Missing from the Drone Debate: Americans Aren’t the Only Ones Worthy of Human Rights

Rania Khalek

As the debate over drone strikes and targeted killings finally breaks into the mainstream, there remains a key aspect of the kill program that has been virtually ignored even by its most ardent detractors.

I’ve noticed that many of the people outraged over the kill program focusing solely about its potential impact on American citizens, which implies that it’s perfectly acceptable to subject non-Americans to due-process free execution. But what about the non-citizens at the other end of our drones and signature strikes? Don’t they deserve basic rights, too?

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And let’s get real, we’re not talking about Canadians or Europeans, but ”Yemeni parents, Pakistani uncles and aunts, Afghan grandparents and cousins, Somali brothers and sisters, Filipino cousins”, as Falguni Sheth puts it. In other words, we’re routinely killing brown “others” whose lives have little value in the eyes of the American public. Otherwise there would have been an outcry following the a December 17, 2009, US strike in Yemen that wiped out entire families:

Among those killed that day were 22 children. The youngest, Khadje Ali Mokbel Louqye, was just one year old. A dozen women also died, five of them reportedly pregnant.

Yet these numbers mask the many individual families annihilated in the attack. Mohammed Nasser Awad Jaljala, 60, his 30-year-old wife Nousa, their son Nasser, 6, and daughters Arwa, 4, and Fatima, aged 2, were all killed.

Then there was 35-year old Ali Mohammed Nasser Jaljala, his wife Qubla (25), and their four daughters Afrah (9), Zayda (7), Hoda (5) and Sheikha (4) who all died.

Ahmed Mohammed Nasser Jaljala, 30, was killed alongside his 21-year old wife Qubla and 50-year old mother Mouhsena. Their daughter Fatima, aged 13, was the only survivor of the family, badly injured and needing extensive medical treatment abroad.

The Anbour clan suffered similarly catastrophic losses. Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye died with his wife, son and three daughters. His brother Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye’s seven-strong family were also wiped out.

Sheik Saleh Ben Fareed, a tribal leader, went to the area shortly after the attack and described the carnage to Al Jazeera reporter Scahill: ‘If somebody has a weak heart, I think they will collapse. You see goats and sheep all over. You see heads of those who were killed here and there. You see children. And you cannot tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings. Very sad, very sad.’

Our government has been terrorizing these communities for quite some time and aside from a handful of journalists and human rights organizations, barely anyone cared. But as soon as Americans became a target, things changed. And that’s not just speculation (emphasis mine):

A majority of Americans [59 percent] support using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects overseas, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But support drops [to 43 percent] when those suspects are American citizens.

Meanwhile, people laughed yesterday when Rand Paul expressed concerns that Americans could be targeted while “eating dinner” at home or “at a cafe.” But this isn’t a difficult scenario to imagine considering the routine targeting of funerals, weddings and even rescuers who come to the aid of victims in the aftermath of a (the infamous “double-tap“). As the Huffington Post points out:

Newspaper reports have identified signature strikes as the predominant type of drone attack. And because this type of strike targets behavior, such as clustering in groups, rather than individuals, they are prone to kill civilians.

A study last year by human rights researchers at Columbia University found that signature strikes make reliable tallies of the drone civilian death toll impossible to count. Even without deaths, the report added, the practice results in “constant fear” among citizens in Pakistan and Yemen, since they can never reliably know if their “behavior will get him killed by a drone.”

Children have been traumatized by this experience, researchers have reported — both by witnessing drone strikes and by living where they are common and seemingly random occurrences.

Administration officials, Brennan chief among them, have denied that drone strikesresult in civilian deaths, in part by relying on a metric that considers every military-age male to be a combatant unless definitively proven otherwise.

“Our children’s blood is not cheaper than American blood and the pain of losing them is just as devastating. Our children matter too,” writes Yemeni blogger Noon Arabia. Indeed, Americans aren’t the only ones who deserve basic human rights.

To those who object, perhaps you should look at the following pictures taken by Pakistani photojournalist Noor Behram to awaken your conscious:

UPDATE: The White House does not have the authority to target Americans with drone strikes on US soil, said US Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to Senator Rand Paul. The letter was short and blunt:

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

Again, if it’s not okay on US soil, why is it acceptable anywhere else? Keep in mind that we never declared war on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or the Philippines, all of which have been targeted with drone strikes. If this isn’t a double standard, I don’t know what is.

Imperialist Troops Out of Mali Now!

