Another Anglo-French colonialist adventure
Prime Minister Cameron has seen fit to rush transport planes and military help to boost French president Francois Hollande’s military adventure in Africa. They are both trying desperately to stoke up chauvinist enthusiasm and a big diversion from their lack of popularity at home.
Hollande justifies France’s bombardment of Mali – the world’s 24th poorest country with the third highest infant mortality rate – on the grounds that he must protect French citizens and “democracy” against “terrorism”. But his intervention in the former French colony has precious little to do with either.
The crisis in Mali has ratcheted up since a coup last March by a group within the 7,000-strong Malian military. President Amadou Touman Touré, who led the 1991 democratic uprising, was overthrown by disgruntled officers. The army was in disarray because it failed to defeat ethnic Tuaregs in the north of the country.
After the Gaddafi regime was overthrown in Libya, some 2,000 heavily-armed Tuaregs returned to their Malian homeland. The Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) rebels seized control of three key cities – Kidal, Gao and the legendary cultural and trading centre of Timbuktu.
Some 100,000 thousands of Malians – perhaps more – became refugees and fled to neighbouring states. By July the UN estimated that the crisis in Northern Mali affected 380,000 people. Al-Qaeda forces moved into the situation, demanding the implementation of sharia law.
But while both Hollande and Cameron are billing their adventure in Africa as a battle against al-Qaeda terrorism, Jeremy Keenan, who has written extensively on the Tuaregs, has pointed to a more complex and sinister build-up to the present crisis.
The rise of the MNLA movement for the self-determination of Azawad – the Tuareg name for northern Mali – was not only a problem for the Malian army but, a huge shock to Algeria. He says:
The distinct possibility of a militarily successful Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali, which Algeria has always regarded as its own backyard (the Kidal region is sometimes referred to as Algeria’s 49th wilaya), could not be countenanced.
Whilst crocodile tears are shed by the big powers, it was in fact the notoriously brutal Algerian security service, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), which supplied, supported and orchestrated the Islamist “terrorist” groups in northern Mali.
After the three provincial capitals of Azawad fell to the rebels without resistance, the entire area was in rebel hands. On April 5 the MNLA declared Azawad an independent state. “The declaration of Azawad’s independence received no international support, nor was it ever likely to do so,” Keenan adds.
In July, Tuaregs rejected the Islamist influence of al-Qaeda, warning that their homeland could be turned into another Afghanistan. But the MNLA rebels fighting for an independent Azawad were marginalised and lost their influence to the Ansar al-Din Islamists.
The rebels who now control the north of Mali appear to have widely diverging aims, the independent US Huntingdon news network has said. One wing is demanding independence for the north. Another says its goal is to create an Islamic republic operating under strict Sharia law – which might be all of Mali or simply the northern half.
There is a certain déjà vu when you hear the words of French Socialist Party president Hollande. When a big-power leaders embark on military action against a former colony, it is invariably “on behalf” of the people living there while in reality it is in pursuit of strategic aims and ambitions of the major powers. There are, for example, oil reserves in the Tuareg-controlled Sahel area.
Isn’t there a strange similarity between Hollande and Cameron, who is upping the ante in his sabre-rattling against Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands islands alongside his nationalist, anti-EU rhetoric? They are both trying desperately to wave the flag and draw attention away from their deep unpopularity at home. Let's hope it'll be a repeat of the 1956 Anglo-French Suez debacle!
A World to Win secretary
14 January 2013