Mali: Article Sees Country Placed Under Provisional Trusteeship
Monday, February 18, 2013
A Malian man painted in the colours of the French flag and with the words reading: “Welcome the savior Francois Hollande” poses for a picture before the arrival of France`s President Francois Hollande at the Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
Article by Remi Carayol: Mali: A Country Under Trusteeship Provisionally
Officially, Paris and Bamako are working hand-in-hand. But on the field, nothing is being done without the approval of the French. Malian soldiers are hardly participating in recapturing the north.
This is a curious impression. It is just like one had served himself a glass of wine that he had forgotten a few days earlier on the shelf because it was not good, and that for a wine that cheap, it turned out to be an excellent one. This is somehow surprising. And a bit dramatic too.
It is not only a question of the tide of French flags that decorate (more in the south than in the north, where there are still fears of a return of the jihadists) the houses and windscreens of vehicles. It is also not an issue of the swarms of children who, as the convoy of French troops passes by on the streets of Gao (immense columns of tanks), cheer at the "liberators" shouting "France, France!" or "Mali, Mali!" No, there is more to that. A few images and facts which remind us that the country is under provisionary and voluntary trusteeship, which has nothing to do with neocolonialism that has been condemned in small doses, but which remains trusteeship in any case.
A man drives a motorbike decorated with French flags among others to show his support for the international forces in Bamako January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Malin Palm
The scene took place on 2 February during the visit of Francois Hollande to Mali. While the French head of State was responding to questions from journalists in the gardens of the French residence, interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore was patiently waiting for him at the independence square. Somehow alone and under the scorching sun, like a simple divisional officer of an administrative unit.
He would pay him homage a few minutes later: "Hollande, the great man of the great moment," he proclaimed. In the crowd, a woman carried high a placard which had come straight out of another era: "Thank you Daddy Hollande and Uncles Le Drian and Fabius," the ministers for defense and foreign affairs, who had accompanied the French president. Enthusiastic, one of Francois Hollande`s collaborators would get hold of the placard after the walkabout of the two heads of state. Today, she is perhaps in the offices of the French presidency.
Earlier in the day, Hollande had been welcomed by Dioncounda Traore in Sevare, the strategic town that the jihadists had not succeeded to seize thanks to the intervention of the French army. It is aboard a Transall of this same army that they had gone further to the North, to Timbuktu. For some weeks now, they two men have become inseparable. “They have always consulted each other, but this time around, they talk to each other every day,” declares one of Traore`s advisers. Does it mean that the latter cannot in any way be influenced? Was the 31 July deadline for the organization of the presidential election imposed to him by Francois Hollande?
Initially, the roadmap had scheduled the election for December. But during the last summit of the ECOWAS, Dioncounda Traore himself had pleaded for the election to be held in July. Within his entourage, it is believed that he is in a haste to pass on the relay baton, but it is also believed that the friendly pressure from France certainly has something to do with this.
The electoral calendar had in any way been at the center of the lunch meeting that had been organized in Bamako on 2 February, which brought together, apart from the two heads of State, the main political leaders of Mali. On this occasion, the French party made it understood that they would closely monitor the electoral process.
“To say that Traore is Hollande`s vassal is not true. But it is difficult for him to say no to him. Without France`s intervention, Traore would perhaps have known the same fate as Cheikh Modibo Diarra (the former prime minister, who was forced to resign in December, author`s note),” believes one of the former ministers of Amadou Toumani Toure, the Malian head of State who was toppled on 22 March 2012. One of his close collaborators however reassures that Traore imposes his power of veto when the need arises. This was the case when the French government insisted, alongside Burkina Faso, on holding talks with the Azawad Islamic Movement (AIM) which is the dissident wing of Ansar Eddine.
On the military front also, the trusteeship is more than obvious. There is, on the one hand, sweet talk: “The Malian army is sovereign, there is nothing we do without its approval.” Then there is the reality on the other. Strategically, decisions are made by Paris. Since the beginning of operations, all the Malian military headquarters does is take orders. This influence manifests itself even in the most insignificant details.
During a coordination meeting between the two armies, it had been a question of deciding on which media to collaborate with. “The Malians had wanted to know if we hoped working with this or that newspaper. For a title, they were reticent. But they said the following: `If you work with them, then we will follow suit`,” confessed a French soldier.
In order to make any displacement within the country, it would be wiser to ask for authorization from the Malian army, but nothing is done without the French army. “We cannot guarantee your security,” explained a Malian soldier apologetically. Today, in order to enter Gao, the only solution is to be accompanied by a French convoy.
On the field, a few Malians are fighting alongside the French troops. Those ones are “operational and efficient,” believes a French officer, who further reassures that they are the ones always leading the offensives. But they are scarce. According to reliable sources, there are less than 2,000 Malian soldiers who are taking part in the recapture.