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Workers Vanguard

In a stark assertion of French imperialism’s domination over its former colonies in West Africa, Socialist Party president François Hollande has launched a bombing campaign and intervention by some 2,000 ground troops in Mali. Billed as part of the global “war on terror,” the military assault was intended to force a retreat by Islamic fundamentalist forces that, having seized the northern half of the country, were threatening to march on the capital, Bamako. Hollande bluntly ordered: “Destroy them. Take them captive, if possible” (London Guardian, 15 January). His defense minister candidly declared that the aim of the Mali mission is “total reconquest.”

However, as battles continue to rage in and around key towns that had been seized by the fundamentalists, Hollande’s critics within the French ruling class are beginning to fret about sinking in a quagmire if left to go it alone. Meanwhile, the seizure of scores of hostages at a natural gas field in Algeria by Islamists declaring their solidarity with the Malian rebels—and the considerable loss of life when Algerian security retook the installation—may offer a sampling of future fallout from the imperialist occupation of Mali. After initially expressing concern over the intervention in Mali, the Algerian regime saluted the effort, crucially allowing the French military overflight rights.

While rulers of the major capitalist powers rushed to express their solidarity with the French operation in Mali, they are also reticent about contributing forces and money. The UN Security Council voted unanimously last month to approve an African “peacekeeping” mission of some 3,300 troops, and some countries of the Economic Community of West African States already have hundreds of troops on site. But the imperialists have little expectation that these forces will be an effective gendarmerie. Meanwhile Washington, after initially distancing itself from the French operation, has dispatched about 100 “trainers” to African countries that are providing troops. Last week, European Union foreign ministers agreed to send 450 “non-combat” troops to Mali, supposedly to train its armed forces.

The Obama administration, still smarting from having its Libyan ambassador killed by Islamist forces that had been armed and financed by the U.S. and its allies in the drive to topple Muammar el-Qaddafi, has ruled out sending its warplanes to Mali. The White House has also turned a deaf ear to requests that it provide air tankers to help refuel French jets, which France views as vital to its imperialist marauding given the vast distances it has to cover in crossing over North Africa. However, Washington has offered to provide limited logistical support to the French operation, as have Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Canada and Russia.

Immediately following the announcement of the French imperialist expedition, our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France issued a leaflet demanding French troops out of Mali and all of Africa and calling for defense of the insurgents against the imperialist intervention. The leaflet notes that among France’s multiple security interests in the region are the uranium mines in northern Niger, which have been operated for decades by the French Areva nuclear power conglomerate and its predecessors.

The American bourgeoisie has its own imperialist interests in Africa. A Congressional report last summer titled Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa emphasized “the increasing importance of Africa’s natural resources, particularly energy resources” and expressed “mounting concern over violent extremist activities.” The report cited, in particular, oil production in Nigeria—Africa’s largest oil exporter and the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S.—and the potential for deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Guinea.

Washington has paid out tens of millions of dollars to beef up the military in Mali and neighboring countries in order to prevent jihadists from getting a foothold in the region. Under Barack Obama, the Horn of Africa port of Djibouti, where more than 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed at Camp Lemonnier, has become the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone. Since 2007, the U.S. military has also set up a dozen small air bases in Africa, from which Special Ops forces launch surveillance flights. The U.S. military presence in Africa has grown steadily under Obama, with an average of 5,000 troops spread across the continent at any one time and 30 ships patrolling the Indian Ocean. All U.S. bases and troops out of Africa!

As the LTF leaflet stresses, our military defense of the insurgents in Mali implies not the least political support to the reactionary Islamists, whose atrocities include floggings, amputations and the stoning to death last summer of a couple accused of having an extramarital affair. In an act reminiscent of the destruction by the Afghan Taliban of two ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, the fundamentalists in Mali took pick-axes to Timbuktu’s historic mausoleums and Sufi shrines, threatening as well its collection of rare archives. Much less prominently reported by the Western bourgeois press are the wholesale killings, disappearances and torture inflicted by the military regime in Bamako on its perceived opponents.

The armed rebellion in northern Mali was initially led by the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which has variously called for independence or autonomy for the Tuareg region of Mali. Distressed that the rebellion was gaining momentum, a group of officers seized power in a coup in Bamako last March, suspended the constitution and launched a campaign of terror against their political opponents. Within days, taking advantage of the chaos, the MNLA seized the whole of northern Mali in alliance with Islamic fundamentalist forces. The Islamists promptly turned on their MNLA allies and drove them from the population centers. Today, the marginalized MNLA warns of genocide if French air strikes allow the Malian army to “cross the demarcation line” separating northern Mali from the south. Nevertheless, the MNLA declares that it is “ready to help” the French intervention.

