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Why are Africans Helping France in Their “Wildcat” War?

Published: Thursday 24 January 2013

On Tumblr I found a map which peaked my interest. A user had uploaded a map from AFP showing how different countries are involved in the war in Mali (other than France) including the EU, US, Germany, Belgium, Canada, UK, Italy and the UAE, among others. Of these countries, currently Nigeria (as shown by a Reuters picture) and Togo (according to Euro News) have troops on the ground. The French seem to be the main players in the war which I noted was imperialistic and violated international law. I also already knew that four governments (Israeli, Spanish, French and Ukrainian), the chairman of the German aerospace defense industry association, a French multimillionaire, the CEO of Daimler AG, the  CEO of Dassault Aviation, anti-gay multibillionaire named Serge Dassault, the CEO of the Boeing Company, the French company Panhard, and Virginia-based Geo-Eye Inc. are directly profiting from France’s share of the war. It seemed obvious why UK, Italy and Belgium would participate since they wanted to regain control of Africa, the same with the US which is engaging in the next imperial ‘scramble for Africa’.  As for Canada, EU, UAE, and Denmark, it seemed that these countries liked the spoil of war and wanted to follow along, supporting their allies in the fight, not really necessarily in it for imperialist reasons. Most people seem to only have focused on the French aspect of the war, called Operation Serval (named after an African wildcat) but not the International Support Mission to Mali or AFISMA which is led by ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States). What is important to note is that Nigeria will lead AFISMA. There are more Togolese soldiers there now than Nigerian (100 Togolese, 80 Nigerian). I set to find out why this was the case.

One must go back and recognize the post-colonial legacy of the French and other European powers. For one, looking at the list of countries involved in the UN mandated intervention led by ECOWAS five are former French colonies (Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea, Niger, Senegal), one is a former Portuguese colony, and Ghana, Nigeria, and Gambia were former British colonies. This doesn’t seem to articulate a reason either, why the African countries would join so readily in this fight if they opposed the war in Libya, another intervention led by “Western” powers. An article posted recently in Global Voices gives part of the answer. The article describes that “the French military intervention in Mali…diverts, however, from the non-interventionist line professed by French President Hollande in Africa.” This is interesting because this war diverts from what the French did this year, stopping from being the ““policeman of Africa” by refusing to intervene again in the Central African Republic where François Bozizé…faced a rebellion uprising.” The article goes on to note that such an event was significant because “the French have now intervened more than 50 times in Africa since 1960. They fought in Chad, in the war with Libya, protected regimes in  Djibouti and the Central African Republic from rebels, prevented a coup in the Comoros and intervened in Côte d'Ivoire…to preserve economic interests, protect French nationals or showcase the still imposing power of France.” From this it seems simple why France would intervene in Mali: to defend its economic interests and continue to impose de facto imperialism on its former colonies in West Africa. However, this still doesn’t explain why a country like Nigeria or ECOWAS would ever get involved. I dug even further.

Nigeria seemed to have a mixed economy with numerous products, but the petroleum sector is partially important to such a system. The country is part of partially weakened, OPEC, and according to the CIA World Factbook the economy has an “overdependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 95% of foreign exchange earnings and about 80% of budgetary revenues.” Even so, Mali is not a major trading partner, instead countries like the United States, India, Brazil, Spain, France and the Netherlands are. Still, I had a hope. I looked at the small arms weapons used and found that companies in Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, US, Philippines, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea, Israel, and UK. This was no use. From here I looked at the Wikileaks cables and found an interesting cable in 2010 saying that “the U.S. and Nigeria are very best friends” and that “Nigeria remains a partner to the U.S. in the international fight against terrorism.” From this, I concluded that Nigeria could be intervening to help the US fight the global war on terror, but I then realized that often this is a guise for other reasons. I decided to look even further. I think it’s more than that. The libertarian website, noted that “Nigeria…has its own problems with Islamic militants wielding unwelcome influence in its northern region. The jihadist organization Boko Haram…has been engaging in violence in northern Nigeria for years.” There was one last Wikileaks cable which noted that “Nigeria is the most important country in Africa for the United States” and that “It is possible that Nigeria could be a future Pakistan…In 25 years, there could be…radicalism in the North…oil wells [could]…be dry as well…Members of the business community and individuals that were committed to making oil meaningful to Nigeria's future would be asked to participate” in a World Bank-organized forum. Furthermore, according to the blog Reasoning Platform, “Nigeria is of course one of such countries that would be affected by the crisis…[and] Nigeria’s vulnerability to such security implications is particularly clear if the whole crisis is viewed against the background of other crises of similar nature in, say, Afghanistan/Pakistan.” This was made clear by an article in Vanguard which noted that parts of Nigeria were being ‘lost’ with one former commander claiming that if nothing was done “Nigeria risks losing 19 States to [the Islamic extremist group] Boko Haram.”  All that I could conclude was that Nigeria was involved maybe because it wants the undiscovered oil deposits in Mali and definitely wants to maintain law and order to stave off a possible working class rebellion and the growth of Islamic extremism in their own country.

