May 10, 2013
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/The Bullet
-- France’s National Assembly and Senate have voted to extend the country’s
military intervention in Mali. A resolution passed both houses of parliament on
April 22. Not a single vote was cast in opposition.
later, the United Nations Security Council approved Resolution
2100, creating a policing mission beginning July 1, 2013. The mission is
called by its French acronym MINUSMA. Its projected size is 11,200 soldiers and
invaded the north of Mali with 4000 soldiers and fighter aircraft on January
11. The Mali government and its French benefactor lost control of the area in
2012 to Tuareg and other national groups fighting for autonomy and independence.
Islamist forces that oppose the sovereignty aspirations of the national
minorities then briefly rose to military dominance in the region. It is their
presence that served as the key pretext for the intervention and now for a
foreign, military and police occupation of undeclared duration.
there are some 6000 soldiers from African countries serving in a "peacekeeping"
role in the south of Mali, while French soldiers are engaged in combat with
Islamists in the north. Also, what’s called a military training
mission by the European Union has some 200 soldiers on the ground and hundreds
more providing supplies and equipment.
States is a key backer of the French intervention. It has significantly boosted
its military presence in West Africa during the past decade and recently opened
a drone airbase in neighbouring Niger.
France discusses intervention
in France’s National Assembly and Senate were required by Article 35-3 of the
French constitution, a revision from July 2008 arising from the long war in
Afghanistan. French parliamentarians debated the Mali intervention on January
16 but no vote was taken.
and only other time Article 35-3 has been invoked was in September 2008 when legislators
got around to approving France’s Afghan intervention that began in 2001.
In the National
Assembly debate, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the Mali intervention
a political and military success. Minister of defence Jean-Yves Le Drian declared,
"All of Mali’s territory has been liberated" and the threat to the Mali’s
security has been "very strongly reduced."
Assembly deputies from the Left Front (Front de Guache) electoral coalition abstained
in the vote. Jean-Jacques Candelier explained, "We want our [France’s] contribution
to be made solely through the military force to be created under the umbrella
of the UN." He also argued that French aid should be reoriented in favour of
local development. François Asensi, spokesperson for Left Front in the National
Assembly, said the problem with the resolution presented by the government is
its proposal for a French combat force that will be outside the control of the
UN (Security Council).
expressed concern that the precise goals of the intervention are unclear. "When
will we say that out troops will have fulfilled their mission? What are the
precise objectives of our military presence? … We do not accept a lengthy and
permanent presence of France in Mali", he said. But he concluded, "It goes
without saying that we cannot vote against the presence of French troops in
Mali, but we will abstain."
An April 23 statement by the Communist
Party, an important constituent of the Left Front, voiced similar concerns
about the government resolution, including that France risks being drawn into a
quagmire with "regional repercussions". A party member writing on the party’s
website termed the decision to abstain in the National Assembly vote as "not
very communist… Communists should OPPOSE military
interventions that lead to imperialist wars…"
and correspondent with the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) has written a harsh
assessment of the April 22 vote, in particular of the decision of the Left
Front to abstain.
says there are abundant reasons to oppose the French intervention: "Four months of military intervention at a cost of 200 million
euros; no political solution in sight; no handover to Mali foreseen; and the
power of France’s influence, as [foreign minister] Laurent Fabius has said, is
The article continues, "This shameful vote allows for a
lengthy military presence in Mali that will become a full-fledged territorial
occupation in the interests of France and the other big powers supporting it."
International plan for Mali
plan for Mali will see MINUSMA relegated to a policing ("peacekeeping") role. The
force will stay out of combat because a large part of its ranks will come from
African countries that are deemed to lack necessary training and resolve.
a separate French force of up to 1000 soldiers will be dedicated to combat
operations and will operate outside of any United Nations endorsement and
from Chad are the only African forces that have been fighting with French
soldiers in the north, but that country has recently
ended its combat role. Chad has suffered unacceptably high casualties and it
says it is not equipped to fight the lengthy, counter-insurgency war that may
be taking shape in Mali.
political foundations are shaky and were likely a factor in its Mali decision. In
March, the Union des forces de la
résistance announced it was calling off a two-year ceasefire with the
authoritarian government of Idriss Déby, due to the government’s failure to
engage in promised political dialogue.
