France has the largest foreign armed force in Africa, with more soldiers on the continent than the US Africa Command.
“It is obvious that the social and political situation of the Malian people does not figure on the imperial French agenda.”
“France is not there [Mali], as I have heard some claim, with neocolonial, imperialist or economic objectives.” — E. Macron, President of France
“The security issue of Mali can only be solved by a legitimate and legal leadership and not the way of French foreign interests.” —Dr. O. Mariko, President of the Party SADI
France’s military budget certainly does not match that of the US military but what it may lack in funding, it makes up in experience, particularly in its extensive colonial experience in Africa. French imperialism is alive and well, so to speak. Today, one may read mostly about the French presence in West Africa under the name of Operation Barkhane. This is an on-going French force whose official purpose in Africa is to fight Islamist extremists in the Sahel region, this geographic area of transition between the Sahara to the north and the humid savannahs to the south. This French presence consists of about 5000 soldiers permanently based in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena. This military presence is in addition to another 3000 soldiers stationed in four permanent bases in the small nation of Djibouti, in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Libreville (Gabon) and Dakar (Senegal). To this should be added the armed forces of the southern zone of the Indian ocean, a contingent of 1900 soldiers based on Reunion island and the island of Mayotte. Between permanent and temporary bases of External Operation (Fr. OPEX), the French can oversee the continent from the Sahel to the horn of Africa. With amost 10,000 soldiers stationed on the continent, France is today the country with the greatest permanent military presence in Africa.
“The French can oversee the continent from the Sahel to the horn of Africa.”
The origin of the conflict we can witness to this day “requiring” French interventions in West Africa and Mali in particular can be found in the fall of Libya under the imperialist offensive of NATO and its allies in 2011. The destruction of Libya led to the return of hundreds of combatants to the regions of Mali and Niger, which has greatly contributed to the political and social destabilization of the region.
The intensification of the French presence in west Africa and particularly Mali started officially in 2013. Then French president Holland dispatched 4000 soldiers with Operation Serval. The purpose of the operation was officially to stop the Islamist extremists from entering Bamako, the capital of Mali. According to Dr. Oumar Mariko, president of the party African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (Fr. SADI) explained that Mali at that time was developing and succeeding in engaging a national dialogue between religious leaders, various community organizations and political parties such a SADI in order to address the conflicts within the country, including the high levels of corruption of the Malian government serving French interests. Moreover, according to Mariko, a fact omitted by the Western press, the Malian capital -- supposedly under siege by Islamist militants, as claimed by the French -- was not; the government was in fact able to leave the capital. Nevertheless, French troops came into Africa under the pretext of providing support to the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) and, of course, fighting jihadists.
“The purpose of the operation was officially to stop the Islamist extremists from entering Bamako.”
France started carrying out airstrikes against the group Al-Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM) after the group, constituted in part of Tuaregs (a seminomadic and pastoralist people of the Sahara region) and other ‘terrorist elements, moved into southern Mali. Interestingly enough and to the consternation of the Malian military, while fighting terrorism, the French threw their support to the Tuareg separatist movement calling for the independence of northern Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Fr. MNLA), which they might have seen as a force able to protect its interests. However, it appears this relationship changed when the MNLA developed ties with the Al Qaeda group in Maghreb, providing the very motive for Holland to declare that French troops would not leave until the terrorists were defeated. The French operation was supported at the time by the US of course but also Canada, Britain, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. Moreover, the antiterrorist struggle constrained the activities of UN forces MINUSMA (United Nation Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) to transform their peace keeping mission into supporting French antiterrorist activities.
The story that ensues is a veritable textbook case for Kwame Nkrumah’s work, and seems to keep on being repeated. So the story goes, in 2012, the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, after having been democratically elected was deposed by Malian military officers. Its leader, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, like all the coup officers, was AFRICOM’s man, having been trained at Fort Benning and with the Marine Corp at Quantico. According to the military, the coup had been necessary because president Touré was not effective enough in his dealing with the rebellious Tuaregs in the North, in alliance with jihadist groups. The military leadership who called themselves National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy (NCRD), handed power eventually to Diacounda Traoré, of course a Francophile politician. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), created in 1975, controlled by the French, then legalized the transition of power. This literally reads like a Mafia novel.
“Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, like all the coup officers, was AFRICOM’s man.”
The head of ECOWAS at the time was Alassane Ouattara who had himself been placed in power by the French, a year prior, in Ivory Coast. And here is the reason that led to president Touré’s fall. While president he had initiated a mapping of Mali’s natural resources that revealed that Mali was one of the countries in the world with the largest quantity of raw materials (copper, uranium, phosphate, bauxite, gems, large deposits of gold as well as oil and gas) that remained largely unexploited. This could not go to waste for the imperial vultures. After the fall of Touré, Mali came to be suspended from the African Union. The World Bank and the African Development Bank cut off all aids and the US reduced its aid first by half, before cutting off all aids. Other ECOWAS countries closed their borders with Mali, imposed sanctions and cut off access to regional banks leaving Mali in utter and complete chaos, politically and economically. It is in this context that the French intervened against “terrorism.”
But the French plot thickens. After their “successful” Operation Serval, the French considered the situation was not yet stable enough and decided to stay. Serval was transformed into Operation Barkhane. The latter was launched in 2014 and is a permanent military force able to move freely across the Sahel region, except in Mauritania and with some limitations in Burkina Faso. It can operate autonomously in Mali and in Niger under emergency conditions while it requires authorization for offensive actions in all other countries. If the so-called fight against terrorism was the primary reason for these interventions, officially, French neo-colonial activities were also purporting to counter other national interests competing in the region, namely China.
“The French considered the situation was not yet stable enough and decided to stay.”
French policies in Africa have been clarified in two publication titled (how ironic!) Whites Papers for Defense and National Security. The 2008 version insists on the “strategic supply” and the rise of competing emerging nations in a continent rich in raw material and energy resources constituting vital wealth for the world economy, i.e. French interests. The imperialist ambitions of the French government are literally spelled out, clearly enunciating the immediate rise in military interventions in Africa. This publication claims that “Africa will become [France’s] first strategic concern for the next 15 years.” After targeting Libya, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Central Africa comes the whole Sahel region. The second version of the White Papers published in 2013, resume the positive outcomes of the strategy, besides promoting an increase of the French military Budget, it seeks out to foster the rise of a national consciousness among French youths over the necessity to support the arm industries, military activities abroad while emphasizing the reinforcement of industrial and technological basis of military defense and a lot more. These “principles” endeavor to prepare for further military interventions, which are serving French multinational corporate interests whose monopoly status inherited from colonialism are now threatened by emerging economies, namely China.
“Africa will become [France’s] first strategic concern for the next 15 years.”
Despite the shameless denial that France is intervening in Africa to manage its interest, French corporations are clearly at work all throughout Africa. Many of these large corporations have benefited greatly from the imposed privatization of public services by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the 90s. Thus, French companies want control of various sectors of infrastructures like airports and airlines, ports, transports, telephone and communications services, access to natural resources, Uranium in particular, both in Mali and Niger, etc. There are about 40.000 French companies in Africa of which 14 are multinational corporations (Total, Areva, Vinci, etc.). In 20 years, French exports to Africa have doubled.
In order to guaranty the protection of its corporate and geostrategic interests, France has sponsored various alliances. The G5-Sahel, created in 2014, is an institutional organization destined to coordinate development and security between Burkina-Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Along the G5-S is the G5-Sahel Joint Force created in 2017 to fight security threats. Accordingly, the United Nation Security Council welcomed the initiative sponsored by yours truly, France. This was also welcomed by the African Union Peace and Security Committee to fight terrorism, organized crime and human trafficking. In 2017 as well, France, Germany and the European Union launched the Sahel Alliance. It is quite remarkable how many people, countries and the like are so interested in the Sahel. This alliance is made up of 12 donors supposed to coordinate activities of major development partners in the region. The donors are: France, Germany, the EU, the African Development Bank the UN development program, the World Bank, the UK, Italy, the Netherland, Luxemburg and Finland while the United States, Norway and Finland would act as observers. In 2018, G5-Sahel signed a partnership with... you guessed it, Sahel Alliance. ECOWAS, this economic institution we mentioned earlier and so significant to French interests, is changing pending some financial transformations, which will allow us to introduce another aspect of French neo-colonialism, namely financial colonialism.
“There are about 40.000 French companies in Africa of which 14 are multinational corporations.”
