Mali: Listen to the Cry of the Voiceless

by Issa N’Diaye on February 13, 2013

Originally posted at Le cri du peuple, translated by North Star—The following was addressed to the 36 th Congress of the French Communist Party.

(Photo AFP)Mali is at war. A war we do not want but that was essentially imposed by foreign forces in our country. It is a great tragedy for our people. We know that unfortunately it is in its infancy. Nobody knows when it will end.

We know that our friends of Mali in France have had many difficult debates, just as our fellow Malians have. French Communists and the French people have always been friends of Mali. Combatting the advance of jihadists southward has caused much debate and many questions. But know that it is the same with us in Mali. We have the same debates, the same questions, the same concerns.

At first, our people were very angry because everything was being decided outside of Mali. We felt humiliated and outraged by such contempt. We knew that all decisions were made in Paris, Abidjan, Ouagadougou and elsewhere—never in Bamako—and it continues. This is unacceptable and we appreciated the voices who supported us against this serious infringement to our sovereignty as a nation in this plot against our people (with the blessing of its native son and some of its leaders). We confronted and still confront a harsh reality in a deadly trap that ensnares us. We are militants who detest war—especially this one imposed on us today—at a time when we were weak and disarmed after two decades of a corrupt regime, misrepresented as an exemplary democracy while it was nothing of the sort. This was part of the staging orchestrated by the Western guardians of African democracy.

Faced with the brutal jihadist advance and without outside intervention, we risk being completely destroyed. We had no choice before the impending danger. The French military intervention was thus seen as a relief by our people even if we were against it in principle, even if it does not solve the fundamental issues and problem regarding its ultimate ends.

France to Mali

Comrades of France and the world, the 36 th Congress of the French Communist Party comes at a time of a general crisis of capitalism generating many tragedies around the world. In France, Europe and elsewhere, it has caused workers to pay heavily for the consequences of policies they never condoned. Around the world and especially in Africa, the consequences of the predatory policies of the IMF and the World Bank have caused wars imposed on traumatized populations. The crisis in the Sahel and the current war in northern Mali is a sad illustration.

A simplistic reading depicts this as a simple confrontation, a clash of civilizations” and “fight against transnational Islamist terrorism”, imposing a unique causality, a dualistic view of the world that fosters even more violence.

The current drama in the Sahel in Mali cannot be understand without consideration of the geopolitical and geostrategic interests surrounding its immense resources, with French and Western multinationals concerned with oil, uranium, and more. Such is the true backdrop of the present war imposed in Mali by “fanatics of Allah” and the “fanatics of Saint Profit” in the name of Sharia—drug trafficking and hostage-taking on behalf of petroleum, uranium, and capital.

If the French intervention was momentarily welcomed by the vast majority of the Malian people shocked by the brutal advance of jihadists southward, the equally brutal reconquest of the country by the Malian army in Kidal raises many questions in the back of their heads, unspoken thoughts about this intervention.The warm declarations of friendship of the French authorities with regard to some Tuaregs, the de facto alliance with the rebellion of the ultra-minority MLNA (not representative of the overwhelming majority of Tuareg communities, who are equally opposed to war and the partition of the country), and the military support by Chad require more circumspection from us about the selflessness of France. What is happening today in Kidal will certainly end up tearing the veil of hypocrisy and lies about the true intentions of foreign interventions in Mali, whether French, European, African, or under UN mandate.

War in Mali

Intervention in northern Mali is not only securing energy supplies and other interests of Western powers. At the same time, it gives support to a regime, institutions, men and women, a political system, and a democracy which are totally corrupt and unpopular, and which bear heavy responsibility for the disaster that today confronts our victimized people.

The Western insistence on elections with minimal delay reflects their eagerness to give a veneer of legitimacy to the predatory elites in their pay. The issue of the bankruptcy of the state of Mali and the need for its reconstruction on a grassroots and truly democratic basis are not included in the dictated roadmap of the transition. The creation of an African peacekeeping force under a UN mandate will lead to an ultra-liberal order granting access to the resources of Mali, which they wish to impose on the people of Mali, Africa, and elsewhere.

How else to understand the war in Mali other than as the continuation of fierce competition between two imperialisms, joined elsewhere in Libya and Syria: one classic, Western, and on its heels, and the other the new and advancing Salafi Arab imperialism embodied by Gulf monarchies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia—gravediggers of freedom for their own people and supporters of Western economies in distress.

