WikiLeaks, make clear that China’s economic activities in the region have become a key focus of US concern. One such cable warned: “China is building a major portfolio in Niger’s resource sectors and will probably replace France as Niger’s top foreign investor.”
In addition, as part of the Mali operation, US Special Forces have already been sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana.
Destruction of Libya paved way
It is also now clearer than ever that the first step in this war of reconquest was the massive assault on Libya, launched two years ago and entailing the calculated destruction of more than four decades of civilisational achievements by the Libyan people, along with the carefully planned murder of that country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s Libya was the anchor of a carefully constructed set of security and economic relations that maintained a degree of stability in the semi-arid Sahel region below the Sahara, providing economic aid, for example, that served to ameliorate the longstanding conflicts between the Tuareg people and the governments of Mali and Niger.
Libya’s destruction had the entirely foreseeable consequence of profoundly destabilising the entire region, sending Tuaregs, who had been known as strong supporters of Colonel Gaddafi, fleeing persecution in Libya into Mali, followed by the very Islamist elements that imperialism had backed in its war of aggression, thereby providing the pretext for both US and French imperialism to intervene in the region again, with a view to acquiring permanent bases on the continent and undermining any vestige of political independence on the part of the countries concerned.
Paris, Washington and London are all seeking to justify their stepped up intervention in Africa in the name of defeating al Qaeda and similar obscurantist organisations, a task that Prime Minister David Cameron warned in January could take decades. Yet it is precisely these forces that the imperialists cultivated and brought to power in Libya and which they are now coddling and backing in their vicious war against the progressive government in Syria. Nobody in the bourgeois media had either the wits or the guts to point out that Obama’s announcement of the deployment of US troops to Niger, supposedly to fight against al-Qaeda, was made on the very same day that Washington blocked the United Nations Security Council from adopting a resolution condemning an al Qaeda terror bombing that had killed scores of civilians, including children, in Damascus, much to the disgust of Russia, whose embassy was also damaged in the blast.
Lurking beneath such seeming incoherence lies the fact that both the USA and Europe are starting to be economically eclipsed in Africa by China, which has now become the continent’s leading trade partner.
China, which combines trade on fair terms, with massive programmes of infrastructure building, long term low interest soft loans and generous aid programmes, provides a model against which crisis-stricken imperialism is increasingly unable to compete, even if it were so minded, which it is not.
Bilateral trade between China and Africa topped $166 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach $200 billion this year, leaving the USA far behind. In addition, China has proposed or committed about $101 billion to commercial projects in Africa since 2010. African exports to China rose to $93.2 billion from just $5.6 billion over the past decade. Last July, China offered African countries $20 billion in loans over the next three years, double the amount pledged in the previous three-year period.
At the same time, imperialist dependence on Africa and its riches is not diminishing. France, for example, is crucially dependent on Niger for the uranium which powers not only its nuclear weapons programme but also the nuclear power stations that generate more than 75% of the country’s electricity. For the US, West Africa is soon expected to account for 25% of its oil imports.
On 1 December 2012, French finance minister Pierre Moscovici declared that French companies must, in the words of a Reuters report, ” go on the offensive and fight the growing influence of rival China for a stake in Africa’s increasingly competitive markets“.
Speaking on a visit to Côte d’Ivoire, where France recently waged another of its dirty colonial wars to overthrow the progressive government of Laurent Gbagbo, Moscovici declared:
” It’s evident that China is more and more present in Africa…(French) companies that have the means must go on the offensive. They must be more present on the ground. They have to fight… Africa is booming. Sub-Saharan Africa will have the second highest regional growth after Asia in 2012 with a rate of 5.5 %…The new phenomenon is that African growth has the potential to stimulate growth in France. We want to be present there .”
In this situation, al Qaeda is playing a dual role. It provides the shock troops for the attempted overthrow of governments seen as obstacles to imperialist hegemony, as in the cases of Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria and Algeria, as well as serving as a handy pretext for further interventions under the guise of fighting “terrorism” and “extremism“.
Revolutionary solidarity from Venezuela
Despite battling severe illness, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has spoken out against this imperialist offensive and has extended strong support to Africa’s continuing struggle for national liberation. In a letter read out by his foreign minister to the representatives of 63 countries attending the third Africa-South America Summit (ASA), held in Equatorial Guinea in the last week of February, Comrade Chávez urged the two continents to unite into a “true pole of power“, adding:
” It’s in our continents, where enough natural, political and historic resources are found…to save the planet from the chaos it’s been driven towards [by capitalism].”
The Venezuelan leader noted that imperialist intervention had disrupted the programme of joint work between Africa and South America agreed by the last ASA summit, hosted in his country, in 2009.
Referring to the wars of aggression against Libya, Mali and other countries, he wrote: “It’s not by luck or chance…[that] since the Summit in Margarita (Venezuela) the African continent has been the victim of multiple interventions and attacks by Western powers.”
He argued that one of the objectives of these interventions had been to put a brake on the consolidation of African unity, in turn slowing cooperation between Africa and South America.
Comrade Chávez therefore repeated Venezuela’s “total rejection of all interventionist activity by NATO” in Africa and around the world.”
The position advanced by Comrade Chávez, namely one of opposition to all military interventions by imperialism in the oppressed nations, no matter what the pretext, is a principled one, which we completely endorse. It stands in stark contrast to that taken by the ‘enemy within’, the agents of imperialism within the working class movement, as we have seen again and again, not least in Libya and Syria and now in Mali.
In the present case of Mali, not only is the lead state waging the war of aggression presently governed by the social democratic Socialist Party (PS), it is being given vital cover, with only the most token of criticisms, by the long-revisionist French Communist Party (PCF), which recently finally abandoned the hammer and sickle as its party symbol.
Hence, when the Mali intervention was debated in the French National Assembly, PCF deputy François Asensi shamefully declared: ” The position of the Left Front’s deputies, both Communist and Republican, is clear: abandoning the Malian people to the barbarism of the fanatics would have been a political error and a moral sin. Non-intervention would have been the worst act of cowardice .”
How correct Lenin was when he wrote that ” the fight against imperialism is a sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism“!
Imperialism out of Africa!
Hands off Mali!