Sahel: No to the war in Mali

Imperialist intervention will deepen crisis and instability

Cédric Gérôme, CWI

The four-day hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in south east Algeria and its bloody outcome have sent shockwaves internationally.

The raid and the Algerian military’s response led to the deaths of at least one Algerian worker, 37 foreign hostages and 29 attackers.

The group responsible for the attack, ‘the Mulathameen Brigade’, warned it would carry out further attacks on foreign interests unless the foreign military offensive in Northern Mali stopped.

In the aftermath, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the fight against terrorism in North Africa could go on “for decades”.

Many people are legitimately repulsed by the actions of such reactionary jihadist groups. Numerous reports provide evidence of the gruesome methods of rule imposed by Islamist fighters in Northern Mali, with summary executions, beatings, amputations, torture, stonings and destruction of holy shrines.

This barbarism provides the main reserve of ideological ammunition to the defenders of the military intervention.

Polls indicate that support for the war among the French population stands at over 60%.

For the moment, most media reports imply that the majority of Malians, particularly in the South, welcome the French intervention.

At this stage many Malians might genuinely think and hope that the intervention by the French government could protect them from some of the horrendous armed groups who terrorise the Northern population.

Ethnic tensions

However, it is very difficult to gauge the mood among the masses. This is particularly the case in the North, where both the Malian military regime and the French military are restricting journalists’ access to the combat zones, including confiscating cameras and other material from some reporters.

At the same time the International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented cases of summary executions by the Malian army and pro-governmental militias.

In Mali a number of ethnic groups have been forced to coexist in an artificially-created state, established to serve the colonial masters’ wishes and divide-and-rule tactics.

The ethnic Tuaregs, in particular, have long been subdued, and have seen their demands for self-determination and cultural rights systematically denied by Mali’s central state.

They have been scapegoated by successive Malian regimes in attempts to draw attention away from its inability to solve the problems facing the population.

Previous Tuareg rebellions have faced violent racist reprisals, including massacres and forced displacements of the Tuareg people.

A new Tuareg revolt, precipitated by the Libyan crisis, exploded in the North at the beginning of 2012, but was rapidly sidelined by fundamentalist groups.

This unresolved Tuareg question is one of the underlying reasons explaining why entire army units of Tuareg commanders and soldiers in the North defected and joined the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organisation based in northern Mali, bringing their weapons and equipment.

However, the Tuaregs cannot rely on the MNLA to defend their rights. Recently an MNLA spokesperson called for support for the French army’s intervention.

That followed the conclusion of an agreement with reactionary Islamist groups early last year. It is clear that the MNLA is prepared to make opportunist twists and turns in order to preserve its power and influence.

However, as the remaining Malian army, backed up by French troops, retakes control of towns and cities it had lost, collective punishments of the local population and bloody settlings of accounts with the Tuaregs particularly, are likely to happen. Some reports already point in this direction.

These examples unveil the dark side of a war promoted as for ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’. The reality is that the image of Mali as a beacon of ‘democracy’ and ‘stability’ never was.

The regime, which has developed during the last two decades, was a corrupt, clientelistic and authoritarian power.

In addition, the devastating effects of its Western-backed neoliberal policies, which have notably allowed French capital to take major stakes in the Malian economy, have ruined the lives of many, dramatically increasing poverty, precariousness and mass unemployment.

The long-standing social marginalisation of the Northern part of the territory in particular, and the lack of investment and infrastructure in these areas have created an ocean of dire misery and a strong level of resentment and despair.

Imperialist goals

Imperialism carved up the planet

Imperialism carved up the planet

This is fertile ground for the development of a quasi-lawless land, made up of a complex interplay of drug-smuggling mafia and armed militias, alongside al-Qa’ida type fighters, kidnappers and bandits of all sorts.

The military coup in March 2012, which led to the demise of Malian ‘democracy’, and upon which the current provisional government fundamentally relies, has reduced the legitimacy of those who hold power in Bamako, the capital, to zero.

Nevertheless, the request to intervene militarily made to the French ruling class by these people is used to cultivate a version of events that says France has intervened because the Malian people ‘asked’ France to come to their rescue.

But Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. Neighbouring Niger is the source of over a third of the uranium used in French nuclear power plants.

In reality the military escalation in the Sahel, defended as a ‘war on terror’, is aimed at pursuing France’s imperialist goals: guaranteeing a stable order to assist the continued looting of the region’s vast resources, for the benefit of its multinationals and financial institutions.

All this sheds serious doubts on the proclaimed aim of a short military campaign of ‘a few weeks’. As the British military has found in Afghanistan, it is one thing to invade a country and to have a few initial military successes, but it is another to pull out and then rely on a weak, unpopular, divided and corrupt army to regain control over an immense territory, without addressing any of the root social causes of the explosive situation that exists.

France may be unable to avoid a long engagement with its own military forces on the front line. As the number of civilian casualties rises, and the Western occupation and its abuses arouse bitter colonial memories, one of the side-effects might precisely be to fertilise the ground furthermore for jihadist groups and to attract new candidates to participate in the ‘crusade against the colonial master’.

As the conflict goes on, and the dramatic consequences of this intervention are exposed, a mood of relative acceptance will inevitably be replaced by questioning, reluctance and hostility; opposition will grow and become more vocal.

In France, the illusions that the foreign policy of the so-called ‘socialist’ government is fundamentally different to Sarkozy’s will be dashed, and the ideas of President FranÇois Hollande’s reign marking “the end of Françafrique” will be seen for what they are, ie a cynical lie.

No justification

Of course, socialists oppose jihadist and al-Qa’ida -type groups, whose poisonous right-wing Islamist ideology and methods are a deadly danger for the workers’ movement and the poor masses generally.

A place where teenage couples risk death by stoning if they hold hands in public is repellent to overwhelming majority of workers and youth.

These groups are riven with contradictions. Groups that carry out practices such as the amputation or whipping of people who smoke cigarettes are often themselves involved in cigarettes and drug smuggling.

These reactionary groups grow out of a rotten system, incapable of providing a way out and a decent life for the vast majority of the population, especially the youth.

Fear, desperation for means of survival, or access to money, guns or protection motivate people to join these groups.

In the absence of a strong, independent and united workers’ movement, along with the poor, to deliver a perspective and programme for social and political change, these armed groups can continue to exist.

But none of this makes the military intervention more justifiable. Initial reports of French air strikes against the cities of Gao and Konna last week estimated there were between 60 and 100 people killed respectively in those two cities, including children torn to pieces by the bombs.

French military officials warn that scores of civilian deaths are almost ‘unavoidable’ as the rebels are living among the population and using guerrilla-type tactics for hiding and supplies.

We demand:

  • Withdrawal of French troops from Mali and all of Africa
  • For multi-ethnic and democratically-organised defence forces by the Malian population, in order to kick out the reactionary and fundamentalist militias, but also to resist any attempt at neocolonial military occupation in the North
  • No to the state of emergency, for the reinstatement of all democratic freedoms in Mali
  • The right to self-determination for the Tuaregs. All peoples of the Sahel and of the Sahara, as well as of the peoples within each country, should have equality of rights, and should decide their own future
  • The wealth of Mali belongs to the Malian people! For democratic socialist nationalisation of the land and of the commanding heights of the economy. For the financing of a real economic development plan based on the needs of, and democratically controlled by, the Malian masses
  • Down with the regime in Bamako. For a government of the workers and the poor farmers and the implementation of socialist policies to develop the country