Others claim to come to Mali’s rescue while refusing to listen to the free choice of its people to decide their own sovereign destiny.

Solidarity and brotherhood between the French Communist Party and the leftist forces in France and Mali did not begin today. They have endured and cannot be measured by barrels of oil and tons of uranium extracted from Mali.

I would like to express to the French Communist Party and the Left Front full recognition from the Malian patriotic forces organized in the People’s Movement of March 22 (MP 22), the Coordination of Patriotic Organizations of Mali (COPAM) and others, for their constant support and solidarity, sharing the same vision and hopes we have for people in Europe, Africa and around the world.

We face the same challenges and have the same battle to fight in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. We are faced by capital with the same fate. We need to build solidarity between peoples fighting in the North and South, between women and men, young and old, between humans.

Concrete cooperation and solidarity are to be built, to be strengthened between cities, youth, schools and universities, women’s groups, intellectuals, sports clubs, artists, professional and social strata. We also need political solidarity and we thank you for hearing our anger and our will for sovereignty, witnessing and sharing our development in the face of harsh realities. Thank you for continuing together.

FrancafriqueIn conclusion I’d like to invoke the story of “Tinèni”, the word for a small carp in the Bambara language, taken from a local tale in Mali. One day, during a general meeting of all beings each creature was asked to tell the story of its condition. When it was Tinèni’s turn she spoke with tears in her eyes about her fate. She described the world as a jungle where the strong devoured the weak with impunity. Her destiny was not only to end up fried. For it is a crueler fate, she said, when after being fried one is taken up by the tail and bitten by crunching teeth, while staring eye to eye with the one who devours you.

We must finish in Mali, Africa and elsewhere with the fate of Tinèni. France, Mali, Palestine, Kurdistan, Latin America, Asia, Europe and around the world, people must join hands together to build popular alternatives to straitjackets imposed here and there by the power of money.

The path of peace and solidarity is long and difficult. To achieve this, we need to reinvent the future.

For that we must “relight the stars.”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Deran February 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I think the problem in Mali is that Mali, like most of Africa and the rest of the post-colonial world is that Mali is an artificial construct of the Europeans. This artifice did not take into account the peoples that live on the ground and live in their own range of territory that has nothing to do with the artififical lines on maps the Europeans drew. And the reason the post-colonial states like Mali suffer internal collapse is not just because of corrupt dictatorial Cold War relics that have ruled these constructs, but because of alienation of people like the Tuareg, who have fought for decades for autonomy and independence. I agree that the MNLA, which was initiated by Tuareg who’d been mercenaries for Qaddafi, were not the answer, and the MNLA made the terrible strategic mistake of allying with the salafi jihadists.

As with many of the old imperial states (USA, China, Russia, GB, France, Spain etc are also artificial constructs that would should also devolve in to their constituent regions that could then re-associate federally if they chose. The same thing logically applies to Africa, India, PK on and on.

As far as the French led intervention, I am not thrilled by it, but the French served a useful purpose by destroying, as much as possible, the salfist proto-dictatorship, and ending the tyranny, atrocities and cultural crimes the jihadis were carrying out.. But it seems unlikely that the post-colonial central government in Bamako will never be able to provide a democratic commonwealth to the various people confined within the late-1800s Euro drawn boundaries.

And it really says something about what there maybe of a Left in Mali that they would propose the French CP as a class ally! Yeegawd!


Louis Proyect February 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm

(This is from the concluding chapter of “The Black Man’s Burden,” the late Basil Davidson’s final book. Davidson was the preeminent African historian from a non-Eurocentric perspective and the author of more than 20 books on the subject. His final book is an examination of the failure of modern nation-states to succeed in Africa, which he attributes to a faulty imposition of European political structures upon indigenous societies, whose precapitalist trade routes and cultural affinities are at odds with the nation-state bequeathed through colonialism. He argues that the troubles in Yugoslavia are practically identical to those occurring throughout Africa. “Balkanization” and “tribalism” are two different words for the same phenomenon, in effect. Davidson formed strong connections to Africa and Yugoslavia at the same time, during WWII when he was a captain in the British army. In 1941, he had been on military duty in the Balkans, where he was captured by the Italian fascists. After a prisoner exchange, he was on his way back to his unit when his ship stopped to refuel in Lagos, on the coast of Nigeria. On a tour of the city’s environs, he noticed a wall built of mud and timber. What was that, he asked his tour guide. It was a “lost city” called Kano he replied. He subsequently learned that Kano’s history went back 700 years. His fascination with such cities led him to a full-time profession in African history.)

