France in Mali: The Pyromaniac Firefighter

by Laetitia Suchecki (PCF) and Nathanaël Uhl (Parti Gauche) on January 15, 2013

 

“It is during war that people forget their interest in civil and political rights, not noticing that external events divert their attention from their legislators and magistrates to focus all interest and all hopes on their generals and ministers, or rather the generals and ministers  of the executive branch. “ —Robespierre, Speech on War, December 18, 1791

Since Friday, in fact for an indeterminate amount of time, France has returned to its detestable past as policeman of Africa. Certainly, we have not been fooled by the president’s speeeches on the burial of the “Françafrique”. Still, the brutality of this return of affairs, through the Operation Serval intervention in Mali, can only deepen our concern and firm our opposition. Above all else, we speak in a personal capacity, without anticipating the future position of our respective organizations: the French Communist Party for Laetitia, and the Left Party for Nathanael. We wished to write together because we have spoken about Africa for several years, developing a convergent vision.

Destruction of shrines to Timbuktu

First, we say unambiguously: Jihadism, Salafism, ideologies that hijack religion to serve a political vision, are our enemy. As leftists, we fight with the utmost firmness all ideas, all people, all groups that divert the message of peace and love brought by any religion to enslave all or part of the population. Thus, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), Ansar Dine, and all other embodiments of this self-proclaimed “Islamic” extreme right are our mortal enemies, just as they are for the people of northern Mali who have suffered since April 2012 in the hitherto indifference of the general public to the daily atrocities.

We must go back to the reasons for the emergence of AQIM and MOJWA in Mali, a country where the population is predominantly Muslim although with elements of animism. President Amadou Toumani Touré, overthrown by a military coup in early 2012, and the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)—who opened the door to the north of Mali to the Islamic fundamentalists—benefited from the support of France during his final years. In the same way that the United States, for many years, used Bin Laden and the jihadists against the Soviet Union, Touré has, in a dangerous political game, allowed MOJWA to settle in northern Mali while the French government allowed the MNLA to strengthen militarily while knowing of its connivance with fundamentalist groups.

Fighters mujao

Northern Mali is vast and sparsely populated. Over the years it has become, by the near impossibility of controlling it, a region of free trade—in drug and human trafficking. There are then sources of income, albeit illegal, by which the jihadists can finance their armies, which were reinforced by veterans from Libya and Afghanistan. The jihadists, experienced militarily, were able to quickly take over other groups of gangsters operating in the Sahel. They are now in a dominant position, further enjoying the state of disrepair and political instability maintaining the Malian army—a condition for which France is not necessarily irresponsible.

The first victories of “jihadists,” behind the Tuareg MLNA troops of north Mali, go back to early 2012. They were marked by atrocities as much against civilians as against the military and their families. This situation was used by the military junta led by Captain Sanogo to justify a coup. Rupture of democratic order cannot be seen as an acceptable political solution; however, it is necessary to emphasize the relative benevolence of the population toward Sanogo at first, as the Touré regime appeared corrupt and unable to meet the needs of the Malian population.

Events Malians March 28, 2012

A return to civilian rule must be accompanied by national dialogue aimed at restoring a true democratic process for Malians. They must also develop properly Malian solutions to fight against the partition of the country. It is evident that real democracy is the best, most effective weapon in the fight against jihadism, as it combines all the people to build the future, thereby draining the swamp in which this specific form of what we in the West call the extreme right can thrive.

Alas, such dialogue been postponed time and again by the military junta and civil power. None has occurred to date. That is why last Wednesday and Thursday, the eve of the French military intervention, several events took place in Bamako  (we do not believe this is a coincidence). Organized by the Coordination of Patriotic Organizations in Mali (COPOM) and the alliance of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (though very distant ideologically from COPOM), they demanded the departure of the current President Traoré (former president of the National Assembly under Touré), the development of a Malian strategy for the north of Mali, the respect of past commitments made ​​for the return to democracy, and the refusal of foreign ground intervention. Since Friday a state of emergency has prevailed in Bamako, marked by a large decline in the civil liberties already strongly undermined since March, with French troops deployed to protect “strategic” buildings.

demonstration for democracy in Bamako

Today, the French Minister of Defense claims that French soldiers are deployed “to protect France, to protect our freedoms,” further stating that  “we want to prevent the creation of a terrorist state within reach of Europe.” France wants to appear as the savior of a situation it willingly and criminally helped create. It is thus alone in this affair and its claims. There will not even be an international coalition as in Libya; there is no UN mandate; there is no mandate of the National Assembly. In September, the UN Security Council deliberated and gave a mandate to the African Union and the Community of West African States. The latter have not appeared strongly pressed to intervene militarily in Mali. Thus the way was opened to French troops.

Have we mentioned that the northern Mali includes large deposits of minerals, including uranium?

Anyway, our pious soldiers have been hard at work since January 11. After predictable initial victories, and already French casualties, no one knows when they will return. The seasoned jihadists know the soil in which they operate. For several months they were joined by fighters from all over the world as the Sahel is now considered the place to be for the (not so) apprentice jihadists. Does it remind you of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Yes, that’s right, there is room for comparison. Similarly, it is well-known that the war started in Afghanistan helped defeat the jihadists. Apologies for the irony, but it must be remembered that, until now, the “war against terrorism” has resulted in the large-scale development of  jihadist groups and the degradation of living conditions of people—and in countries that had previously been spared, like Mali.

Mali 2 (AFP ECPAD)

We cannot remain silent about the atrocities and brutality suffered daily by the people of northern Mali, nor the several months in which the international community was criminally indifferent. That is why today we can no longer remain silent when the country’s fate is determined without involving the men and women who live there.

This is why we cannot accept the current French intervention and demand full transparency about the nature of requests for support from the Malian government, the plans and objectives of this intervention in the short, medium, and long term, and the strategies for developing the region. The struggle against barbarism cannot be achieved without the people, and the Malian and French populations must be fully informed and decide—through their representative bodies—actions to be taken to allow the Malian people to regain their territorial integrity and to improve the living conditions in northern Mali.

Originally posted at Le cri du peuple. Translated by North Star.

  • Ben Campbell

    I posted this as somewhat of a companion piece to Brian Slocums’ piece on the French left and Syria. In case it has to be said, pieces like this are posted for discussion. As stated in the about section: “The North Star’s only party line is that we do not have a party line. Articles posted here reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of the editors or other participants.” Although in this case, the article may also reflect my somewhat limited French translation skills…

  • Arthur

    The usual suspects with the usual crap.

    “First, we say unambiguously: Jihadism, Salafism, ideologies that hijack religion to serve a political vision, are our enemy. As leftists, we fight with the utmost firmness all ideas, all people, all groups that divert the message of peace and love brought by any religion to enslave all or part of the population. Thus, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), Ansar Dine, and all other embodiments of this self-proclaimed “Islamic” extreme right are our mortal enemies, just as they are for the people of northern Mali who have suffered since April 2012 in the hitherto indifference of the general public to the daily atrocities.”

    Then we say that people fighing our mortal enemies should be left to fight alone.

    And of course we lie about absence of UN and ECOWAS support. In fact even Algeria permitted French use of its airspace as further collapse of the Malian resistance would have made the planned and UN authorised ECOWAS intervention very problematic.

    • Brian S.

      I’m a bit in the middle here (semi-pseudo, I guess) – Arthur is right about the inconsistency between the second pargraph of the article, which he quotes, and the first para. It appears that this has been been partially resolved in the official statement of the Front de Gauche deputies in the Assembly today (which has all the hallmarks of a compromise). This starts with a reasonably clear declaration:
      “The position of the deputies of the Left Front (Front de Gauche), communists and republicans, is clear: To abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of fanatics would be a political error and a moral failing. Non-intervention would have been the worst form of cowardice. International military action was necessary to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”
      But then goes on to say:
      “At the same time, we must express reservations about the military operation that has been launched, with regard to its form, its conditions, and its objectives.
      “War is always the worst solution, the most uncertain. Nothing reassures us that this intervention will not end in failure, with heavy human losses, and spiralling repercussions throughout the muslim world.”
      After that cheery note they go on to make a mixture of sensible points (the need for the government to consult the Assembly, the importance of carrying out the operation within the framework of the UN and under African leadership,the need for a social programme and democratic elections to combat the islamist threat, the importance of making a clean break with the colonialist past) mixed with more confusing rhetoric.
      Its not a model of clarity, but I think there is a sensible approach struggling to get out here: support for the intervention under the existing circumstances, but hedged with demands relating to how it is carried on, how it should develop, what needs to accompany it, and a call for democratic accountability. It would have been better if the rhetoric were replaced with a clearer spelling out of what it is is calling for – but this is France.
      http://www.humanite.fr/sites/default/files/pdf/2013/mali_asensi.pdf

      • patrickm

        I think Brian is in favor of intervention and has trouble with that reality. The Front de Gauche deputies are clear; “International military action was necessary to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”

        I think Brian you also worry “that this intervention will end in failure, with heavy human losses, and spiraling repercussions throughout the Muslim world.”, and we have good cause to worry about bankrupt capitalist states going off to fight wars that they are reasonably inexperienced at.

        If the French are leading in Mali they ought not pretend there is African leadership but this does raise the deeper questions of the main force and the leading force. The French appear to be both at the moment, but the African neighbors are all getting on board and that is a good thing but this sudden response is happening because the more timely intervention was not doing the required job.

        A united front approach requires that people unite and concentrate on defeating the enemy, but also speak up on what they see as; ‘the need for a social program and democratic elections to combat the Islamist threat, the importance of making a clean break with the colonialist past’ etc. .

        It seems more that the people that opposed intervention on day 1., were overruled when the new people declare it would have been the worst form of cowardice on day 2., their readers are no doubt as confused as I am. Like TNS people that are also not any ‘models of clarity’, but I do agree ‘there is a sensible approach struggling to get out here’.

        To come out; 1st give clear; ‘support for the intervention under the existing circumstances’ and declare a rejection of Never-never land; and the whole sect approach of all those cursed sects that Binh has referred to today. I doubt that 1 of them (pest sects) will support intervention.

        2nd., raise one’s independent views in a principled co-operative manner, with the spirit of compromise and in the interests of democratically advancing issues within that united front with demands proposals and suggestions; ‘relating to how it is carried on, how it should develop, what needs to accompany it, and a call for democratic accountability.’

        Demands seems the wrong choice of word (not that I want to quibble), but the point is that people ought to look to ‘unite and don’t split’ and continue to develop that broad based unity through many years, of what is a clearly protracted and convoluted struggle. Unite the many to defeat the few resonates from OWS, through Syria, and now Mali. Like ‘all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’, ‘unite the many, and don’t split’ is the sort of A,B,C,’s, leftist’s must focus on while learning from the most successful revolutionaries from the past couple of centuries.

        BTW Where is the compromise? It is so stark a divide as to almost guarantee a split, especially when the going gets tough some time, not too far down the track. People who already suspect that the going will get tough, will not split even when – quelle surprise – it does. Didn’t we see just that with the ‘surge’.

        Everyone emerging from Neverland are being forced by these events to reconsider their former views, and the issues will be thrown back at you, yet again, as it was over Libya, by those people who are remaining in groups like StWC. They will scoff at people and taunt them to review their previous reasoning and demonstrate a meaningful difference between the deserts of Mali and the mountains of Afghanistan. They will have a solid point.

        It won’t take supporters of the Iraqi Baathist conquest of Kuwait long to point out, how curious it is to support this French intervention, rather than see the emergence of a state that harbors Al Qaeda terrorists and not take just as clear a stand, when the dramatic actions of those terrorists types; confronted the world with the emergence of a state that harbors Al Qaeda terrorists, and thus produced stark choices that ultimately requires a strategic approach to the revolutionary transformation of Afghanistan / Pakistan!

        So here we are 11 years after StWC was started and the milieu is unable to make sense over Syria or Libya and now Mali. This is no surprise because it never made sense. The interventions that are being opposed now are not part of some new issue.

        Leftists at TNS, can now discuss what is really required to make democratic revolution in this part of the world -ME, North Africa; and openly support these wars of intervention. TNS leftists will not be found silent when another part of the globe springs up. People must eventually work out that if one supports this French intervention it will prove more difficult to keep opposing an intervention in Afghanistan. As it appears that Obama is getting ready to do a runner from that; progressive people ought to think about how to win that war that has never been well led.

        Issues that ought to be of great concern to revolutionary and reformist leftists of any stripe, are currently very complicated right across the globe. Events in Pakistan for example, I don’t know up from down right now- but clearly one country after another is slipping into conflict over the central issues of this century – issues of accountability and the struggle for democracy; and war will continue to spread for many year’s all round the world.

        The left that is organizationally defunct now exists only as left debate that the sects can’t even engage in. My advice is avoid these people as you would anyone else that won’t tell the truth.

        It’s conceivable that a third world war, (the last one was associated with a capitalist depression) but not quite the sort that older revolutionaries once thought about intently back in the 1970s may slowly creep upon the nations and countries and peoples’ of this really quite backward planet. As the conflict spreads, the familial relationship of proposals that can bring the fighting to an end quickly becomes apparent.

        Just as America First had huge support and later collapsed, all StWC type sects, and cults have gone through a nevertheless comparable slow death. (from a similarly well supported but equally misguided position back in February 15 2003) Those demonstrations really were huge.

        ‘Obviously progressives would want an outcome in Mali similar to Iraq rather than any outcome that would see Al Qaeda and the Taliban types remain on the face of this planet. Leaving Al Qaeda alone is not something that the peoples ought to tolerate any more than leaving Axis power political forces in power after their defeat.

        Most people have accepted that the occupations of Germany, Italy and Japan produced real demonstrable progress. Why would any progressive, or leftist think unity with Al Qaeda and Taliban policies and demands would serve the masses? Yet there has been people that were thought of as leftists and that still think of themselves as leftists who want exactly that unity. They oppose the widely held communist views of the WW2 era and disappear quickly from any debate.

        http://kasamaproject.org/2008/12/14/awtw-the-taleban-resurgent/ patrickm @ 9,10, 15, 25

        There is nothing positive about what these sects, cults and micro parties have been up to; ‘training people’, or campaigning. (even -sadly- when involved in a supportable issue) If people are open, honest and above board and don’t waste time (doing what they have been doing for x year’s -in the interests of ‘peace’, or the workers, or whatever) then there is something positive to get on with. But as soon as an effort is organized there has to be a disputes committee when needed and complaints will have to be dealt with in a timely manner! I have been subject to disappearance, and that is no way to run any bright new world nor any site devoted to achieving one either. Expelled from a community is one thing, disappeared is quite another.

  • Arthur

    Also a more honest expression of this “leftist” opposition to solidarity comes from Melanchon, leader of the Left Front:

    “The advantages to be gained from an external military intervention to resolve the problems that have developed in the North of Mali are questionable. To decide the fundamental interests of France, according to the head of state himself, and those of the African troops now committed, on something which does not touch fundamental French stakes, opens up a debate.”

    This is the same classic “realist” position that is the fundamental basis for conservative opposition to action in Syria as it was for action in Iraq.

  • Ben Campbell

    As I was shocked at the poverty of analysis exhibited by John Rees of Counterfire/”Stop the War Coalition” in an interview with RT, I was pleased to see this post “Mali: Stop the War Coalition Gets Things Seriously Wrong, Again”:
    http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/mali-stop-the-war-coalition-gets-things-seriously-wrong-again/

  • Brian S.

    I’m thinking of opening a competition for “most barren left political analysis of the year” and here is my initial nomination: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=30351
    It seems to be adapting the old German Communist Party slogan to “First the Islamists, then us!”

  • Arthur

    Yes there may be a sensible approach struggling to get out there.

    ” Non-intervention would have been the worst form of cowardice. International military action was necessary to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”

    Hopefully they will eventually stop compromising with people like the authors of this statement and treat them as the enemies they are.

  • http://www.tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com Andrew Coates

    A very good analysis.

    The premise that, “The struggle against barbarism cannot be achieved without the people,” is fundamental.

    This has been the ground of the position of a section of the European left for some time now, as opposed to seeing the world as a chess-board where ‘Imperialism’ has to be fought by any pawn available.

    There is worse, btw, from the StWC today on the hostage crisis, which I’ve blogged on.

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