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Digging into Uncertainties About the imperialist Mali War

Published: Monday 11 February 2013

As I continue to highlight the war in Mali, I realized the need for an update. Putting posters around my campus is raising awareness but it’s not doing much of anything to stop the war. Not much else other action has occurred on my campus. I contacted the ten organizations listed in my last article and only two responded. I can’t find the email I got back from Global Exchange, but I do have the one from Veterans for Peace. According to the email, Vice President, Matt Southworth added onto their statement about AFRICOM that “our best message is that US counterterrorism policies have many negative consequence--some immediate--in Africa. The intervention in Libya, which the US participated in (spending over $1 billion is just a few months) has contributed to fall out in Mali, where the US trained military leaders that then undertook a coup [sic] of the Mali government. US logistical support for the French (and British) in both Libya and Mali represent participation in a war that Congress has not authorized. US support for militant leaders and dictatorial governments in Africa will inevitably backfire, leading to untold blowback. After over a decade of US led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should take pause to re-evaluate failed US policies, rather than double down on them in countries all over Africa to further undefined ends. Training foreign military leaders, conducting drone strikes and providing logistical support for various interventions by US allies will inevitably prove counterproductive and undermine true US security interests.” Off-campus, an online hacker “breached into the official website of French Ministry of Defense, leaking the database and login credentials [of its officials as revenge]…against the ongoing French military attack on Mali.” Other than these revelations one may wonder what else needs to be looked at. Readers may remember that I’ve already said the war in Mali is for imperialist reasons, and that French-backed economic unions are helping to participate in the war. However, there is more that must be added into this conversation.

I wrote in earlier articles that different countries are involved for imperialist reasons (not necessarily the African countries) but I really only focused on France. I found some articles which focus on other countries as well and underlying causes. The first is a piece by journalist Pepe Escobar on Black Agenda Report who writes that the “most convenient of bogeymen – al-Qaeda – is once again back in fashion, the whole nebula of Salafi-jihadi groups and sub-groups promoted by the French-Anglo-American triad as the root of all evil in Northern Africa… [and] that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of the founding members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is for all practical purposes an easily digestible Osama bin Laden remix.” Escobar continues on noting that “the key point is that Qatar is financing all these people – AQIM, the splinter MUJAO, Belmokhtar's brigades and the Salafist Ansar Ed-Dine, a bunch of Wahhabi takfiris who have absolutely nothing to do with tolerant Mali culture.” This analysis is confirmed by an article written in the Doha News. In addition, there was an article in the traditional conservative magazine, The American Conservative which noted that “what began a year ago as a Tuareg secessionist rebellion fueled by weapons and mercenaries returning from Libya expanded into a larger war Jan. 11, when France attacked advancing Islamist forces that were moving towards Mali’s capital, Bamako…[but] French intervention now likely would not have been necessary had it not been for the intervention in Libya in 2011 that the last French president demanded and the U.S. backed. Had Western governments foreseen the possible consequences of toppling one government two years ago, there might be no need to rescue another one from disaster now.” From this, the magazine argues that such a “domino theory” is present in Mali as one war led to another.

Such background US involvement has also been criticized and looked in depth by some. This includes Libertarian Dr. No, Ron Paul, who wrote on that “the US is only providing transport and intelligence assistance to France, which initiated the intervention then immediately called Washington for back-up and funding…[but] this clearly is developing into another war…[and that the] media questions as to whether the US has Special Operations forces, drones, or CIA paramilitary units active in Mali are unanswered by the Administration. Congress has asked few questions and demanded few answers from the president. As usual, it was not even consulted.” The Pentagon has told Wired Magazine’s Danger Room that the US’s role in the war is a limited one. The article by Spencer Ackerman quoted the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson George Little, that “the U.S. Air Force has flown a total of five sorties to airlift some 80 French personnel and 124 tons of equipment…[has provided] “intelligence support”[for]…the French.” However, Ackerman noted that Little didn’t discuss anything else in detail, including the possible use of “U.S. surveillance drones…considered for use over Mali at French request…[or] the use of any special-operations forces in the conflict.” There is also a further clue into the growing US interest in the region because Niger which is contributing troops to fight on the ground is allowing a drone base in their country. Such a launching pad for these flying death machines adds to the ring of bases for them which stretches around the world and includes countries in Africa like Ethiopia and Djibouti. Still, the underlying reason is such expansion into Africa is as I called it the imperialist quest of AFRICOM which is exactly why there are currently US Special Forces in the country which are to protect the gold operations of Reynolds Resources Ltd. which were not affected by the fighting as of January 14th.

