By Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
The details of the recently commenced military intervention in Mali, which has been launched by France with the support of US, UK, and other European allies, are somehow not finding much coverage in the electronic and print media. The only piece of information which the dominant Western media has communicated to the world is that the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist Jihadists had unleashed a brutal insurgency in Mali, which necessitated the French-led Western military invasion of Mali to defeat the Islamist Jihadists and restore the rule of Malian government.
Further to that information, the subsequent available media items merely reflect the ‘satisfying’ progress of French military against the Jihadists in Mali. On the contrary many an independent scholars and analysts openly assert that this French-Western military intervention in Mali is factually a renewal of ‘Western neo-colonialism’ – albeit in the form of a coalition this time – with the actual objectives of exploiting the natural resources of not only Mali but the whole of West-Africa, and acquiring the geopolitical control on the African continent.
However, such articles of the independent analysts are not finding place in many prominent media outlets. The possibility of a sort of intentional ‘blackout’ of the realities of this intervention, as also reported by some analysts, can not therefore be ruled out. That is certainly an alarming situation. After all, there are the cases of similar Western military interventions during the last about two decades in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and even in the north-western Pakistani tribal territory bordering Afghanistan. All of these were/are being launched with the same ‘slogan’ of fight against Al-Qaeda/Islamist terrorists, to restore peace and democracy, etc; but the world has seen that all of these military ventures only wrought widespread human and material devastation and instability in the effected regions. There is, therefore, the priority requirement of immediately paying attention to this new Western military intervention in Mali, which surely deserves a thorough search of the related facts and a critical analysis of the thus searched out realities. This short paper presents the salient facts of the related aspects, their critical analysis, and the inferred findings regarding this French-Western military intervention in Mali.
To begin with, it is appropriate to examine the claim of France, US, UK and their Western allies that the objective of this military intervention is to defeat the Islamist Jihadists/terrorists to restore the rule of Malian government – a claim, which the critics assert is a complete false fabrication to hide the interventionists’ actual agenda of neocolonialism in Africa.
Regarding the Islamist Jihadists the general perception projected by the Western media is that they are the diehard terrorists who are always willing to sacrifice their own lives, even if in suicide bombing, to attain their objective, which in many cases is to establish their group’s own rule in the area/state according to their own ideological version; and that their modus operandi is ‘terrorism’. Factually, the very definition of a terrorist is questionable, because it is a well-known fact that one man’s terrorist is the other man’s freedom fighter. Besides that, there is also a need to grasp the factors which drive a person or group to that extreme act of so violently opposing the government/authority.
Careful study of many case histories brings to light that such factors mostly include lack of civic education, peculiar psyche of a people, strong urge for taking revenge and the element of human hatred developed as a result of prolonged sufferings of these people at the hands of oppressors (their own or foreign government), etc. Once the cumulative effect of these factors drive a person/group to the extreme of mental frustration and a complete loss of hope in life, then that person/group is mentally ready for any act of violence; whether at his/their own or on the behest of any ‘foreign hand’.
This aspect was clearly reflected even in the very first incident of the suicide bombing in the recent history of South Asia. In that incident late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, leader of Indian Congress Party, was busy in his meet the people electioneering campaign, when a women came close to meet him and blew herself up with a prepared suicidal belt, instantly killing herself, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and many others. The subsequent reports brought forth the facts that the suicidal bomber women was from Tamil community; she was a cancer patient; was full of the element of human hatred for Indian Congress Party due to (from Tamils’ point of view) the prolonged injustices done to Tamils by that Party; and was driven by a strong urge to take revenge for that. It was reported that a certain group had further indoctrinated her to take revenge in that manner, while also paying a heavy amount of money to her for her family. Factually it is that combination, of the extreme desperation and a driving urge of vengeance, which is the causal factor and prime-mover of the violent act of an extremely oppressed person or group against the oppressors (own or foreign) which is then labelled as ‘terrorism’. This aspect is clearly proven from the undeniable fact that no such act of ‘terrorism’ by any group of any cast and creed is found in countries where the public does not suffer from such oppression and social injustices.
Yet another related fact is that in many cases terrorism is also inducted and sponsored in the target country by any foreign power(s) with the purpose of de-stabilising the target country to political subjugation. And for that purpose such foreign powers either organise a dissident group, or exploit an already existing group of people who are deeply frustrated due to the social injustices suffered by them because of the bad policies of their own rulers. Much literature is available on that aspect; the book ‘Terrorism An Instrument of Foreign Policy’ 1 is one such literary work. This type of ‘foreign-induced terrorism’ is/has been at the base of the problems of many countries including Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Mali, etc. The list of examples of this type of terrorism is quite long; however, quoting an example from the US’ official list of terrorist organisations should suffice.
The latest official publication of US Department of State 2 dated 28 September 2012 gives a long list of such organisations. Five of those are Al-Qaeda, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Abundant credible literature is available that Al-Qaeda was created, funded (USD 3 billion 3), equipped and trained by US (CIA) and Osama bin Laden was also ushered forth by CIA. BBC had also confirmed that CIA had trained Osama 4. And that, LIFG and AQIM are also associated with the same US-created Al-Qaeda. Besides that, it is also well-known that: in 2007, “Al-Qaeda’s number two, Zawahiri, officially announced the merger between the LIFG and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). So, for all practical purposes, since then, LIFG/AQIM have been one and the same – and Belhaj was/is its emir”; ——“Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan”; ——“Muammar Gaddafi’s fortress of Bab-al-Aziziyah was essentially invaded and conquered last week by Belhaj’s men – who were at the forefront of a militia of Berbers from the mountains southwest of Tripoli. The militia is the so-called Tripoli Brigade, trained in secret for two months by US Special Forces”. 5 And that, it is the same LIFG “with NATO support, arms, funding, and diplomatic recognition”, which fought as the ground component of the French-led Western military intervention in Libya to overthrow the then Libyan government; and the same LIFG with “French arms, cash, and diplomatic support, is now invading northern Syria on behalf of NATO’s attempted regime change there”.6
As for AQAP, another of the links of the US-trained Al-Qaeda, it is well-known by now that it is also part of the Western-sponsored ‘opposition’ fighting for the Western-planned regime change in the by now war-torn Syria. The case of TTP is also an eye-opener. This is the only US-declared terrorist organisation which is left untouched in the north-western Pakistani tribal territory bordering Afghanistan, by now for years, by the US’ high-tech drone attacks which regularly missile-attack the anti-US tribals in this area (hundreds of these attacks have been launched since 2004). And that is so despite the fact that the leaders of TTP openly contact the media persons and others through satellite phones etc, thereby making them highly ‘detectable’ by the high-tech US electronic surveillance system covering that entire area. Not only that, even some of TTP’s elements and commanders (like Fazalullah) have formed safe sanctuary in Afghanistan area bordering Pakistan with the knowledge and tacit approval of US-NATO forces deployed there.
Undoubtedly that is so because TTP is actually one of the US-sponsored, equipped, trained, funded, and operated terrorist organisations which are operating with the objective of de-stabilising Pakistan through wide spread acts of terrorism and insurgency to browbeat Pakistan to political subjugation.
The foregoing presentation of facts should suffice to credibly prove that the proclamation of the French-led Western military interventionists, that their objective is to fight and defeat the Al-Qaeda linked Islamist Jihadists in Mali, is a false fabrication to hide their actual objective. As mentioned earlier, the critics of this French-Western military intervention claim that the actual objective of this intervention is Western neocolonialism in Africa, for exploitation of its natural resources and its geopolitical control. To commence an examination of this claim of the critics, it is worth making a brief mention of Mali itself, and its colonial days’ connection with France.
In that context the article of Palash R. Ghosh, published on 15 January 2013 in the International Business Times 7, presents some relevant data. Some of the salient excerpts/quotes from that article, being very informative, are presented in this paragraph. Palash R. Ghosh clarifies that during the colonial period since the 19th century, the French ruled across vast part of West Africa (whereas at the global level, at its height during the period 1920 – 1930 France’s empire had reached across 4.9 million square miles). The French pretext of military occupation of those colonies was the same as that of the colonial British; as declared in 1886 by the French statesman Jules Ferry, “The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races.”
Before its occupation by France, Mali was comprised of many parts of various ancient civilisations – Ghana, Malinke, and Songhai. At the zenith of its power and influence during 14th century, its “fabled city of Timbuktu inspired dreams of glory and was renowned as far away as the Mediterranean and Arabia as a center of wealth and Islamic learning”. France completed occupation of Mali by 1898, militarily crushing all attempts in the region against that colonisation. At that time, Mali’s geography included parts of contemporary Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso. The French authorities used forced African laborers to produce goods, such as peanuts and cotton, which were transported to the coast by railways and roads, while the vast interior remained destitute and undeveloped.
It is also worthy of note that French authorities did not completely abolish slavery in that region till as late as 1905; in fact, just prior to emancipation, up to 3.5 million people, about one-third of the region’s population, were slaves. In the 1930s, in an effort to build up the local cotton industry to feed French textiles, France established an irrigation program that flooded areas (thereby displacing Malian villages) of the Niger River Valley, using labor that amounted to plantation slavery.
It is not surprising therefore that against this background of the recorded realities, Palash R. Ghosh comments, “France’s military intervention in Mali to root out Islamist militants evokes memories of when the French ruled a vast empire across much of West Africa”. Subsequently when that wave of colonisation started fading out after Second World War, Mali became an independent nation in 1960, with Modibo Keïta as its first president, who ran a one-party socialist government.
Mali is one of the poor countries. However, it is certainly rich in natural resources, though much of those are still untapped. An idea of that can be obtained from the information provided in the publication ‘Les Journees Minieres et Petrolieres du Mali 8’, 8th – 11th November 2011. The data provided in it is most credible, being based upon the data of Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water, Mali. Following are some of the more significant albeit very brief extracts of that publication:
a. Mali has been famous for its gold since the days of the great Malian empire. Mali currently has seven operating gold mines, and mines which have recently restarted production.
b. There are encouraging signs of uranium deposits, and exploration is being carried out by many companies. Uranium potential in Falea is thought to be of 5000 tonnes, and in the Samit deposit, Gao is thought to be of 200 tonnes.
c. Mali has potential to develop its diamond exploration.
d. The estimated iron ore reserves in Mali are more than 2 million tonnes.
e. Of the precious stones, garnet, rare magnetic minerals, pegmatite, quartz, etc. are found in different locations.
f. Other mineral resources and potential include copper, lead, zinc, lithium, phosphate, kaolin, marble, gypsum, diatomite, lignite, etc.
g. Mali’s Petroleum potential has been documented since the 1970’s where sporadic seismic and drilling revealed probable indications of oil. With the increasing price of global oil and gas resources, Mali has stepped up its promotion and research for oil exploration, production and potential exports. Mali could also provide a strategic transport route for Sub-Saharan oil and gas exports through to the Western world and there is the possibility of connecting the Taoudeni basin to European market through Algeria. Work has already begun to reinterpret previously gathered geophysical and geological data collected, focusing on five sedimentary basins in the north of country including: Taoudeni, Tamesna, Ilumenden, Ditch Nara and Gao.
Surely such richness of natural resource of a strife ridden and weak country like Mali clearly renders it prone to the military intervention by the ‘exploiting’ powers. However, to have a careful look at the ‘broader picture’ of the independently reported latent objectives of this French-Western military intervention, one has to also take into account the natural resource potential of the countries surrounding Mali, as also the natural resource potential of the African continent as a whole, the geo-economic and geo-strategic relevance of which is fast emerging to prominence in global geopolitics. In that context, the research article of Jennifer Giroux, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS), published in CSS (ETH Zurich) Analysis in Security Policy Report No. 38 of 2008: ‘Africa’s Growing Strategic Relevance’ 9 is worthy of note. In the map given in that report the countries immediately around Mali have rich natural resource potential of: oil production (Algeria, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia), gas production (Algeria, Libya, Nigeria), Uranium (Guinea, Niger), diamond (Liberia, Cote D’ivoire, Sierra Leone, Congo Brazzaville), gold (Ghana), copper (Mauretania), iron ore (Western Sahara, Morocco, Nigeria, Guinea), and manganese (Morocco, Burkina Faso, Cote D’ivoire, Gabon). Of course, the other aspects of economic significance are in addition to this list.
In her article, Jennifer Giroux has succinctly brought to light the fact regarding the fast emerging geo-economic and geo-strategic significance of the African continent, resulting in its becoming a new arena of the geopolitical contest of the competing world powers. In that context, following extracts of her article are worthy of note (keeping in mind that this article was published in July 2008):
a. “On the other hand, the relevance of Africa in the strategic calculations of external powers has notably increased lately. This is mainly because of its abundance of natural resources, –. As China is establishing itself as a major new external power in Africa and the US and the Europeans are re-engaging, one may ask what impact this will have on Africa’s future development”.
b. “The growing demand for natural resources is one of the main factors driving Africa’s strategic and economic growth. In terms of energy, the continent has 10 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, about two thirds of which are situated in Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya, and 8 per cent of proven gas reserves, about 80 per cent of which lie in Nigeria, Algeria, and Egypt. While the amount of proven energy reserves may seem small compared to the Middle East, Africa has become the fastest-growing oil producing region worldwide. Not only does it produce oil that is easily refined, but many experts also believe that there are still large undiscovered oil fields with immense potential. A particular advantage of West Africa is that much of its oil is located in offshore areas that are easily accessible, and where extraction is cost-effective and relatively safe. In addition, as far as energy security is concerned, many African countries are much less characterized by petro-nationalism than other oil-producing countries and offer foreign investors contracts that stipulate favorable profit sharing arrangements and little regulation”.
c. “In analyzing the policy responses of some key external actors to Africa’s growing strategic relevance, China presents the most striking case. Driven by its enormous quest for natural resources, China has been working towards a strategic partnership with Africa since 1996. In recent years, Sino-African trade has grown with breathtaking speed and amounts to over US$70 billion today, making China Africa’s second largest national trading partner after the US”.—– “In exchange for energy and raw material supplies, China provides African countries with generous aid packages, trade deals, and assistance to build key infrastructures such as roads and power plants. At the 2006 China-Africa summit, Beijing vowed to double development aid to Africa until 2009 and to extend US$3 billion in soft loans and US$2 billion export credits. The presence of 43 heads of states at this summit indicates that China’s growing engagement in Africa is regarded as a welcome development by African leaders. What makes China a particularly attractive partner to the African governments is the fact that Beijing works with them without demanding political and economic reforms. China’s policy of non-interference in domestic affairs and its close relations with authoritarian regimes in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere has nourished concerns in Western capitals that their efforts at promoting democracy and good governance are gradually being undermined”.
d. “Securing energy supplies and checking China’s influence are also factors that have contributed to the noteworthy re-engagement of the US in Africa in recent years”. —– “The creation of a unified military command for Africa (AFRICOM), announced in February 2007, seems to confirm the trend of a growing US military presence on the continent. In view of strong criticism of countries like Nigeria, South Africa, and Libya, Washington has so far refrained from identifying a location for AFRICOM’s headquarters in Africa, running the command from a base in Germany instead. —- Still, some analysts have warned that AFRICOM and other US military measures may compel China to militarize its African policy too. While talk of a looming new Cold War in Africa appears highly exaggerated at the moment, the effect of the vigorous re-engagement of the US remains to be seen”.
e. “The European Union, too, has expressed its willingness to take a more strategic approach towards Africa. —- Although Europe has more trade with Africa than any other continent, it may well lose influence in this region in the coming decades. —- Negotiations about new trade relations as well as other issues, such as human rights and political reform, have caused frictions with a number of African states lately. As African leaders seem eager to strengthen ties with emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil, a new pattern of South-South partnerships is becoming discernible, the consequences of which are as yet unclear”.
As mentioned, this research article of Jennifer Giroux was published in 2008. It is noteworthy that even at that stage she had very clearly discerned and pointed the then unfolding plans and actions of US and its close European allies to attain their coalition’s geopolitical control of Africa to the exclusion of China and other competitors, and exploit the natural resources of the targeted African countries. Her inference, “While talk of a looming new Cold War in Africa appears highly exaggerated at the moment, the effect of the vigorous re-engagement of the US remains to be seen” was also very accurate in the timeframe of the year 2008. At that stage the cold war in Africa was obviously not ‘looming’; but she also correctly cautioned that the effect of the vigorous re-engagement of the US remained to be seen – and by now that ‘effect’ surely has actualised in the form of Western military intervention in Africa.
From amongst the very recent publications, the article ‘A New Great Game’ 10 of Friedbert Pfluger, who teaches international politics at King’s College Department of War Studies in London, is noteworthy. It helps in reading ‘the pulse’ of those in Europe who matter in providing the input for policy makers of their respective countries. In his article, he asserts “The dominant conflict in geopolitics in this century is the scramble for energy, raw materials, and water. The nationalism, colonialism and imperialism of the 19th century is back. Europe has to engage strategically in competition for scarce resources as the world population—and its energy demands—continue to grow. A new Great Game is already in full swing in the near and Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia”; and that “Energy and raw materials are almost always at the core of this new competition”. At the end of his article he highlights the urgent requirement of a comprehensive and forceful European energy policy, and gives a list of recommendations for its formulation. The actual tone of his recommendations is clearly reflected from his asserted recommendation, “The EU must assert its claim as a “global player” in energy and raw material. It is not enough to finance gender projects or seminars for local government in Latin America or Africa. Rather, the EU must learn to define and enforce its interests in the global arena”.
And, undoubtedly now the US-EU combine is violently asserting its global player claim on energy and raw material in their ongoing military interventions. The talk of military intervention in Mali merely to defeat the Islamist Jihadists is certainly a falsehood to hide the actual hidden agenda of the renewed neocolonialism by the Western powers. It is certainly not an operation to restore the Malian government. It is a military intervention to stay – again with the banner slogan of ‘war on terror’.
That hidden agenda can now be clearly read even from the pronouncement of British Prime Minister, as also reported by Ben Schreiner, “As British Prime Minister David Cameron declared, the crisis in Mali “will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.” Backing up such bluster, Britain has reportedly joined France in dispatching special commando teams to Mali, in addition to surveillance drones”. 11 Out of the recent publications of the independent writers, the article of Seumas Milne who is a British Journalist and associate editor of The Guardian is also of note. Some of the extracts from his article which comprehensively clarify the realities of the French-led Western military intervention in Mali are: “To listen to David Cameron’s rhetoric this week, it could be 2001 all over again. Eleven years into the war on terror, it might have been Tony Blair speaking after 9/11. As the bloody siege of the part BP-operated In Amenas gas plant in Algeria came to an end, the British prime minister claimed, like George Bush and Blair before him, that the country faced an “existential” and “global threat” to “our interests and way of life”; ——-“You’d think the war on terror had been a huge success, the way the western powers keep at it, Groundhog Day-style. In reality, it has been a disastrous failure, even in its own terms; instead of fighting terror, it has fuelled it everywhere it’s been unleashed: from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Iraq to Yemen, spreading it from Osama bin Laden’s Afghan lairs eastwards to central Asia and westwards to North Africa – as US, British and other western forces have invaded, bombed, tortured and kidnapped their way across the Arab and Muslim world for over a decade”; ——-“France is in any case the last country to sort out Mali’s problems, having created quite a few of them in the first place as the former colonial power, including the legacy of ethnic schism within artificial borders – as Britain did elsewhere”; ——-“The idea that jihadists in Mali, or Somalia for that matter, pose an existential threat to Britain, France, the US or the wider world is utter nonsense. But the opening of a new front in the war on terror in north Africa and the Sahel, accompanied by another murderous drone campaign, is a potential disaster for the region and risks a new blowback beyond it”; ——“The past decade has demonstrated beyond doubt that such interventions don’t solve crises, let alone deal with the causes of terrorism, but deepen them and generate new conflicts. More military intervention will bolster authoritarian regimes – and its rhetoric further poison community relations in the intervening states. It seems the price has to be paid over and over again”.
The foregoing presentation of the facts and credible information clearly show the havoc which has been unleashed in Mali and in North-Western Africa, by The US-EU combine’s military intervention with the ultimate objective of neo-colonisation of the resource-rich target countries. UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming has already warned that “in the near future there could be up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali, and over 400,000 additionally displaced in the neighboring countries” 12. There is no doubt that as a consequence of such flagrant oppression, resulting human miseries, and the reported atrocities of the French military and their protégée US-trained Malian Army troops, the violent reaction of the oppressed will spread far and wide. Unfortunately, however, these perpetrators of neocolonialism are not paying heed to this extremely dangerous ‘mass human hatred’ which is emerging as a by-product of their neocolonising military interventions.
About The Author
Author is a Retired Brigadier, a postgraduate from Army War College with command, General Staff, and rich battle-field experiences. He is a post-retirement PhD from University of Peshawar, a published research-analyst, and lectures in social sciences in the universities of Islamabad. (e-mail—- [email protected])
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Accessed 27 Jan. 2013.