A particular target of the blood-soaked regime in Bamako has been the civilian Tuareg population. The Tuaregs, the dominant ethnic group in northern Mali, are a semi-nomadic people stretching across the Sahara who are ethnically distinct both from Arabs, who constitute the majority in the countries to the north of Mali, and the black Africans who inhabit southern Mali and control the national government and military. When the northern rebellion heated up a year ago, the military went on a killing spree, bombing the civilian population and arresting, torturing and killing Tuaregs for the “crime” of their ethnic origin. Not surprisingly, such atrocities spurred Tuaregs serving in the Malian army, including a number trained by U.S. Special Forces, to go over to the rebels.

Last February, mobs in Bamako attacked homes and businesses owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups there—including Arabs, many of whom also inhabit the north of the country—while security forces looked on. Last week, as the French military pushed north to confront Islamist forces in the town of Diabaly, Human Rights Watch reported that Malian soldiers in Niono, a town on the road to Diabaly, were again massacring Tuareg and Arab civilians.

The rebel offensive that broke out in northern Mali was an indirect consequence of the imperialists’ successful drive in 2011 to oust Qaddafi. Many Malian Tuaregs worked in Libya’s oil fields, as well as in Qaddafi’s armed forces, as a way to escape from conditions in northern Mali, which successive regimes have left bereft of schools, hospitals and paved roads—to say nothing of job opportunities. In the Sahel region south of the Sahara, almost a quarter of a million children die of malnutrition-related causes each year, according to Oxfam.

With the fall of Qaddafi—and the racist pogroms carried out by imperialist-supported rebels in Libya—those Malian Tuaregs returned home, bringing with them their military know-how and, in some cases, heavy weapons. Many of the arms for the northern Malian rebels have been funneled in by reactionary Islamists who were part of the imperialist-supported anti-Qaddafi forces.

The imperialist onslaught will no doubt deepen the already intense interethnic tensions in the region. These were highlighted in an article in the London Guardian (6 July 2012) by its West Africa correspondent, Afua Hirsch. Reporting from a Tuareg refugee camp in Burkina Faso, she wrote that the black NGO staff were refusing to work with the lighter-skinned Tuaregs because they “felt aggrieved by the reputation of the Tuaregs for enslaving black Africans.” She noted that this history “still plays itself out in the Tuareg caste system—where ‘Bella,’ dark-skinned members of the tribe who were once slaves, still occupy the lowest positions.” In return, many Malian Tuaregs claim that they have fled their country not only because of atrocities carried out by the army but because Bella militias “are also targeting anyone with light skin.”

That interethnic tensions and racial discrimination in the region remain so poisonous today is a legacy of French colonialism, which reinforced these and other reactionary aspects of the societies they conquered. After subduing the Tuareg region of what was then called French Sudan in the late 19th century, the colonialists set up a racially discriminatory system that pitted Tuaregs and black Africans against each other. Implementing a policy of divide and rule, the French government encouraged the Tuaregs’ traditional supremacy over black Africans. Though the French colonialists largely ended the slave trade in the first decades of colonial occupation, they helped to ensure that black slaves remained subject to their Tuareg masters long afterward. Their system of forced labor and compulsory military service was based on racial criteria, with an exemption for the Tuareg elite.

The French also played the Tuaregs off against black Africans—and Algerian nationalists—through their drawing of territorial boundaries. In the 1950s, after it was discovered that the Saharan region was rich in mineral resources, they floated the idea of creating a new French-controlled colony, dominated by Tuaregs and Arabs, and limiting the soon-to-be independent Mali to the overwhelmingly black south. France dropped that proposal, and independent Mali was formed as a powder keg of ethnic tensions between Tuaregs and black Africans, who led the first post-colonial government. Those tensions led directly to the first Tuareg rebellion in 1963 and its brutal repression by the Malian army.

There will be no end to the interethnic bloodshed and abject poverty of the region within the framework of capitalism. Just as the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 opened up the perspective of revolutionary change in the backward regions of Central Asia, the emancipation of the masses in the Sahel and other parts of Africa whose development has been so dreadfully retarded must be linked to the international struggle of the working class for socialist revolution. Proletarian revolution in South Africa, Egypt or other countries in Africa that have experienced significant industrial development would propel social transformation reaching into the most backward areas of the continent. Such a perspective must include the fight for socialist revolution in France and other imperialist centers, where Malian and other immigrant workers can provide a living link to the struggles of the dispossessed in Africa. What is necessary is the forging of Trotskyist vanguard parties committed to the fight for new October Revolutions.

The following is a translation of the LTF leaflet, which was issued on January 11.

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The head of French imperialism, François Hollande, announced tonight a military intervention of the French air force and special forces in Mali as part of a so-called “anti-terrorist” operation. For months now, French imperialism has been looking for a pretext to launch its killers into action in its neocolonial backyard. Today we are told that the reactionary Islamists who now control the north of Mali have supposedly launched an offensive against the rest of the country, and that the Malian army supposedly collapsed when faced with a hundred pickup trucks filled with Islamist forces, thus opening up the road to the south all the way to Bamako. We have no idea what is true or not about this story. Regardless, we denounce the French intervention. French military out of Mali and out of Africa!