Still, so far I haven’t explained why the UK, Canada or other countries are involved in this imperialist intervention. The Guardian has already reported that “a small number of UK special forces soldiers are already on the ground in Mali helping to co-ordinate and advise the French military…[which is] part of a team of British military and MI6 personnel in the country who are providing support to French commanders.” Thanks to CBC, we know that “Canada has been providing development aid assistance to this sprawling West African nation for more than 40 years [and]…Canadian-based companies have been actively involved in gold mining and other ventures in Mali for more than 20 years.” Their article continued that “Canadian bilateral trade with Mali doesn't amount to much…but Canadian investment in Mali…[is] in the hundreds of millions…[mostly in] gold [because] about a dozen Canadian gold miners are actively producing and exploring in Mali…[including] the biggest Canadian company there, Toronto-based Iamgold Corp., [which] operates two joint ventures with South Africa-based AngloGold Ashanti and the Malian government.” So, Canada is in it for the gold, meaning it’s an imperialist venture for them. As I already noted, the African countries in this war thanks to their French-backed economic unions, which is the reason there are “1,400 AFISMA country troops now in Mali from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Chad.” However, less than half of the money that was supposedly needed for the Africa-led intervention force was pledged by international donors which included Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, China, Gambia, the United States, Japan, Germany, the U.K., India, Switzerland, Sierra Leone, Bahrain, Morocco, Luxembourg, Australia, South Africa, the EU and the African Union according to Voice of America, the U.S. propaganda network. I already have explained in previous articles why Gambia, the Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone are involved.

One must still ask why Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, India, Switzerland, Sierra Leone, Denmark, Belgium, South Africa, Bahrain, the African Union, Japan, the EU, Morocco, Luxembourg, and Australia be involved in funding or sending supplies to help continue the war? One must remember Australia is basically a puppet state of the US but also WSWS wrote that “Australian companies, big, small and gigantic, are rushing to join Africa’s resources boom…[including] BHP Billiton [which] has a significant oil-producing interest in eastern Algeria; it owns 45 percent of the ROD Integrated Project in the Berkine Basin on Algeria’s border with Tunisia. Perth-based Resolute Mining owns 80 percent of the big Syama goldmine in Mali’s comparatively quieter southern region.” WSWS concluded that “these comments demonstrate that protection of ongoing mining super-profits in Africa…[which] is the principal concern of Australian imperialism.”

One should then move to the question of why did China or Russia not veto the resolution that authorized an African-led force in Mali? Ross Anthony of the Center of Chinese Studies based in South Africa wrote that “China has already offered its support to an ECOWAS-led peace mediation effort; they are also part of a recent United Nations Security Council resolution which makes preparations for military intervention against the Islamic rebels.” Barry Lando expanded on this in the Huffington Post. Lando noted that “the country that has probably most to gain from the intervention -- is China…[because] by thwarting the rebels' drive, France and its partners-to-be will be preserving the security not only of Mali's rickety regime, but of Mali's neighbors as well…[and] in every one of those countries, China does big business.”  So China didn’t block the UN Resolution authorizing the African forces because they wanted their big investments to be protected not by themselves (due to their non-interventionist policy) but by the military forces of other countries. Russia on the other hand has been a long-time friend of Mali, since its independence in 1960, staying dependent on the Soviet Union for years. As Russia’s presidential envoy bluntly put it that the country has economic interests in Mali which is why it is supporting UN intervention and is even offering to use private airlines to transport troops to battle. I am still unsure to what these economic interests but it possibly has to do with the defense industry of Russia (the country’s largest employer), the aircraft industry of Russia, and the petroleum industry of Russia since the government has no direct investment in Mali.