May, the Déby regime arrested some leading critics, including legislature
member Saleh Makki of the Coordination
des partis pour la défense de la Constitution. Déby has ruled Chad since
Blunt assessment of foreign military 'training’
In an April
23 interview published in Le Monde,
Colonel Bruno Heluin of the French army provided a remarkably blunt assessment
of the Mali army. He is assigned to the European military training mission. For
now, the foreign plan for Mali assigns a very secondary role to the country’s
Mali was a
founding member of the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership that was
created by the United States in 2005. The Partnership provides money, weapons
and training to its 11 member-countries in West Africa and it conducts annual
military exercises directed by the US, Europe and Canada. Three of those
exercises have taken place on Mali soil.
all these years of training and equipping, Heluin says the 20,000-member Mali army
lives "day to day". It lacks any training infrastructure, is underfinanced and under-equipped,
and it is plagued with corruption. He says much of the military training
provided by the US in recent years went to Tuareg-led army forces in the north.
Many of these ended up joining the rebellion against the central government in
leader Captain Amadou Sanogo was trained in the US. He led the overthrow of
Mali’s elected government in March 2012 and today retains key influence and
power over the country. The army is presently recruiting 4000 young people between the ages of
17 to 19.
about the support promised earlier this year at an international conference in
Ethiopia to train and provision the Mali army, Heluin said not a penny has been
received. The military contingents from the neighbouring African countries
present in Mali have received 8 million euros ($11 million).
army is stained with having overthrown a national government. Hence, the
wariness of the large foreign powers to be seen engaging with it. Hence also
the rush to get some kind of elected government back into office.
Council Resolution 2100 calls for the holding of a national election as quickly
as possible, preferably by July. This is one of the similarities to the
Security Council occupation regime in Haiti, soon to enter its 10th year.
there have been two national elections since MINUSTAH was created in 2004, in
2006 and in late 2010/early 2011. Each one featured the exclusion of
progressive political forces. The dust from the January 2010 earthquake had
barely settled before the big powers present in the country began to press for the
second of those elections, notwithstanding the catastrophic, post-earthquake
state of the country (which still prevails today). It recorded the lowest voter
turnout in the modern history of the western hemisphere, including by far the
lowest turnout in Haiti.
commentators in Mali as well as internationally recognise that the country is
nowhere near ready to hold a national election. The military situation is
unstable, the army officers safely ensconced in the capital city Bamako remain
in effective control, and the country is living a severe humanitarian crisis.
emergency is detailed in a series of reports published recently.
agency news report says towns in the north are in a state of "complete
chaos" with no governing or social infrastructure in operation. In Timbuktu,
for example, not a single international aid agency is operating.
on April 29 that close to 300,000 people are internally displaced in Mali
and some 125,000 people are living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries (Mali’s
population is 15.5 million). Many are there due to ongoing drought conditions
and the related, creeping desertification of the north of the country as the
Sahara Desert expands inexorably southward.
prices are spiralling and aid needs are not being met. In March, agencies found
that one in five families in the north of Mali were suffering food shortages
ranging from severe to extreme. The World Food Program is seeking to deliver
food to half a million people around the country.
Calderon of UNICEF Mali says that this year in southern Mali, 210,000 children
will suffer from life-threatening malnutrition and 450,000 will suffer a less
severe but still debilitating form of malnutrition.
Mali will descend to emergency levels of food insecurity in less than two
months if the security situation and humanitarian access to vulnerable
communities does not improve, say dire
warnings from four international aid agencies -- Action Against Hunger
(ACF), Solidarités International, Welthungerhilfe and Oxfam. "It is vital that
we act before we reach a point of no return about the food situation", says Philippe
Conraud, Oxfam country director in Mali. "While international attention is
focused on the UN peacekeeping mission, we risk losing sight of the current
alarming humanitarian situation."