What about the other countries that are participating in the ECOWAS effort? Why would they participate? Before one tackles this question, one must recognize what was said in a recent CounterPunch article: ““Terrorism” in Africa is fueled by local conditions, not by an international jihadist agenda. Boko Harum in Nigeria reflects the tension between the poverty of the country’s largely Islamic north and its more prosperous Christian south. Similar fault lines run through Niger, Ivory Coast and Cameroon…Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is being directed at fighting terrorism on the continent, and the US military is training the armed forces of dozens of African nations.” Why would a country like Togo participate? Recognize for one that in 2005 election that got the President of Togo into power was declared to be fraudulent by the Carter Center and the EU, resulting in demonstrations where 400 people were killed and 400,000 refugees fled to nearby countries. The African Union even called this takeover of power a “coup d’état.” Still, the United States stood by Togo and there is even a picture from 2009 of President Obama and Michelle Obama standing next to him! Between 2001 and 2010, the country received over $4.5 million dollars in U.S. economic assistance and $235,000 in military aid, with a funding request for 2012 for $140,000 in such aid. One must consider that Togo is a great economic partner with the United States.  Still, this doesn’t explain why Togo would join in this war except that some of their main export partners are Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Germany, and Ghana, all which are participating in this war. As a result, I looked at who is heading ECOWAS because this might explain the reasoning.

One must look at who heads ECOWAS now. I wonder who it is. It’s Ouatarra! I found that the French helped get into power Alassane Ouattara in 2011, an opponent of Laurent Gbagbo, after the Ivory Coast’s constitutional court declared that Gbagbo won the election while international election monitors declared that Ouattara won. One BBC article notes that the “bombardments by French and United Nations forces played an essential role in destroying the heavy weapons that had enabled Mr Gbagbo to resist for so long.” It also noted that Oauttara became the deputy managing director of the capitalistic international oppressive group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which allowed “Mr Gbagbo [to paint him] as a protégé of Paris and Washington” who also “presented himself as the man who has stood up to interference by Paris, the African who plays by African rules and not those of the Western outsider.” The fact that France was a former colonial power didn’t help things at all which is the reason supporters of Gbagbo attacked French civilians in the country for years. At the same time, this doesn’t explain why “the French troops…provided the heavy muscle in support of the UN mission in Ivory Coast” and just bolstered Gbagbo’s claim that it was “a neo-colonial presence.” Matt Swagler of the Socialist Worker noted in an analysis that “behind the grand rhetoric about "democracy" lurks Western corporations' financial interests. Ivory Coast has the largest economy among the former French colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, and produces more cocoa than any other country on the globe…French corporations and French citizens settled in Ivory Coast have long enjoyed lucrative trade and resource exploitation concessions, and have virtual control over industrial and public works contracts. In the past decade, U.S. corporate investments have also climbed, and the prospects for increased profiteering remain high as oil extraction expands off the country's coast…Despite his "anti-imperial" claims today, Gbagbo has been quite accommodating to French capitalism…Gbagbo granted a record number of favorable contracts to the French in electricity production, water, oil and gas exploitation, and public works projects…if the American and French capitalists have benefited from Gbagbo's presidency, why are both countries supporting Ouattara?...The current position of France the USA has…to do with…us[ing]…"democracy" to promote the person that they think is the most capable of realizing favorable conditions for pillage. The problem with Gbagbo is that he has been unable to resolve internal contradictions, to bring the order necessary for the pursuit of the peaceful plundering of the country. France is eager to maintain its dominant role in the Ivorian economy, and the U.S. is equally keen to gain more of a foothold.” This was backed up by what Megan Cornish wrote on Global Research Center. She wrote about major profiteers in Africa, saying that “when Gbagbo dramatically increased trade with China, France switched sides. In the long-delayed 2010 elections, each side claimed it won by just over 50 percent. Both camps attacked journalists and murdered supporters of the other. France’s “humanitarian” role was to bomb and depose Gbagbo and install Ouattara. French businessmen and President Sarkozy attended Ouattara’s inauguration, and 1,600 French troops will remain in the country permanently. One of Ouattara’s first acts was to jail without charges and torture Basile Mahan Gahé, the general secretary of the trade union center Dignité.” This history is why it is troubling that he is the Chairman of ECOWAS and even though the Ivory Coast is not contributing soldiers to this effort, it seems evident that he could have convinced fellow members of ECOWAS to “help end the crisis” and “go beyond our current deployment numbers,” a.k.a. join in the war. In short he has been one of the biggest proponents for “broader commitment” of European and American powers in the Mali war, which would lead to more imperialism and is the one who said if France had not intervened, Mali would have ceased to exist.