Along all these international associations, G5- Sahel, ECOWAS can be found a financial economic enclave called the Zone of the franc CFA. This “Zone” is constituted of 14 countries using the currency. Eight of them, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo make up the West African Economic and Monetary Union, created in 1994, while the six other countries, Cameroon, the Republic of Central Africa, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad make up the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa.
Without entering into the financial complexities of the franc CFA, the currency was created in 1945 for French colonies, supposedly to not impose on them the austerity policies imposed in France in the wake of WWII, while at the same time, truly facilitating import of French products towards African colonies to be purchased with a stable currency. Whereas the acronym CFA meant Colonies Françaises d’Afrique (French Colonies of Africa), it was renamed Communaute Française d’Afrique to finally mean Communaute Financière d’Afrique (Financial Community of Africa); the acronym trying to distance itself from its colonial origin.
Ironically, there might not be as much difference between French Colonies of Africa and Financial Community of Africa as one might think. Indeed, the financial decision pertaining to the currency, whatever its name, appears to remain in the hands of French finance authorities. France continues to hold 50% of the foreign reserve of 12 African countries in its central Bank. These compulsory deposits, which many call a colonial tax, amount to about $500 billions yearly. This is consequent to the fact that the CFA currency is pegged against the Euro. History tells us that during the colonial period, colonized countries had to deposit all their reserve in the French Treasury. Although that requirement has decreased to 50% to this day, the reserve guaranties that the franc CFA remains convertible to the Euro at a fixed rate.
“France continues to hold 50% of the foreign reserve of 12 African countries in its central Bank.”
African countries have no say in the decision pertaining to their financial and monetary policies. While French president Macron in 2017 called for a gradual phasing out of the colonial currency CFA, apologizing and encouraging the economic independence of African nations, the French eyes have not left the prize. At the end of 2019, monetary reforms were announced by ECOWAS and Macron. They introduced the new currency ECO to replace the franc CFA. They further abolished the requirement to deposit foreign exchange reserves in the French Treasury and announced the withdrawal of French representatives from the West African Economic and Monetary Union. These reforms were the very result of a public outcry to abolish the colonial currency by panafrican social movements, intellectuals and citizens both within Africa and the diaspora. However, it appears that these gestures are mostly symbolic as the financial dependency associated to legal and monetary policies of West African nations to France remains in place. The likelihood is that France will take over the control of the Eco from ECOWAS and maintain the benefits it has had with the franc CFA by various financial, economic and political means.
Clearly the independence of West African Nations remains more cosmetic than actual as imperial forces keep their holds on these countries’ finances. However, the discontent of African populations has become more vocal. In Mali, as many have observed, the French military presence has been basically ineffective pertaining to its official objectives and the political and economic chaos in the country continues on. The incredible level of corruption exhibited by the now deposed president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) has led to a veritable popular uprising by Malian citizens. The movement of opposition to IBK baptized M5-RFP (movement of June 5 – Gathering of Patriotic Forces), demanded the departure of the president. Prey to jihadist activities, the poorest regions of Mali remain abandoned by IBK’s government while jihadist groups furthered the divide within Mali by fueling interethnic conflicts, Peuls against Dogon, Tuaregs against Peuls, etc.
IBK, supported by France, had practically done nothing to help solve the situation. Of course, like in many countries, the IMF “adjustment” structural programs have led to the gutting of the public sector and the destruction of public industries and services. In consequence, thousands of government workers have had to be laid off, hospitals and schools have had to close, and so on. The indulgence and lack of concern by the IBK regime had led to the uprising of the Malian people, a 20 million population, 40% of whom live in utter poverty and face the plight of hunger. As O. Mariko remarks, it is this abject insecurity, the famine, the lack of health care, of schools, of infrastructure that often lead people into the arms of jihadists, despite the fact that the great majority of Malians practice a moderate Islam. Unfortunately, since the French intervention, extremism has only proliferated in the region. It is obvious that the social and political situation of the Malian people does not figure on the imperial French agenda. Not only have the French no longer engaged in a peace mission alongside the UN forces but they keep on propping up corrupt governments, even turning a blind eye on the embezzlement of funds destined to aid and development.
“Since the French intervention, extremism has only proliferated in the region.”