The “first Yugoslavia” was the “Triune Kingdom” of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, born in 1919 and enduring until 1941; and while its ending was unforeseeably disastrous, one is still bound to say, and not only with hindsight, that here was a kingdom certain to fail. This was for the simple reason, apparent even at the time, that all the non-Serbian peoples of the country themselves to be, and in practice often were, subject to constrictive Serbian domination. This was why the kingdom could never achieve the democratic aspirations of its birth or even of Serbian history itself. For an African parallel one may en suggest, without any great distortion of the evidence, that the condition of seething discontent present in that first Yugoslavia, within some years of its birth, was much like the condition that could have been expected in postcolonial Ghana if, at independence in the 1950s, the whole of the country had been placed under the command of the king of Asante. The king would no doubt have felt that history warranted the domination all Ghana by the Asante kingship and its people; large numbers of other Ghanaians would surely have made violent objections. For this and other reasons the Yugoslav state formed in 1919 became rapidly a bureaucratized and militarized shell, and when the invading armies of Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria fell upon it in April 1941, it collapsed within days. The invaders carved it into pieces. Slovenia fell under military occupation. Croatia became a puppet state under a Fascist-type regime promoted by Germany and Italy. Most of Serbia was left to Serbian puppets under strong German or Italian control. Other regions were variously occupied or divided. Much of Macedonia was handed to neighboring Bulgaria, with the rest remaining under military occupation. The Vojvodina, whose fortunes we have followed earlier, was dismembered into three pieces. One of these, the Banat, remained under direct German military control. Another, the Backa, also north of the Danube, was annexed to Hungary although three-fourths of its population was not Hungarian. And a third fragment, Srem, south of the Danube, was incorporated in the puppet state of Croatia even though most of its people were Serbs.

That was in 1941, and it invited trouble. But the Germans and Italians, or those who ruled them then, were confident that they could deal with any amount of rebellion. They were to learn better as the war proceeded, but in Yugoslavia they began to learn better almost at once. Armed resistance to enemy occupation began and persisted on a rising scale, and could not be mastered. In 1944 and 1945 the partisan armies of Yugoslavia’s self-liberation drove their enemies to final defeat, needing for this little more than peripheral Soviet assistance on their frontiers with Romania and Bulgaria, and some Western aid in arms, ammunition, and medical facilities.

Now this was truly a people’s victory in the full sense of the term “people.” No matter how dogmatic the Communist partisan leadership may have been–and it was at that time sharply dogmatic in its Stalinist loyalties–the partisan armies were drawn from all parts of Yugoslavia and from all sectors of society, while behind them stood the overwhelming support of a probably clear majority of Yugoslavs. The internal opponents of the partisans were in comparison small men more or less fatally stained by service with a ruthless enemy, or else by outright betrayal of every democratic principle. These internal opponents, mostly old-style nationalists when they were not blatant sellouts to the enemy, had nothing new to offer but a dismal repetition of past conflicts. The partisans, by contrast, had much to offer that was new. These sentiments may sound pro-partisan but were they not to be confirmed by the revived aggression of those same old-style nationalists after federal collapse, in the 1980s?

Against old-style nationalism, drenched as it was with the blood of countless nationalistic massacres perpetrated between 1941 and 1944, the partisan leadership in 1945 offered an enlightened and innovating federalism. The men and women in their fighting brigades had marched to no tunes and slogans of nationalism, but for the ideals of ‘bratsvo i jedinstvo’, of brotherhood and unity, such as could and did rise above old conflicts, and promise to establish a real ground for postwar reconciliation among all these harried peoples.

Launched in 1942 in the midst of many battles and appalling enemy reprisals, above all in this period in Croatia and Bosnia, this federalizing program was refined and improved until, at war’s end, a new Yugoslavia could take shape. A modernizing society arose from the ruins of the old. It now consisted of six federated republics and two self-governing regions, each with far-reaching powers of internal self-government and an undoubted scope for the promotion of these various national cultures. This decentralizing and participatory achievement was and has remained, all recent events notwithstanding, innovative and impressive; but its virtues have been little appreciated in the outside world. The Soviets rather understandably feared that a federalized Yugoslavia, following lines of democratic participation (however reduced by one-party rule), would develop outside the centralized rigidities of Moscow’s control, while the Western powers, enwrapped in their Cold War worries and myopia, thought that it must in any case be hostile if only because it took place in a Communist-ruled country.

