Finian Cunningham: West’s ‘Scramble for Africa’ Terror Pretext in Mali
France’s President Francois Hollande let it slip when, on a recent a tour, he said, “Africa is the continent of the future” – alluding to the vast natural wealth of the world’s largest landmass and the economic importance that it holds for Western powers.
During the 19th Century, the leading European powers – Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy – raced to grab territories across the African continent in what was then called the “Scramble for Africa”. Millions of Africans were killed or starved as the European armies rivaled each other to loot the immense resources.
Back then, the European powers justified their criminal conquest and theft with a “civilizing mission” – the notion that the white man was bringing morality and democracy to backward black people. Today, such racist attitudes cannot be stated publicly. Another pretext for the conquest of Africa has to be found, with this time around the United States joining the Europeans.
The announcement this week that the US and France have been in secret talks on how to expand drone and other military operations in West Africa’s Sahel region points to the new pretext for foreign intervention in the continent. The supposed challenge is the alleged rise of militant groups in former French colony Mali and surrounding countries.
A military coup against Mali’s central government in the capital, Bamako, in March this year led to the takeover of the northern half of the remote desert country by Tuareg rebels. The Tuareg have been fighting a separatist insurgency for decades against the colonial-era borders.
However, Western media are now saturated with reports claiming that the Tuareg rebellion has become increasingly dominated by various shadowy militants groups, including al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine.
According to Voice of America: “Hundreds of additional … fighters have deployed in northern Mali, as neighboring countries make plans to send troops to the troubled nation.” In another unconfirmed report, VOA claims: “The militants who seized the north have held public executions, amputations and floggings.”
French leader Francois Hollande has been most vocal in calling for foreign intervention. “The horrors can’t be tolerated,” he said.
Earlier this year, the British-based foreign policy group Royal United Services Institute concluded that “al-Qaeda” was setting up new bases across Africa and that is where Western states should focus their “war on terror”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel this week added her voice to Western concerns about global security stemming from Africa’s Sahel and said that Germany would provide “material and logistical support” to the Malian army in its anticipated war with the northern militants. Merkel said: “Free democratic states cannot accept international terrorism gaining a safe refuge in the north of [Mali].”
The US government has also expressed alarm at the alleged growth of militants in West Africa.
“It’s a matter of concern not just for us, not just for France, but for the region,” said the Spokesman for the US State Department Mark Toner.
The British Guardian this week quoted one diplomatic source as saying: “The international [read Western] consensus on the need for a concerted action in Mali [is] unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this level of international co-operation: the United States, the EU – both collectively and its individual states – the UN security council, all are in 100 per cent agreement about what we should do here… It is no secret that there is military planning going on.”
Francois Hollande earlier this month told national broadcaster France24 that French troops would not be sent into Mali. “We can’t intervene in the place of Africans, but we can offer logistical help, we can train, but France will not intervene,” he said.
However, France and the other Western powers are indulging in a cynical game of semantics when they say their military forces are not going to get involved. They said that about Libya, and yet it was NATO military muscle that was instrumental in overthrowing the government of Muammar Gaddafi – albeit officially in a “support role” to the Western-backed militias on the ground.
Similar semantics are used with reference to Syria, yet the mercenaries assailing that country would not be able to do so without the covert military and logistical support of the Western powers and their regional allies. In a new report this week, Russia has pointed to the increased firepower of Syrian militants being due to the supply of American anti-aircraft missiles.
In West Africa, Washington, London, Paris and Berlin are claiming that they are deferring to the armed forces of Mali and neighboring countries under the auspices of the African Union to take a lead role in counterinsurgency operations.
But the Western powers are already deeply involved in the region militarily. There have been reports of the US air force dropping supplies to the Malian army to combat northern militants. And US officials have also admitted that American drones are already operating in the country.
For decades, France has had thousands of Special Forces based in Mali and its other former colonies, including Chad, Niger, Gabon, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. So, the claim that Western powers are not or will not become militarily involved in West Africa is a cynical lie. They are already.
The motivation is the same as during the colonial-era Scramble for Africa. It is to dominate African countries in order to exploit their natural wealth – this time under the seemingly noble guise of helping Africans to combat terrorism.
For one thing, West Africa is seen as one of the new untapped oil regions of the world. It also has immense mineral wealth, from precious metals, such as gold and silver, to the raw material for nuclear energy, uranium. One of the alleged reasons for France’s animated concern about the region is the fate of six nationals held hostage in Mali by militants. Four of these nationals are reported to be employees of the French nuclear energy company, Areva. That fact alludes to the natural wealth that the Western powers are seeking to exploit in the region.
But for political and legal reasons the Western powers cannot just pile into Africa in a naked venture of plunder. And this is where the alleged “terror threat” becomes a convenient cover for what is otherwise naked imperialism.
In many ways, the portrayal by Western governments and their servile news media of Mali as a hotbed of extremism threatening the civilized world is reminiscent of the way Afghanistan under the Taliban was likewise primed for NATO occupation over a decade ago. Stories of barbarism and terrorism are used in both cases to condition the Western public into accepting yet another military intervention – and this at a time of austerity when millions of Europeans and Americans are being told by their governments that they cannot afford social welfare, education, health care and jobs, but somehow they can afford to send drones and military trainers to Africa.
Despite all the alarmist claims and reports by American and European governments about a “new terror threat” emerging in West Africa, there is little evidence to support such assertions. A spokesman for the Tuareg rebels was reported this week saying that Western media claims of “the arrival of convoys of jihadists from Sudan and the Western Sahara are totally false.We categorically deny it,” said Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh. A Malian security source also confirmed to Agence France Presse that the arrival of “new terrorists” in the north of Mali were “exaggerated”.
Some 90 per cent of Mali’s population of 15 million is Muslim. Since independence in 1960, the country has been facing a separatist rebellion. It is among the world’s poorest 25 countries, and its northern rebels would appear to have a legitimate cause to fight against colonial-era borders and imposition of government – a government that has, for decades, centralized power and wealth at the expense of remote and neglected communities. What the Western powers are now doing is grossly distorting the situation in Mali to suit their self-serving narrative for neo-colonial conquest.
Mali’s undoubted political and social problems are rooted in the legacy of European colonialism. These problems will only be exacerbated, if the country becomes a proxy war zone under American and European neo-colonialism.