While the people of Mali rose en masse against the corrupt IBK government and the foreign presence in their country, on August 18, 2020, the military, led by Colonel Assimi Goita (also US trained) arrested IBK and transported him to a military base after which he accepted to resign from his presidency. In a fashion similar to the coup of 2012, the five officers declared themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. The great majority of Malians rejoiced at the downfall of the IBK government but the event was right away condemned by the French, British and German governments. Similarly to the events of 2012, the African Union, considering the coup unconstitutional, and ECOWAS suspended Mali’s membership and imposed sanctions right away: border closure, a ban on trade and cuts in flows of capital against the torn nation, with the fear that the coup would plunge Mali “deeper into insecurity and a serious humanitarian crisis.” ECOWAS and the “international” community demanded the return of the loathed president to power. Only after the military accepted a transition to civilian rule did ECOWAS lift the imposed sanctions. Today a government comprised of both military and civilians, led by chosen president Bah Ndaw, heads the country of Mali. According to Mariko, these events, as those of 2012, should not be called “coups” as much as they are the results of tremendous popular discontent about the social and political conditions in Mali, conditions that have not been in any way improved (and in fact worsened) by French and European presence in the region for a people stuck between political elites serving French interests and foreign interests themselves.
“These events should not be called ‘coups’ as much as they are the results of tremendous popular discontent.”
Unfortunately, the popular uprising of 2020 that shook Mali, did not deter at all the persistence of antiterrorist activities by the French. Prior to the coup, a new task force was introduced into Mali: the Takuba Task Force was supposed to accompany the Malian military in the fight against jihadists. This group was supported, in March of this year, by the governments of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom, while the following countries are to contribute to the special operation units: Ireland, Estonia, France, Finland, Latvia, Denmark, Belgium Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and the UK. It certainly appears that a whole lot of other Western actors, led by France, want to participate in the plundering of the continent and get some access to the loot, for it would be deeply disturbing for one to actually believe that any of them would intervene in Africa for any other reasons. And although social and political conditions are not changing and may be getting worse for the people, imperial forces continue mouthing the same narrative, on and on, of fighting the very extremist terrorism they created, even if indirectly. The United States, of course, is never far behind. Proud to claim France to be its oldest ally in the fight against terrorism, AFRICOM has given consistent support to French imperialist activities in the Sahel since 2012, providing transport, aerial refueling, intelligence, logistics, training and drone support. It is clear that, on the imperialist world map, if South America represents the “United-States’ backyard,” West Africa represents “France’s backyard.”
Despite the fact that the on-going fight against terrorism has not yielded any “positive” results, whatever that means, it is obvious that France and its cohorts have no interests whatsoever in the population of these African nations.
“A whole lot of Western actors want to participate in the plundering of the continent.”
The events described above clearly illustrate the neo-colonial imperatives motivating France and European nations to intervene, as well as the attempts of those nations to uphold their economic interests against global competitors. The destruction of public services, the absolute dismissal of social difficulties plaguing countries such as Mali shows that, despite the empty reassurance of the French president, these are of no concern whatsoever to imperial and neo-colonial forces who only cater to foreign private corporate interests. Those imperialist forces are particularly keen in creating chaos and destabilization while at the same time claiming to want to do away with it, and all the while preventing any popular democratic endeavors to resurrect some degree of political stability and popular dignity. The consequences of the destruction of Libya by NATO and its allies has created problems which France and its European cohorts now claim to cure with their interventions. Thus, the French, Europeans and Americans play both sides of the coin by being both the cause and the solution of the problems faced by the nations in which they intervene, while facilitating access to markets and resources by private foreign interests. Since the independence of most West African Nations in the early 60s, the same old story keeps on repeating itself while their sovereignty, their right to self-determination, to true independence has yet to be realized. While rich in raw materials, these countries’ populations remain mired in poverty. If the people of Mali wish for a better life, for a popular democracy and serious, respectful international cooperation, they clearly will not get it from France, its European cohorts or the United States. As Thomas Sankara said,” imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms: a loan, food aid, blackmail. We are fighting this system that allows a handful of men on earth to rule humanity.” These words are as true today as they were then.
K. Philippe Gendrault, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who is committed to the anti-racist, anti-imperialist struggle for social and political justice.
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