Yet this federalism, judged also in hindsight, may far better be reckoned as one of the truly developmental initiatives to have derived from the upheavals of the Second World War. Except in the case of Kosovo-Metohija, where the claims of a local Albanian population struck hard against Serbian traditionalism, the new dispensation proved to be shrewd and successful. Old sources of dissidence and rebellion were impressively relieved. The Macedonians, for example, achieved a national autonomy for the first time in modern history, at least so far as their people inside Yugoslavia were concerned. While Macedonians in neighboring Bulgaria continued to be treated as Bulgarians, and those in neighboring Greece as Hellenized Slavs, the majority of Macedonians acquired a republic of their own as part of federal Yugoslavia. The same was true of Bosnian Muslims after suffering, during the war, from ferocious massacres at the hands of Croat Fascists.

This strong program of reconciliation, forged though it had to be in the midst of harsh warfare against enemy powers, drew its strength from various traditions. One of them was an old conviction that there could be no peace in the Balkans as long as Balkan states and governments were powerless to resist external influence or control. The need, therefore, was to overleap a nation-statism which was bound to play into the hands of stronger powers. This need would be met only if nationalist enmities and rivalries could be made to give way to intra-Balkan forms of federalizing unity. What united this mosaic of peoples, in short, could then become stronger than what divided them, provided that an equality of rights and interests could be made to prevail. In other words, so long as “the national question” had priority over “the social question,” there would be no peace; any such peace that might be patched up would always fall victim to rivalries couched in nationalist terms. That is what had happened in the first Yugoslavia between 1919 and 1941. But the partisan resistance had introduced the factor of social revolution, and a different outcome could be possible.

One may remark in passing that this introduction of the factor of social revolution was essential to the possibility of widespread partisan insurrection and its eventual success. This was not because the partisan brigades and their civilian support organizations were filled with men and women fighting for Communism or socialism or any such doctrine. The slogans might say that. But the reality was different. What they were undoubtedly fighting for was to end a hated and feared enemy occupation, yet to end it in such a way that some wide if often vaguely understood social renewal might become possible. They wanted a modernization of these peasant societies that could thrust old hatreds and disabilities behind them. They wanted a clear and positive break with the past.

This was what their internal opponents, whether old-style Serbian nationalists (known as Chetniks) or new-style Croat (ustasa and the like), could not offer. All they could was a return to the past under narrowly nationalist dogmas. Here in the partisan movement, in other words, the “social” had overtaken the “national,” even while it remained no less true that the partisans were also fighting for a nationwide liberation from enemy control. These peoples went to war in excruciating conditions of loss and danger not for “the ideas in anyone’s head”–as Amilcar Cabral was to say of the insurrectionary peasants whom he led in West Africa in the 1960s– but “in order to see their lives go forward, and be able to live in peace.” This being so, the concepts of a practical and self-regulating democracy could become real and appealing for the first time in every Yugoslav region.

The acid test of this truth could perhaps best be seen at work and evolution in the plains of the Vojvodina. There the peasants rose and fought in multitudes–no matter that they had no mountains or deep forests in which to shelter–so as to end a hated foreign tyranny and then “to see their lives go forward.” Often they were relatively privileged peasants in fertile lands where there was normally plenty to eat and drink or trade with; a Marxist would have described them as kulaks, peasants who in the usual run of things might be counted as prudently conservative. But they still responded far more eagerly to the partisan call for social change and progress than to any appeal based on the ideas of Serbian nationalism: here in these sundered fragments of northern Serbia, there was no nostalgia for the Great Serbianism of royal Yugoslavia.

Why, then, was the collapse of the whole Stalinist project in Eastern Europe accompanied also by Yugoslav disintegration? Why should the vividly imaginative federalism of the liberation movement yield so readily, and tumultuously, to the old slogans of separatist nationalism, bidding Serbia “to arise,” or Croatia “to arise,” or some other variant on bankrupt ideas and doctrines? Such questions seemed all the more pressing because the Yugoslav Communists, unlike their neighbors, had cut loose from Soviet control in 1948 and, having done that, began soon after to cut loose from internal Stalinist programs and oppressions as well. They held to their federalism but went further. They persisted in policies and efforts designed to reduce the heavy-handed centralism of their Stalinist state system. They introduced complex and ambitious forms of economic self -management. They went far to hand over power to local bodies and initiatives.’ They tried to achieve a system of mass participation that should be able to defend itself from bureaucratic rigidities and corruptions.