Now onto the other countries which spread the globe (UK, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, India, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, South Africa, Bahrain, the African Union, the EU, Morocco, Luxembourg, and Australia). First one must look at the EU. Germany really has the power behind the EU, which is always challenged by France. So, one must look at why Germany would get involved. Germany is already planning to “participate in a planned European Union mission to help train the Malian military” and currently doesn’t want troops on the ground, but will join in if France really desperately needs help in fighting the war according to Der Spiegel. One must consider that some of those that are profiting from the war are Germans like CEO Tom Enders of European Aeroneutic Defence and Space Company (EADS), and the CEO of Daimler AG Dieter Zetsche which owns a share in EADS. However two people isn’t enough to make a connection. What economics professor at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies Costas Lapavitsas notes on The Real News Network explains why Germany is involved since he notes that “the European Union…[is] a hierarchical system driven by narrow sectoral interests…basically the industrial and financial conflicts that runs Germany at the moment…[and that] Germany has created a system in the Monetary Union through which…it dominates the union…transform[ing]…the Monetary Union into a domestic market…through the rigidity of the euro…giving…it [an]…advantage.” As a result it is no surprise that the EU would back this proposal because it is dominated by German bankers who have made it dependent on exports to other countries, something that would be affected by the war. In turn, such an idea would explain why Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and Luxembourg would join in, since they are also tied to this German-tied economic union.

Still, there are a number of other countries I haven’t looked at in depth, looking at their interests in this war. I’ll start with the UK. The Morning Star, which is owned by a leftist cooperative, noted that “despite government cuts to armed forces and civilian staff, the neoliberal impulse to wage war continues…[because] the insurgency in Mali is seen as part of the fallout from the Libyan adventure…[and because] Cameron has an interest in maintaining the stability of current relations in the region.” But what is this interest? Deepak Tripathi writes that “France is the ex-colonial power of Mali, and Britain’s young prime minister shows the old imperial temperament long after the British Empire was lost,” and David Jamieson writes on the International Socialist Group that “a new imperial bullishness has grown amongst British rulers…along with France and the U.S…[which] seem prepared to profit from the resulting social chaos in large tracts of the world…[especially in] complete reorganisation of geopolitical relations in mineral rich West Africa.” Still these words are broad generalities. I looked deeper. Felicity Arbuthnot noted on Global Research in an article this month that “UK Prime Minister David Cameron[’s]…cabinet colleagues [are] largely a bunch of millionaires [who] have accused the unemployed of being work-shy and a burden on the taxpayers…[and] public anger and resentment is palpably mounting against pretty well all policies in a government seen as completely blind to the reality in Britain’s villages, towns and cities.” Arbuthnot continues, quoting a commentator who says that “Cameron’s decision to fly to the Maghreb…was a Blair-style statement that Britain intends to stay involved. Indeed, Cameron’s references to a ‘generational struggle’ make him sound remarkably similar to Tony Blair after 9/11.” Such an influence of the 1% in his cabinet and the fact that the country has a ‘special relationship’ with the United States plays into the interest the UK has in Mali. Already 330 UK troops were sent to West Africa, all of which will be involved in the war in some capacity, along with a surveillance plane.

What about Switzerland? Considering the country is a financial haven for the bank of all of the banks called the Bank of International Settlements, the headquarters of UBS and Credit Suisse and country holds one-third of worldwide offshore funds, there is obviously some interest here. On foreign affairs, the Swiss government is always neutral, but in this case it is different. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation shows this is correct noting that Mali is “a priority country for Swiss development aid [so the government is trying] to mediate between the government in Bamako and the Tuareg of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA)” and wants the country united together.