If this wasn’t enough, consider what the President of ECOWAS said. As the former Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo noted that that the coup was a “threat to the entire region.” This could be why Burkina Faso is involved in this war. Also one must consider the current President of the country introduced Gaddafi to the Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor and that in March 2012, “members of the military leadership [were] in…neighbouring Burkina Faso for talks with President Blaise Compaore, who [was]…mediating…the crisis.” Also, it seems that its main importers are the Ivory Coast, France, Ghana, Togo, and Belgium all are involved in the Mali war (with exception of the Ivory Coast) according to the CIA World Factbook. The Factbook also notes that “the Prime Minister has made efforts to defuse some of the economic cause of public discontent... [and] an IMF mission to Burkina Faso in October 2011 expressed general satisfaction with the measures.” One must look into the Wikileaks cables as well, one which notes that “the standard of living across Burkina Faso is still very low” and noted a struggle between unions and the government over an unfair tax. Another said that in the past “Burkina Faso had supported a policy of dialogue and engagement with Iran on nuclear issues” but recently decided to “adjust course” which could mean to support sanctions on Iran. This could by why Burkina Faso got $2.1 million in aid in 2010, and in 2012: 600,000 earmarked for “global health,” 400,000 for “basic education,” 600,000 million for stopping malaria, almost $1.3 million for the “food for peace” program. This means in 2012, the country received a total amount of $2.9 million for being on the U.S.’s good side. In addition, one cable from 2010 noted that  “his traditional New Year's address, President Blaise Compaore focused on economics, including sustainable and balanced development, economic growth, the fight against corruption, and infrastructure development…He went on to say that throughout the past year, economic crises and meteorological changes impacted Burkina Faso negatively by affecting export revenues and decreasing investment opportunities. Despite the global economic downturn, Burkina Faso made notable economic progress in 2009 and has nurtured hope in the development of a mining industry… Social peace in Burkina Faso is dependent on peace in Africa suggested Compaore, and Africa will be incapable of focusing on the numerous obstacles to development without that peace.” If this is true and the President of the country wants to stop obstacles to peace then it would make sense that the country would help in the Mali war as the rebel Tuaregs including the Islamists are seen as such an obstacle. In a meeting with the US Ambassador in 2010, the ambassador “expressed the willingness of the USG to help Burkina Faso implement the Ouagadougou Accord and foster a peaceful, democratic transition - notably through assistance in restructuring the Guinean military… Carson reiterated USG commitment to helping reform the Guinean military and supported Burkina Faso's intent to send a high-level official to deal with this challenge. Carson also floated the idea of an ECOWAS or other regional observer force, consisting of 30-40 civilian and military officials.” For some background the Ouagadougou Accord according to a UN Press Release, “seeks to resolve the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire by merging the Force nouvelles and the national defence and security forces through the establishment of an integrated command centre…deploying mixed Forces nouvelles and national police units to maintain law and order in the area…re-establishing State administration throughout the country…dismantling the militias; disarming combatants and enrolling them in a civic service programme; granting amnesty for all national security-related crimes committed between September 2000 and the date of signing of the agreement; simplifying and accelerating the identification of the population and the registration of voters; and organizing a free, fair, open and transparent presidential election.” A translated version of a Wikipedia page notes that “this agreement covers the electoral process, disarmament and reunification…[and] as a result of this agreement, President Gbagbo appointed Soro as Prime Minister on 29 March and signed a measure of amnesty April 12.” The involvement in this agreement and the fact that the President of Burkina Faso was involved in mediating the crisis at first and the fact that a former Burkina Faso Prime Minister is criticizing the Mali coup could be a good indicator of why the country is involved in the Mali war.

What about the other countries? Burundi and Cape Verde still seem to puzzle me. The President of Burundi now was the former member of a major rebel group active during the country’s civil war and during the elections in 2010, “Agathon Rwasa, the most prominent among the opposition candidates who withdrew…head[ed]…the Hutu National Liberation Forces (FNL)…accused government security forces of trying to hunt him down.” The country is part of the East African Community which has a common market and idea of a single currency which could be competing with other such markets in West Africa. Cape Verde was the toughest one. It seems that since they don’t have many natural resources they might want the ones that are in Mali. For Benin, their economy was also “restructured” (privatized “telecommunications, water, electricity, and agriculture”) by the “Paris Club and bilateral creditors” which was organized by the G-8, which means they can be easily manipulated. Also, Niger and Nigeria, both involved in the war are main export partners. On another note, in 2010, Benin received $3.65 million of U.S. economic aid, including a total of $7 million between 2010 and 2012 from USAID. Overall, in that time period (2010 to 2012), the country received $10 million in aid.  One must also note that the country was a former French colony and could be manipulated by France to go to war. As I noted earlier, the same could be said about Guinea, Niger, and Senegal which were all former French colonies. The President in addition to this was a the chairman of the West African Development Bank which among other things, promotes private sector activity, which is what this war will do once the rebels are contained. He was even appointed the National Order of Merit which is for distinguished civil and military achievements. Basically this man is a good friend of France so it would make sense why the country would help France out in the Mali war. If this isn’t enough, the Prime Minister was a former IMF official who also worked in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Ouattara and worked at the central bank of the region (Central Bank of West African States) which is part of monetary union that encourages open markets, in addition to the rationalization and harmonization of the legal environment, a common market and harmonious fiscal policies. This bank also pushes trade liberalization with the help of ECOWAS. I think I’m putting it all together now. Oauttara is put in power because of French help, who want a better business climate), then becomes head of ECOWAS which is working with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to liberalize trade and make the CFA Franc guaranteed by the French treasury (good for France because CFA Francs are translated to Euros, then to Francs since one Euro equals almost 656 Francs!). The members of UEMOA include Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Senegal, Togo and yes Mali. All of these countries except for Ivory Coast are committing troops and since they are so indebted to France thanks to this economic union, the struggle in Mali disrupts the workings of their open market plan especially if the Northern part of Mali becomes its own country. As for the other countries such as Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, they are part of another economic union called the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) which is part of ECOWAS and plans to introduce a common currency, the Eco by 2015 to rival the CFA franc. Here’s where it gets interesting, just like the CFA franc, this currency is guaranteed by you guessed, the French Treasury! So, France could basically threaten them directly. Also, one most note that the eventual goal is to end the competition between these two currencies and merge the CFA franc and Eco into one currency all guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the French government.

After a long investigation that lasted days and nights, I have found the reason why African countries are participating in this war. For one, the legacy of French colonialism in West Africa, the Nigerians to maintain law and order in their country, the Burundians want to compete with the other economic unions in West Africa, Cape Verde possibly wants some natural resources as it doesn’t have many. The rest of the West African countries are parts of economic unions (WAMZ and UEMOA) and their current (or future) currencies are backed by the French treasury so they are tied into this war. UEMOA specifically is involved because this war disrupts their economic union since Mali is part of it. In conclusion, I’ve found that for the most part (except for Cape Verde), the African countries involved in this war in it want to preserve their French-backed economic unions which are under the umbrella pro-capitalist ruler Oattarra’s ECOWAS. 

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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