15 January 2013 — Morning Star Online (Comment, no byline)
The situation in Mali is directly linked to the Nato mobilisation in 2011 to overthrow the Gadaffi regime in Libya.
Deployment of Nato air forces in support of the anti-Gadaffi opposition turned the tide for the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, but it didn’t create national unity behind the new Nato-approved government.
Nor did it take account of regional forces, secular and Islamist, that had provided much of the Gadaffi regime’s military backbone.
Africa‘s borders are porous, not least because the straight-line-obsessed European colonialists paid little attention to the interests or identities of local people when they carved up the continent in search of valuable resources.
Despite efforts by Washington, many of the colonial-era links between Britain, France and Africa‘s nominally independent states continue to hold sway.
French politics has been awash for decades with stories concerning diamonds, bags of cash and boltholes in France for Paris-backed dictators from “Emperor” Bokassa of the Central African Republic to Zairean despot Mobutu Sese Seko, to say nothing of their easily bought French counterparts Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.
When he took over as French president last year, Francois Hollande declared an end to “Françafrique,” telling Senegal‘s National Assembly in October that he wanted to “update the relationship between France and Africa.”
Hollande promised a “respect” agenda in French-African links, explaining: “Respect means a crystal clear definition of France’s military presence in Africa, which can continue only in a legal, transparent framework.”
“Respect” has become just another word as the French president has authorised military strikes against targets in Mali said to be bases of Islamist forces bent on overthrowing the second interim government authorised by US-approved military junta leader Amadou Sanogo – the real power in Bamako – and imposing a theocracy.
Nato governments only have to hear the word “Islamist” to bring on an outbreak of hysteria – apart, that is, from Syria where a Qatar-funded international alliance of holy warriors is assessed as objectively pro-democratic.
Stomach-knotting declarations that Mali is just five hours from France are on a par with Blair government warnings about Iraqi missile strikes on Britain being just 45 minutes away.
And it has opened the way for colonial powers France, followed by Britain, to commit themselves to air strikes, troop deployment and provision of armaments.
The runaway opposition forces in Mali have no planes, but they are well-armed, having benefited from Gadaffi forces’ conventional weaponry brought south after the Libyan dictator’s murder.
They are also acclimatised to the Sahara desert conditions in northern Mali – a tract of land the size of Spain that they control.
The same cannot be said for French troops, potential west African states’ units or even the Malian army whose major operations have rarely moved beyond removing its own government.
France would prefer to restrict its own operations to air support and is anxious for west African soldiers to replace its own, but neither Paris nor London has made a cogent case for involvement in a local military dispute.
To portray an internal Malian dispute over separatism and the role of religion as a potential military threat to Europe indicates a loss of political equilibrium.
Mali‘s problems will not be improved at all by a Nato onslaught in support of one side or another.
Politicians should drop the martial rhetoric. There is no case for European military interference in Mali.