I next looked at South Africa. I looked first at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) headed by the President of Nambia Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba who is a social democrat who shook hands with George W. Bush. I looked more into those leading SADC but no connections came up. Instead I went to the smaller customs union called the Southern African Customs Union which promotes trade liberalization a.k.a. privatization of industry and economies and a protective tariff on goods bought outside this economic union. No connection to the war was found there either. Already South Africa is a bigger gold producer than Mali, so that’s not really a factor. What could be a factor is that in “the last few years [there] have seen some major restructuring of South Africa’s major gold producers with AngloGold…and Gold Fields having become the…major producers” of South Africa according to Mbiendi Information Services. As I noted earlier, Canada operates a joint venture with South Africa-based AngloGold Ashanti, which could have influenced the decision of the government to support the African-led force in Mali. During the campaign for the Presidency, Jacob Zuma, the current President of the country took a populist stance while reassuring “foreign investors their interests will be protected” according The Guardian. This should make one suspicious since the President’s son turns out to be a multi-millionaire who has Chinese investments and ties to terrible regimes and the expansion of his family’s house which is worth millions and millions of dollars was expected to be mostly paid by the taxpayer not Zuma. Such a house with an expansion would include a “police station, a helicopter pad, a military clinic, visitors’ centre, parking lot…for 40 vehicles and at least three smaller houses.” The only connection I can make is that Zuma appointed the former CEO of AngloGold Ashanti Bobby" Godsell to the National Planning Commission of South Africa which will as of 2009 “accelerate government's efforts to boost the economy, reduce poverty and ensure smooth infrastructure development” according to If this isn’t enough, in the mining strikes that got international coverage, Zuma declared that the wildcat strike in the platinum mines “cannot be accepted” after which AngloGold laid off the 12,000 strikers. In addition, the minister of police and the minister of mines are allies of the mining interests in Zuma’s government according to the Director of the Center for Civil Society Patrick Bond. He added on that under Zuma, the government has become one of the most corrupt and “the new deputy president [of Zuma’s political party] Cyril Ramaphosa…is one of the two or three biggest black capitalists in South Africa—he's number two in his assets, and…if he does move deeply into the government…[he will have a lot of influence] as the number two in the ruling party.” A former trade unionist, Ramaphosa has investments in all different economic sectors, is the chairman of an international conglomerate food service named The Bidvest Group Limited, and a joint chairman of an multinational paper and packing company called Mondi. Such connections show that basically South Africa’s government works on behalf of the mining interests which would want to intervene in Mali to protect their investments.

I next looked at the countries of Africa such as Ethiopia and Morocco and the African Union. I started with the African Union. I found the chairperson of the African Union is also the Prime Minister of Ethiopia named Hailemariam Desalegn. From this I decided to look up Ethiopia. From my research, I couldn’t really find anything conclusive except for an article saying that France should “boost its investment activities in Ethiopia” and that “long-lived historic relations between Ethiopia and France ha[ve]…to be backed with more investment from French companies.” In addition to this, China is financing wind power projects in the country and China wants to defend its investments, possibly convincing the Ethiopians to be involved in the war. Still, that doesn’t seem like enough. Through my searching across the internet a page of France’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs that noted that the country has French as a national language, has received up to 79.6 million euros from 2006-2010 from France, has allowed “French instruction, officer training and actions in the area of transmissions,” France is one of the biggest investor investors in the country other than Saudi Arabia which hold about 60 percent of the country’s foreign investments. The Ministry writes that “French investments are concentrated in four sectors: brewing, distribution of petroleum products, floriculture and the hotel industry.” This convinced me that due to the major investment in the country by France, it makes complete sense that Desalegn would lead the African Union to fund such a project and possibly pull in countries like Morocco which was a French colony for 44 years in the twenieth century. 