But in this they had, and perhaps could only have had, a mixed success and eventual failure. The reasons lay both in structural breakdowns and the frailties of human nature, for the project was splendidly innovative and difficult. But it seems likely that history’s judgment, if one may imagine it, will say that the principal reason for failure lay in the persistence of a single-party authoritarianism unable or unwilling to reform itself. For it appears to have remained largely true, as journalist Misha Glenny has observed, that “the structure of the Yugoslav League of Communists, as the party was renamed in the mid-50s, remained Stalinist in essence. . . and those who disagreed were either isolated or imprisoned,” while “Yugoslavia’s internal security machine,” at any rate up to the end of the 1970s, “was one of the most powerful in the whole of Eastern Europe.”

Thus it came about that federalist decentralism, in practice, was not what it claimed: to a more or less large degree, the single all-Yugoslav oligarchy was displaced (at any rate for nonmilitary affairs) not by decentralized organs of democracy, but by six or seven regional (republican) oligarchies which behaved as outright rulers. These oligarchies were at first in loose alliance with each other but soon in fractious and eventually destructive conflict. There developed an increasingly abrasive free-for-all between and among these oligarchies for possession of scarce resources. The ideal of brotherhood and unity became more and more a camouflage, as more and more citizens came to see it, for unfair discriminations and nest featherings, or worse.

There was thus induced the kind of atmosphere, and sometimes of hard reality, of political disintegration that had led to the collapse of Triune Yugoslavia in 1941. Ambitious demagogues, beating the chauvinist-separatist drum, began to flourish. Slovenia and Croatia drew ever more sharply away from a Serbia now gripped by nationalist dementia; and the malady unavoidably spread. Anxious eyes in Western Europe, having welcomed the demise of Tito’s Yugoslavia, were now dismayed by a prospect of the “gates of the West” being besieged by a mob of mutinous Balkan states which had not been viable in the past, or in some cases had not even existed in the past. While Western Europe was turning toward federalist structures of one kind or another (however labeled), it appeared that Eastern Europe had fallen back on the nation-statism of the 1920s, yet with no better hope of making this work)’

In the ideological and cultural void induced by Stalinism, it was no doubt entirely natural to “turn to the West,” and to look for solutions in a more or less blind aping of Western ideas and structures. But to find escape in that direction was to suppose that the scope and time and resources to bring into existence a groundwork for Western structures in Eastern Europe were present, or could rapidly be summoned. They were not so present, and summoning proved more than difficult. The 1990s opened on a scene of nation-statist uproar and confusion.


Arthur February 14, 2013 at 6:41 am

The connection of this very long excerpt on Yugoslavia with a thread on Mali is somewhat tenuous.

On the final conclusion, absurdly blaming “Stalinism” for the virulent national strife that broke out when virulently anti-Stalinist Yugoslavia collapsed, its interesting to contrast with the actual Stalinist record on the national question. With some minor exceptions such as Chechnya, there was nothing like the same national strife when the marge larger and more diverse USSR collapsed. The much derided right of nations to self-determination included in the Stalinist constitution turned out not to be illusory at all. Each of the constituent republics was able to peacefully secede on exactly the boundaries that had already been established (oddly with Russian republic itself leading the way in secession from the USSR). The contrast with the results of Tito’s nationalities policy could not be more vivid.


Brian S. February 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Davidson’s parallel between Africa and Yugoslavia seems to be confined to the Yugoslav kingdom of 1919 (“the first Yugoslavia”) and he notes the comparative success of the post-war federalist approach. What he also records is the collapse of this project because of the stalinist-type “persistence of a single-party authoritarianism unable or unwilling to reform itself”. Arthur’s account omits the case of the Baltic republics, where there was an attempt at military repression of the independence movement by Soviet forces, with significant loss of life.


Pham Binh February 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

Liberal protest politics failed to “stop the war” in 2003 and yet the same milieu basks in the glow of that failure as their crowning achievement a decade later. Worse yet, they simply substitute Mali, Syria, and Libya for Iraq as if all these wars were/are identical.


Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: