The American Bear


Habits of French Colonialism | Vijay Prashad

… It is the case that the Malian “government” did request assistance. But bear in mind that this “government” came to power as a result of a coup led by the military, whose coup leadership (especially Captain Amadou Sanogo) was trained by the US; and that the actual Malian democracy of the 1990s was consistently undermined by the West and the IMF, who inserted their own man to the prime minister’s office in the early 2000s. Mali did not call for the intervention; the undemocratic, and Western backed, coup regime’s antecedents did. The current President, Dioncounda Traoré is only the Acting President, whose installation to his current office in April 2012 was sealed with a promise to fight a “total and relentless war” on the Tuareg, giving in, therefore, to the Malian military’s main grouse that led to the March 2012 coup in the first place. Traoré’s first Acting Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed by the coup leaders in mid-December 2012 and replaced by Django Sissoko, who presided over a regime dominated by the coup leaders. This is the government that invited the French into Mali. Sanogo’s own political leanings can be gauged by the fact that he opposed the entry of an UN-authorized African force (staffed by ECOWAS) but he welcomed the French bombardment.

The African Union’s head, Yayi Boni, but not the African Union itself, hastily blessed the French intervention. Benin’s President Boni, a former banker who has become paranoid about his own safety, said he was aux anges or thrilled with the French intervention. Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou backed the intervention and a military solution, but more it seems out of nervousness about Niger’s precarious position. When Issoufou came to power in 2011, he appointed a Tuareg social democrat, Brigi Rafini to be his Prime Minister, seeking to unite all of Niger, including the restive Tuareg. Pressure on the Francophone African heads has been immense – but even here there are signs of stress, as it is disagreement amongst them that has prevented a clear line from the African Union in Addis Ababa.

The UN support for the intervention is, despite Deputy Asensi’s claims, also shaky. UN Security Council resolution 2085, negotiated in December, was to provide safeguards against an extension of any intervention. It is not clear that the French provided any safeguards to the UN before its 11 January bombardment of Konna. Paragraph eleven of the UN Resolution is fairly clear,

Emphasizes that the military planning will need to be further refined before the commencement of the offensive operation and requests that the Secretary-General, in close coordination with Mali, ECOWAS, the African Union, the neighbouring countries of Mali, other countries in the region and all other interested bilateral partners and international organizations, continue to support the planning and the preparations for the deployment of AFISMA [African Led Support Mission to Mali], regularly inform the Council of the progress of the process, and requests that the Secretary-General also confirm in advance the Council’s satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation.

The UN has been caught a bit wrong-footed, once more opening the door to an intervention with safeguards in place, but then watching one of its permanent members disregard the caution and its provisions as it bombs and kills civilians in the name of the UN. For the French Left to hide behind the UN, when it is exactly what the French military assault is doing, is to ridicule both the UN Charter and the entire tradition of anti-colonialism and human rights. France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud will brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday, 22 January. It is expected that he will reinforce the tired narrative: jihadis have to be stopped, France is only assisting the Malian government, and so on.

The French operation is called Serval, the African wild cat, whose figure is the symbol of the Italian island of Lampedusa – the gateway between Europe and Africa. During the Libyan war, Lampedusa became the contentious stopping point for Africans fleeing the crisis for Italy. Now, the herald of Lampedusa, the serval, blesses the jet fighters as they go in the other direction, bombing Africa as if by habit, throwing dust in the eyes of the world’s peoples. [++]