"Many big international donors which
are not present in Mali have the impression that the military intervention was
a success and the situation is back to normal", he said. "But we want to
highlight the fact that this could become an emergency in a matter of months."
A recent troubling
report on the human rights situation was authored by Human Rights Watch director
in France, Jean-Marie Fardeau. He wrote that formal mechanisms of justice are
"absent" from the north. "In all the small cities, villages and encampments,
notably along the Niger River, the forces that are supposed to guarantee the
rule of law are absent, while undisciplined and violent elements of the Mali
army have exacted serious retribution."
says that 20 summary executions of civilians and an equal number of
disappearances have been recorded, and that more are likely to be uncovered. Mistreatment
and torture of prisoners by the Mali army is also reported.
first time in the history of Mali, military officers, six in number, are being
investigated for a human rights crime -- the disappearance of five civilians in
Timbuktu. Fardeau says it would be good if they could appear before a military
tribunal, except that this institution has never convened.
notes the recent creation of a national commission for dialogue and
reconciliation. He does not have much hope for its effectiveness and says a
full truth and reconciliation commission is needed instead.
allegations against the Mali army are a confirmation of the concern about that
institution expressed by the Tuareg Mouvement
national de libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) at the outset
of France’s intervention, including its call that the army should be prevented
from reoccupying the north of the country. The concerns were ignored by France.
As the French rulers settle in for a long occupation in Mali, they face
difficult political conditions at home. The
Guardian recently reported that polls are showing plummeting support for the Socialist Party government
of President François Hollande.
one-year anniversary of the French left’s return to the Elysée has been marked
by disappointment on promises to cut unemployment, restore growth, contain the
deficit and reverse Europe’s one-size-fits-all austerity drive. Hollande's approval
ratings have plunged to the lowest of any modern French leader.
Hollande's biggest problem is
spiralling unemployment, a symptom of France's economic decay and zero growth. Unemployment
is at 10.6% or 3.2 million people, the highest number since records began in
1996. More people are out of a job in France than at any other time.
One unexpected event that brought a
brief boost to Hollande was the military intervention in Mali – he described a
visit to Bamako as the "most important day of my political life". But Henri
Rey, of the Institute of Political Science in Paris, said the slight bounce did
not have a lasting impact politically: "Mali was seen as a success, but it did
not fundamentally change the equation."
On May 5, hundreds of thousands of
people marched in the streets of Paris against austerity and the captains of
The national rights struggle of the
Tuareg and other national minorities in the north of Mali is decades old. It came
to the fore again in 2011-12, prompted by the intransigence of the Mali government/military
and by the upheaval in neighbouring Libya. A cascade of disastrous political
fallout then followed, including the military coup of March 2012 and France’sintervention.
The coup and the intervention have exposed
the rotten edifice of neo-colonialism constructed in West Africa during the
past 50-plus years. The peoples of the entire region are suffering deeply as a consequence.
Increasingly, they are being dragged back into new forms of direct, colonial
But the new colonialism will continue
to be met with deep resistance. The French rulers will find no salvation in
West Africa to the decline of their economy at home and the challenges to their
Annis is a writer, socialist and activist in Vancouver, Canada. He can be
reached at rogerannis(at)hotmail.com.]
in the north of Mali is lessening and France has recently repatriated several
hundred of its soldiers. Accordingly, the Canadian government has suspended its
airlift support. The quiet that surrounded that decision led Ottawa Citizen columnist David
Pugliese to ask if Canada was abandoning its French ally. But Rear Admiral Peter Ellis replied to the newspaper, "While
assistance is no longer required by France on a continuous basis, Canada
remains committed to supporting our allies and will still transport French
equipment and troops to Mali, when needed."