I now turn to the last three countries. These are India, Japan, and Bahrain. I started with Bahrain. Officially Bahrain’s contribution is “premised on Bahrain’s strong belief in supporting all regional and international efforts to boost security, stability and combating terrorism”according to the Gulf News. One should consider for one that Bahrain is basically a puppet state of the United States and is supported by rich countries like Saudi Arabia. It has already a free trade agreement in place with the United States to privatize much of its economy. Considering the country has very small oil supply, there is a possibility that the country wants to gain bigger oil reserves. I kept looking on zapmeta to find out the answer but I couldn’t really find anything substantial. As a Canadian twitter user noted: “when a…country like Bahrain with multiple financial and political problems donates $10M for…Mali [it]…makes [you]…wonder.”

I still asked myself about India and Japan. I thought India would be a good place to start. Unlike Bahrain or Russia, when it was almost impossible to find information, an article popped up at the beginning of my analysis. It was an article in The Indian Awaaz written in January 2012 which noted that “India is likely to sign a number of agreements with the mineral-rich African country…[which] are likely in trade, investment, cooperation in agriculture, agro-processing, mines and minerals.” The paper even noted that “Mali has deposits of uranium which can cater to the needs of India’s nuclear power plants” and that as “India is eyeing Africa to meet its energy needs[,]…India and Japan have agreed to jointly work for the development of Africa with a view to contain China's ambitions in the continent.” In addition, they noted that “there is no major Indian Company operating in Mali,” there are only many small businesses. The article went on to note that Mali’s only cement factory (at the time of the writing) was being created with help of private Indian company, that another Indian company has “a concession for iron ore mining near Bamako where they intend to start production very soon,” a few Indian companies, distribute food in the country, and there is the possibility to develop the agro-industry in the country. On top of this, the article says that the efforts of Toure, who was deposed and is again president, “contributed to intensification of relations between the two countries.” If you think this article doesn’t have enough it notes that “Mali[’s] government is keen to undertake exploration and exploitation of their mineral resources and has formally offered the rights on lease to the Indian Government or government designated companies [which]…provides Indian companies with ample opportunities.” These statements show that India has a deep interest in Mali as a whole and like China, it sounds like they want to protect their investments. Also it confirms that what The Times of India wrote this month is completely correct: “the French military intervention in Mali…has not prompted the expected negative reaction from New Delhi…because the target this time is al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups in that region, where India, like others, is developing economic interests [in the country].” Another article this month noted Indian officials basically admitting openly that they wanted to stabilize the country and then “strengthen [their]… involvement in various capacity building activities in Mali through setting up of institutions, training of Malian nationals and economic support for infrastructural projects.” Still the investment is no surprise because already in Ethiopia the Indian government is forcing farmers off their land. Such an action would challenge the investments of the Chinese, and as noted earlier, the Japanese are colluding with the Indians to counter expanding Chinese economic trade with the continent. Even the World Food Programme praised Japan at their growing investment in Africa.

In summary, Qatar is financing the Islamic militants in North Mali, the US wants to expand their imperialist quest, Canada is in for imperialist reasons mainly revolving around mining investments, Germany which controls the EU is dominated by bankers who will benefit from the war which shows why other European countries would follow along, the UK’s cabinet represents the 1% which ought to have interests in the war, China wants to protect their investments in the country, Russia has unknown economic interests in Mali, Mali is a top investment country for the Swiss, South Africa’s corrupt government is ruling by and for the mining companies, Bahrain is still a mystery, India has investments in the continent especially in Mali which it wants to defend and Japan’s expanding investment in Africa has allowed it to ally with India to stop what it thinks is too much Chinese trading in the continent. In conclusion, I’d like to say that the reasons countries are involved in the war is a complicated one and I know I didn’t include every country (I know there are more international donors) or look at every country adequately, but I tried to shine some light on the countries that haven’t been covered in other articles. 

ABOUT Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer, activist, and researcher who tries to challenge perceptions about the world we all live in and pushing for the creation of discussion spaces to talk about pertinent issues. In doing this, Burkely has not only written articles but also used his tech savvy skills to aggressively fight for an internet that serves the masses.
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