Thursday, 17 January 2013

Stop the war on Mali

The French government (with British logistical support – though the planes keep breaking down) has launched a military adventure in the former French colony of Mali. As with all the Western interventions of the last decade, this will destabilize the region and lead to greater conflict rather than less. It must be opposed in the strongest terms.

Mali has been subject to ‘Western help’ for the past 20 years and has imploded largely as a result of it. French intervention is to support a military government mired in corruption and every bit as brutal in its torture and murder as those being bombed. The rebels being bombed were given their battle training and weaponry in Libya by the very Western forces now seeking to crush them.

The British government is behaving shamefully in offering support in this dangerous adventure. There has been no public discussion or Parliamentary vote on British involvement. Instead, the British military are being dragged into an ethnic conflict that reaches back to the appalling mess made in Libya in 2011.

 
For a full decade, American and other western leaders have been trumpeting Mali's importance as a beacon of African democracy and a bulwark in regional security. Yet its economic growth trailed off to virtually nothing, and its civilian government collapsed – to complete western surprise. (Heather Hurlburt)

The link to Libya
The uprising in northern Mali is the cascade from the war on Libya in 2011. While there have been longstanding grievances leading to resistance to the Malian government from the Tauregs, Arab and Moor populations in the north of Mali since the 1980s, two aspects of the war against Libya have tipped the delicate balance in Mali. The first is the Libyan adventure destroyed trade in the region which weakened the Mali economy. The second was that experienced fighters from Libya and Algeria moved into northern Mali with heavy weaponry and battle experience. Some were from Gaddafi’s army units fleeing torture and death (the black soldiers being hung by the ‘Free’ Libyan militias) while others were Al-Qaeda linked fighters who had been part of the rebellion with Western backing in Libya.

In 2012, these groups came together and agreed to launch a common uprising against the government which was largely successful. The Malian military, feeling angry and humiliated, seized power in the country after this reverse but have been unable to stop the rebel offensive. The US, which has been involving itself in Mali since the 1990s, was forced to end its training programme for the Malian military as a result so it has been left to the former colonial power to help the Malian government. France seized the area calling it French Sudan in the 19th century and, hot on the heel of the Libyan intervention, is looking to strengthen its own interests in the region. There is an inter- ethnic component to the strife in Mali that goes back to French divide and rule tactics and has led to explosions of violence in 1996, 2006 and 2008.

Arrested Development
In 1991, Mali secured its first civilian government after three decades of military rule. It was considered one of the success stories of African democracy. The US government lavished special status on the country, offering to train peacekeeping troops and admitting it to the Millenium Challenge Compact which linked aid to performance. All was not well, however. One commentator admits that ‘Mali's civilian government struggled with corruption, desertification, impoverishment, and the inability to lure investment.’

Economic growth of 5.6% in 2005 collapsed to 1.1% by 2011 after the war in Libya began and a serious drought developed. Wholesale privatization of land at the behest of the International Monetary Fund failed to boost the economy and the United Nations Development Programme has ranked Mali lower than Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen in its human development index. This is a society suffering at the hands of structural adjustment programmes and US interference.

Black gold
Oil always exercises the Western world. Oil and gas reserves in Libya were a key factor in the decision to attack with France in the lead while China and Italy (which both had contracts with the Gaddafi government) were increasingly sidelined in their concerns.

There are large reserves lying in five sedimentary basins in Mali and the surrounding countries, including Algeria. The largest is the Taoudeni basin which Esso felt had ‘burned itself out’ in 1983. More recent prospecting for oil has discovered 2 layers to the Basin, one of which is described as ‘Oman like’ in character. The Corporate Council on Africa Conference in 2006 concluded that Mali had a strong potential for oil production in the near future and the US government reflected this view when it included the country in Operation Flintock in 2005, which is part of its ‘struggle against terrorism’.

It is also notable that Mali has the third largest deposits of uranium in the world, mainly in the North where the Taureg rebellion is at its strongest. This has fuelled Western fears of a rebel ability to construct a nuclear weapon using uranium (it has been dubbed the 'Muslim bomb').


The imperial jigsaw
The Chinese government has been investing heavily in infrastructure projects throughout much of Africa while the US has been struggling with the costs of its permanent ‘war on terror’ and economic crisis. This investment has raised fears among the US and its Western allies about the growing influence that China has on the African continent. The projects are also largely outside the sphere of the IMF and the World Bank, threatening the dominance that these institutions have in engineering society onto free market lines that increase poverty.

While the US and the Western allies have substantially reduced economic power compared to the Chinese, they maintain massive military power and the French have decided to use it to prop up the military government and Western influence.

There is also a push to engage the Algerian Islamist resistance that controls much of the south of Algeria. With Libya in Western hands, victory in Mali would start to encircle Algeria.

The problems facing French intervention are twofold. The French are wary of committing ground troops because the numbers needed would stretch French resources too far and so they want African peacekeeping troops to move in to Mali. The second problem is that the African peacekeeping troops are not ready and there is little desire to take on the Mali resistance. The rebels in Mali are battle hardened on both sides of the Libyan war and have heavy weaponry at its disposal so African peacekeeping troops would probably fare no better than the Mali government troops in the past few months.

‘Mission creep’, where the military intervention goes on without end because the number of problems faced simply multiplies, is a real danger for the French and the British government in getting involved in this adventure. It is also an example of another Muslim country (some 90% of the population) being attacked.