The others - how many really? 5,000? Nobody seems to be exact - are actually undergoing training or killing time in the small sheds housing the checkpoints that are scattered all over the South. “The Malian army is double-faceted. There is a small bunch of efficient soldiers, but most of the soldiers are not capable of effectively taking part in combat,” explained a major of the French army, charged with coordinating the missions of the different armies present in the country.
It is the French soldiers who recaptured Gao and Timbuktu in late January. It is still these same soldiers who launched the attack on Kidal on 3 February. This last capture (just like that of Tessalit on 8 February) clearly revealed the Malian impotence. Not only did the local soldiers not take part in the offensive, but, in order to back up the troops, the French government had instead called upon the Chadians.
For more than one week, the Malians were kept away from the theatre of operations. “We understand,” simply declares a Malian soldier. “France is counting on the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to liberate the hostages. It is for this reason that she reacted without the support of the Malian army. This is understandable. But the truth is that this has been interpreted very negatively by the public,” explains a Traore adviser.
For many Malians, this submissive attitude sounds like a first warning. “It is the only thing that shocked us. But this is not a reason for France to be considered as an occupying power,” declares a Member of Parliament from the north.
Besides, on the side of the French government, it has been made known that their only role is to “recapture the territory.”
Once the areas have been set free, securing them would be the duty of the Malian and West African forces, “with a certain degree of efficiency.” In Gao, it is the Malian and the Niger soldiers that are searching the neighborhoods and tracking down the last jihadists.
(Description of Source: Paris Jeune Afrique in French -- Privately owned, independent weekly magazine)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Mali: Junta Leader Sanogo `Sidelined` in Battle for Liberation of North
Saturday, February 9, 2013
“Malian coup leader sidelined by French intervention” -- AFP Headline
KATI, Feb 09, 2013 (AFP) - Amadou Sanogo had vowed to “fight to the last breath” for Mali, but the army captain whose coup sped the nation`s unraveling has sat silently to the side as French-led forces reclaim the north from Islamist rebels.
Sanogo seemed to emerge from nowhere on March 22, 2012, when he led a group of mid-level officers in overthrowing then-president Amadou Toumani Toure, accusing him of letting northern separatist rebels humiliate the Malian army.
A former English instructor at a military academy who learned to teach the language in Texas, Sanogo was picked to lead what began as a mutiny by frustrated officers.
“To everyone`s surprise -- including their own -- their protest turned into a successful coup d`etat,” said the editor of a national newspaper, asking not to be named.
Sanogo took to the limelight with flare.
In interviews, the non-commissioned officer sported a shiny US Marine Corps pin, a souvenir from his several trips to the United States for military training, and styled himself a Malian Charles de Gaulle, promising to rescue the country just as the World War II hero rescued France.
Under pressure from the international community, he grudgingly handed power to a transitional government on April 13, but continued to pull strings behind the scenes -- notably by ordering soldiers to arrest interim premier Cheick Modibo Diarra, an episode that ended in Diarra`s resignation.
Amid the disarray in the capital Bamako, the north descended into chaos.
What had started as a separatist revolt among the Tuareg, a North African people who have long resisted rule by the south, morphed into an Islamist insurgency as Al-Qaeda-linked groups hijacked the rebellion and took control of an area the size of Texas.
With Mali`s collapsing army powerless to stop them, interim president Dioncounda Traore made a cry for military help that was answered on January 11 by France, Mali`s former colonial ruler, which has sent in fighter jets, attack helicopters and 4,000 troops.
Since French forces arrived, Sanogo has barely appeared on the scene.
He made a statement welcoming the intervention two days after it began, then faded from view as the French-led campaign pushed the Islamist fighters back to the far northeast.
An army press officer told AFP Sanogo is still in the garrison town of Kati, outside the capital, where he and the rest of his junta had set up headquarters.
“A lot of the ex-putschists volunteered to go to the front, but not him,” the officer said.
“Anyone who has ever exercised the office of head of state, even for an hour, cannot enter the military chain of command. If he wants to go fight, he can, but as an ordinary captain.”
A Western diplomat said the ambitious captain had been “quite clearly sidelined”.
“Since the international intervention, the main decisions don`t go through him anymore,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officially, Sanogo is the head of the “army reform committee”, a post created for him as a kind of carrot after mediators trying to put the country back together let him have the status and perks of a former head of state, then rescinded the offer after an international outcry.
A soldier posted at the gate of the Soundiata Keita military base in Kati told AFP that Sanogo was there, but said: “He doesn`t receive journalists.”
(Description of Source: Paris AFP (World Service) in English -- World news service of the independent French news agency Agence France Presse)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Democracy or resources? Why Mali is so important to France
January 21, 2013
A French soldier sends a text message in front of a restaurant in Niono January 20, 2013. France and West African leaders called on Saturday on other world powers to commit money and logistical support for African armies readying their troops to join French soldiers already battling al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali. REUTERS/Joe Penney
France, the former slave power of west Africa, has poured into Mali with a vengeance in a military attack launched on January 11. By Roger Annis.
French warplanes are bombing towns and cities across the vast swath of northern Mali, a territory measuring some one thousand kilometres from south to north and east to west.
French soldiers in armoured columns have launched a ground offensive, beginning with towns in the south of the northern territory, some 300 kilometres north and east of the Malian capital of Bamako.
A French armoured convoy entered Mali several days ago from neighbouring Ivory Coast, another former French colony. French troops spearheaded the overthrow of Ivory Coast`s government in 2011.
The invasion has received universal support from France`s imperialist allies. The United States, Canada and Europe are assisting financially and with military transport. To provide a fig leaf of African legitimacy, plans have been accelerated to introduce troops from eight regional countries to join the fighting.
`Islamist terrorists` The public relations version of the French invasion is a familiar refrain. “Islamic terrorists” and “jihadists” have taken control of northern Mali and are a threat to international security and to the well-being of the local population. Terrible atrocities against the local populace are alleged and given wide publicity by corporate media. Similar myths were peddled by the war makers when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over last year. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world`s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.
The uranium mines in neighbouring Niger and the uranium deposits in Mali are of particular interest to France, which generates 78% of its electricity from nuclear energy. Niger`s uranium mines are highly polluting and deeply resented by the population, including the semi-nomadic Touareg people who reside in the mining regions. The French company Areva is presently constructing in Imouraren, Niger, what will become the second-largest uranium mine in the world.
Notwithstanding the fabulous wealth created by uranium mining, Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth. As one European researcher puts it: “Uranium mining in Niger sustains light in France and darkness in Niger.”
Mali (with a population of 15.5 million) is the third-largest gold producing country in Africa. Canada`s IAMGOLD operates two mines there (and a third in nearby Burkina Faso). Many other Canadian and foreign investors are present.
A key player in the unfolding war is Algeria. The government there is anxious to prove its loyalty to imperialism. Its lengthy border with northern Mali is a key zone for the “pacification” of northern Mali upon which France and its allies are embarked.
Further proof of the hypocrisy of the “democracy” that France claims to be fighting for in Mali is found in the nature of the Mali regime with which it is allied. Often presented in mainstream media as a “beacon of democracy” in west Africa, the Mali government was little more than a corrupt and pliant neocolonial regime before the US-trained and equipped Mali army twice overthrew it last year -- in March and December.
The Mali army now scrambling to fight alongside its French big brother was condemned and boycotted by the US, Europe and Canada during a brief, sham interlude of concern following the first coup.
Today, the Mali government is a shell of a regime that rules at the behest of the Mali military, the latter`s foreign trainers, and the foreign mining companies that provide much of its revenue.
At the political heart of the conflict in Mali is the decades-long struggle of the Touareg people, a semi-nomadic people numbering some 1.2 million. Their language is part of the Berber language group. Their historic homeland includes much of Niger and northern Mali and smaller parts of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. They call themselves Kel Tamasheq (speakers of the Tamasheq language).
The Touareg have fought a succession of rebellions in the 20th century against the borders imposed by colonialism and then defended by post-independence, neocolonial regimes.
They are one of many minority nationalities in west Africa fighting for national self-determination, including the Sahwari of Western Sahara, a region controlled by Morocco. The Sahwari leadership, the Polisario Front, is widely recognised internationally.
The Touareg were brutally subdued by colonial France at the outset of the 20th century. After the independence of Mali and neighbouring countries in 1960, they continued to suffer discrimination. A first Touareg rebellion took place in 1962-64.
A second, larger rebellion began in 1990 and won some autonomy from the Mali government that was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1997.
A third rebellion in Mali and Niger in 2007 won further political and territorial concessions, but these were constantly reneged. A Libya-brokered peace deal ended fighting in 2009.
The Mali state and army constantly sought to retake what they had lost. Violence and even massacres against the Touareg population pushed matters to a head in 2011.
The army was defeated by the military forces of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) and on April 6, last year. The MNLA declared an independent Azawad, as they call northern Mali and surrounding region. The Touareg are one of several national groups within the disputed territory.
The independence declaration proved premature and unsustainable. The MNLA was soon pushed aside by Islamist-inspired armed groups that oppose Touareg self-determination and an independent state.
