Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Mali, France and the New Age of African Occupation.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The beleaguered Presidents of Mali and Central African Republic (CAR) in the last two months asked their former colonial power, France, to come to their aide in order to prevent or at least stop a hostile takeover of their respective countries by insurgent armies.  With the recent bombardment of Northern Mali by the French air force and the deployment of its troops to Bamako, one of them managed to get  the ear and action of French President Hollande. The reasons  that have been given by the French Ministry of Defense for acting on Mali were not similar to those that led to the rejection of the request made by the CAR, but it would not be remiss to  assume that for Captain Sonogo, the de facto leader of Mali,  his wish has been granted.

Even though in reality, the intentions of the assistance are not as noble as the Malian government expects.  In assisting Mali, the French government initially cited the threat posed by the northern militants to European and its own national security and that of French civilians resident in Bamako.  

Eventually the same country's ambassador to the United Nations was to also issue a statement citing the threat posed by what he referred to as Al Qaeda linked militants to the entirety of West African security. And this in order to also get ECOWAS to commit troops to help quell the escalating conflict. Either way, there is now great commitment by France to stop the takeover of  Mali by the separatist forces and it is likely ECOWAS member states will offer support, while the African Union will be guided in large part by the decisions of the latter.  

Because the decision by France on intervening in Mali would be the third such decision made in as many years by a former colonial/western state to intervene militarily in an African state, it is important that we do not lose track of newfound trends around liberal interventionism in Africa and how it is beginning to inform global superpowers policies toward the continent.   

In doing so, the initial point that must be made is that the recent and ongoing intervention by France in Mali (even with the approval of the beleaguered government) is a continuation of an undemocratic and selective liberal interventionist narrative that began particularly with the invasion of Libya.  It is now apparent that where the West feels it can intervene militarily in an African crisis and with a modicum of United Nations Security Council or host country’s government approval,  it will do so.

Secondly, the regional and continental bodies of the African Union are no longer as important players in the continental order of things particularly after UN Resolution 1973 that led to the bombardment of Libya.  And Africa, at least in the North,  has entered an age of occupation, particularly so because of Libya, now Mali and the precariousness of the CAR, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).   

This new occupation is a direct result of both the rush for African resources by the West and the naïve complicity of African leadership in not only accepting political economic models that are written in Western capitals but also perpetuating colonial era relationships with former and current empires (east or west).  In the same vein, our African leaders, upon assuming office have had the unfortunate tendency to misread the international political economy as well as the intentions of global superpowers toward the continent. Ditto  UN resolution 1973 on Libya which is now generally viewed as the progenitor of the crisis in the Sahel. 

There are however some exceptions to this as seen in the African Union mediation of the South Sudan/Sudan conflict but that too remains delicate. In Southern Africa, SADC has been firmer in how it deals with regional crisis and though progress has been slow, at least it has not culminated in western warships docking off the coasts of Mozambique, Angola or South Africa. 

This however does not mean such a state of affairs is not possible. Given the laxity in understanding global issues and Africa’s placement in them as demonstrated by our regional hegemon, South Africa, we may unfortunately eventually bear witness to such a development. 

It is within such a context that the primary lesson from the tragedy that is Mali for Africa is that the days of African unity based on  liberation struggles from colonialism are fast fading into an ambiguous history.   And this is a development that flies in the face of the sterling efforts to restructure the African Union by former South African and Nigerian Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo respectively.

And this history is now being overrun by a new-found impetus of neo-colonialism grounded in the Western conceived but very real and ongoing ‘war on terror’.  It is a war that not only connotes physical re-conquest and occupation of African territories such as northern Mali, but one that has as its pre-requisite, the reinvention of the African in the image of our Western others via the globalization of consumerism without production, neo-liberal ideological frameworks and the 'othering' of persons of Muslim persuasion.

As has happened in the Middle East, the French military intervention in Mali is likely to be viewed by some as an act of benevolence. Others still may blame the AU and ECOWAS for their ineptitude and inability to come to that country’s aide, conveniently forgetting how  Africa’s balkanisation and extractive placement  in the global economy has made the continent fertile ground for mimic leadership and continued exploitation by global superpowers and transnational corporations.   

The reality of the matter is that 'interventions' such as the one we see in Mali are now a direct result of the re-emergence of an attitude of entitlement to the African continent by Western powers such as France.  It is an attitude that was most ably demonstrated via the Nato intervention in Libya and  whose multiple offshoots include the current Malian conflict.  Admittedly, the course of history is generally determined more by those that possess physical/military power and not so much the moral authority to define it.  But in the case of the new phase of neo-colonial occupation that is visiting the African continent, unless African leaders and African societies shift from an ambivalent attitude to power for its enchantment and without historical and democratic liberatory values, the new occupation will become permanent. 

* Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (