Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Former Colonial Masters Return to Mali

French colonialist ground troops in Mali...2013!
Once home to one of the mightiest independent empires in West Africa, the land of Mali fell under French colonial control in the late 19th century. Mali shook off colonial rule in 1959, and experienced decades of regime change and turmoil like many other newly independent African states, struggling to find footing in the cold-war world. While much of the country lies in the southern edge of the vast Sahara, the country has rich agricultural zones and vast mineral wealth. Its modern history is a textbook example of modern neocolonial exploitation: one of the states kept on the edge of poverty by the corruption and manipulations of former colonial masters and neocolonial world powers craving resources and influence.

Last year a coup in Mali resulted in the opportunistic seizure of power in the northern half of the country by Tuareg independence fighters who briefly established the State of Azawad. But before long the Tuareg separatists were displaced by "Jihadist militias" who established a conservative Islamist rule. Allegedly tied to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, these militias soon showed signs of extreme fundamentalism: harsh Islamic law and the destruction of ancient cultural relics deemed to be alien to their brand of Islam.

Tuareg independence fighters
The newly-elected avowedly socialist regime of France, the former colonial power, announced it would not tolerate a "terrorist" state in Mali, and has now sent ground troops and bombers to attempt to reunify the country under the rule of the former central government. Already there are reports of civilian casualties, and already the French military strategy is being questioned as the Islamist militias have continued to make territorial advances. It's important to remember what kind of "socialists" are running France: a party with a rapist in its leadership, a party deeply committed to preserving neocolonial dominance over former French colonies, a party that profits from the imperialist exploitation of Africa and its resources, a party that exists at the expense of millions of people in the global south, kept poor so that the citizens of France can live in entitled relative luxury.

Although the United States is supposedly not 100% comfortable with the French strategy, American and British imperialism have rushed to back France, offering logistical and technical support, presumably like the logistical and technical support offered during the NATO terror-bombing campaign of Libya. It's clear much of the situation in Mali is massive blowback from Libya's NATO-hijacked revolution. While supporters of French military intervention rail against "barbarian fanatics" in northern Mali, the real barbarian fanatics are the French colonialists themselves, with a century of bloody colonial exploitation under their belt they're apparently back for more.

While it's clear the militia regime in northern Mali is anything but progressive, it should also be clear to anyone who considers themselves a revolutionary who the real enemy in this situation is, and that enemy is above all the meddling force of imperialism. There can be no support offered to French, British or US intervention: any leftist who supports such a thing should hang their head in shame. Leftists who support this intervention are once again expressing their utter lack of faith in the ability of people to organize themselves to win a better world, and revealing in their touching faith in imperialism to be somehow socially progressive an allegiance to a racism-tinged privilege that corrupts their professed socialism just as much as the rapism of the French Socialist Party of DSK. A socialist who does not have a visceral horror at the thought of modern war machines (in this case French jets) filling the skies over an African nation has redefined the notion of socialism to be something unrecognizable to those of us who think socialism is a step toward human self-emancipation.

As in many conflicts in Africa, there are complications to this situation: Mali is an ethnically diverse state with odd, arbitrary borders. But these conflicts are legacies of colonialism and neocolonialism, and the answer to these problems is to return to the ideals of African revolutionaries who dreamed of a rich continent standing free, organized collectively for the benefit of its population. Some of the Tuareg independence fighters of northern Mali have now conditionally offered to back French intervention (despite the apparent disinterest of France in an independent Tuareg state), which strikes me as a singularly terrible development for the just cause of Tuareg self-determination.

Displacing the Islamic fundamentalist militias is within the power of the Malian peoples themselves, for whom, it should be noted, such an intolerant vision of Islam is culturally alien. It is not an accident that Africa is recently or currently the scene of something like a dozen brush fires involving American and European armies. These armies are small right now, but this war in Mali is another dangerous step in the imperialist quest for mastery of that continent's resources. Opposing the intervention of French imperialism, and preventing the further involvement of U.S. imperialism, should be the natural and immediate response of those of us on these shores who believe another world is possible.

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