The army, meanwhile, continued to harass and kill people. A group of 17 visiting Muslim clerics, for example, were massacred on September 22 last year.
According to unconfirmed reports the MNLA has renounced the goal of an independent Azawad. It entered into talks with the Mali regime in December for autonomy in the northern region.
A January 13 statement on the group`s website acquiesces to the French intervention but says it should not allow troops of the Mali army to pass beyond the border demarcation line declared in April of last year.
Mali is one of the poorest places on Earth, but has been drawn into the whirlwind of post-September 2001 militarisation led by the United States. US armed forces have been training the Mali military for years. In 2005, the US established the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, comprising 11 “partner” African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
The “partnership” conducts annual military exercises termed “Flintlock”. This year`s exercise is to take place in Niger and, according to the January 12 Globe and Mail, “Canada`s military involvement in Niger has already commenced.”
Canadian troops have participated in military exercises in west Africa since at least 2008. In 2009, Mali was named one of six “countries of focus” in Africa for Canadian aid. Beginning that year, Canadian aid to Mali leaped to where it is now one of the largest country recipients of Canada aid funds.
In 2008, Canada quietly launched a plan to establish at least six, new military bases abroad, including two in Africa. (It is not known exactly where the Africa part of the plan stands today.) Only days into the French attack, evidence is mounting of significant civilian and military casualties.
In the town of Douentza in central Mali, injured civilians can`t reach the local hospital, according to Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). “Because of the bombardments and fighting, nobody is moving in the streets of Douentza and patients are not making it through to the hospital,” said a statement by the agency`s emergency response coordinator Rosa Crestani.
The International Red Cross is reporting scores of civilian and military casualties in the towns coming under French attack.
Amnesty International`s West Africa researcher, Salvatore Sagues, was in the country in September and saw the recruitment of children into the Mali army. He is worried about retaliatory attacks by the army if it retakes control of the towns and cities it has lost, notably in the northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
He also warned of the plans to bring neighbouring armies into northern Mali. “These armies, who are already committing serious violations in their countries, are most likely to do the same, or at least not behave in accordance to international law if they are in Mali”, he said.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the latest crisis has internally displaced nearly 230,000 Malians. An additional 144,500 Malians were already refugees in neighbouring countries.
UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards says half the population of the town of Konna, some 5000 people, sought as French bombs threatened to fall by fleeing across the River Niger.
In an ominous sign of more civilian casualties to come, and echoing the excuses for atrocities by invading armies against civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine in recent years, French military commanders are complaining of the difficulty in distinguishing fighters they are bombing from non-combatant populations.
France`s army chief Edouard Guillaud told Reuters that France`s air strikes were being hampered because militants were using civilian populations as shields.
The military attack in Mali was ordered by French President François Hollande, the winner of last year`s election on behalf of the Socialist Party. His decision has been condemned by groups on the political left in France, including the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) and the Gauche anticapitaliste (Anti-Capitalist Left).
The latter is a tendency within the Front de gauche (Left Front). The Left Front captured 11% of the first-round presidential vote last year.
Shockingly, the Left Front leadership group has come out in favour of the intervention. Deputy François Asensi spoke on behalf of the party leadership in the National Assembly on January 16 and declared: “The positions of the deputies of the Left Front, Communists and republicans, is clear: To abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of fanatics would be a moral mistake … International military action was necessary in order to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”
His statement went on to complain that Hollande did not bother to seek the approval of the National Assembly.
A January 12 statement by the French Communist Party (PCF), a component of the Left Front, said: “The PCF shares the concern of Malians over the armed offensive of the Jihadist groups towards the south of their country… The party recalls here that the response to the request for assistance by the president of Mali should have been made in the framework of a United Nations and African Union sponsorship, under the flag of the UN …”
Unlike the overthrow of Haiti`s elected government in 2004, which the PCF and Socialist Party supported at the time, France and its allies did not feel the need to obtain a rubber stamp of approval from the UN Security Council in Mali. But doing so would not have changed the predatory nature of this latest mission, just as it didn`t in Haiti.
A January 15 statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance explained: “The real reason for NATO`s involvement is to secure strategic, resource rich areas of Africa for the West. Canadian gold mining operations have significant holdings in Mali as do may other western nations… “It is ironic that since the death of Osama Bin Laden, the US military boasts that Al-Qaeda is on the run and has no ability to wage its war. Meanwhile, any time there is a need for intervention, there is suddenly a new Al-Qaeda threat that comes out of the woodwork.
That`s a call to action which should be acted upon in the coming days and weeks as one of the poorest and most ecologically fragile regions of the world falls victim to deeper militarisation and plundering.
Roger Annis is an anti-war activist who lives in Vancouver, Canada.
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