For the past year, Mali had been torn by a reactionary civil war in which the international workers movement had no interest in supporting either the military regime in Bamako or the anti-woman Islamists of the north. Now, however, it is necessary to unequivocally defend the people who are being bombed in the north against the neocolonial French military, without giving the least political support to the benighted reactionaries. Defend the northern insurgents against the French intervention!

Today’s New York Times reports rumors that a French military helicopter was shot down by the northern troops. Any military setback for French imperialism in this operation would weaken it and would thus be a boost to class struggle in France against this capitalist-imperialist government, now led by the Socialist Party and the bourgeois Greens, with the support of the Communist Party (PCF). That is why the working class in France, with its strong component of Malian workers—thousands of whom live in the Paris region—has a vested interest in opposing French imperialism’s latest neocolonial military adventure. We can say this even more forcefully because we called on workers not to vote for Hollande as Commander-in-Chief, unlike the PCF and the New Anti-Capitalist Party. As for the [fake-Trotskyist] Lutte Ouvrière, they did not want to choose between abstaining and voting for Hollande.

The current disaster in Mali is the product of a long history of French colonial and neocolonial oppression. French imperialists plundered the country during decades of colonial occupation, marked by the systematic practice of forced labor (only officially abolished in 1946). They then arbitrarily drew the borders of an “independent” Malian state, which only had the bare trappings of sovereignty. The currency, the CFA franc, is directly managed by the Banque de France, which controls its exchange rate as well as deposits. The French imperialist military intervention takes place in what France considers its exclusive preserve. Its purpose is to maintain French imperialist domination in the entire region—and especially to protect the profits of the Areva company, which exploits enormous uranium deposits in neighboring Niger.

The situation in northern Mali today is a direct result of both the oppression of the Tuareg population by the central Malian state and the imperialist intervention in Libya in 2011, which François Hollande and [social democrat] Jean-Luc Mélenchon supported. Not only did this military intervention bring various rival Islamist militias to power in Libya, institutionalizing sharia against women, but it also enabled reactionary Islamist groups throughout the region to get arms. When it suits French interests, as in Libya and Syria, Paris promotes the Islamists. But elsewhere, as in Afghanistan and now Mali, they are massacred. This in itself shows the boundless cynicism of the Hollande government and its interior minister Valls when they brandish “Islamic terrorism”—a code word for launching racist police operations in France against a population considered suspect because they are Muslims, in particular workers of North African or West African origin and their families.

Algeria now rightly sees the French intervention directly on its borders as a threat, a first since it gained independence in 1962 after seven years of war. This casts a harsh light on Hollande’s “confession” speech [admitting that the French had committed atrocities during the Algerian War] when he traveled to Algeria just a few weeks ago. Meanwhile the war minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian of the Socialist Party, had just honored the memory of General Bigeard, the French general who came to symbolize torture during the Algerian War.

For the last 30 years, Mali has been used mainly as a pool providing ruthlessly exploited labor in France. Thousands of Malian workers in France today are undocumented, even after years of living and working here. Many youth of Malian origin participated in the 2005 revolt of the ghetto neighborhoods and in protests against murderous racist police terror in the town of Villiers-le-Bel. The labor movement must defend the ghetto youth, just as it must oppose the neocolonial adventures of French imperialism. The working class of this country must unite against the abuses carried out daily by the capitalists and their government, which are intent on rolling back workers’ gains. Ultimately, there is only one way to put an end to the bloody crimes of the brutal French military in the world: overthrowing the dictatorship of capital in this country through a workers revolution led by a Bolshevik party. French troops out of Mali and out of Africa! Down with French imperialism! Down with the Hollande-Duflot capitalist government!

NATO Out of Mali!

New Worker

Thousands of French troops are pouring into Mali to spearhead a new offensive against the Touareg rebels who control the north of country. Britain, America, Canada, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark have all pledged support for the French war and British and US transport planes are now ferrying French troops and supplies across the Mediterranean to the West African country.

Muslim Brotherhoods have held anti-French demonstrations in Egypt and Algeria; the Malian government has extended the state of emergency for another three months and Japan has closed its embassy in the capital and has urged all its citizens to leave because of the deteriorating security situation in the wartorn country.

The French claim their intervention has been fully endorsed by United Nations and the African Union. But the UN head has ruled out direct UN intervention and, so far, only token African forces have joined the French operation aimed at driving the rebels, whom the imperialists claim are all Al Qaeda supporters, out of the country.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ruled out any direct UN involvement in this new French war this week. “Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously,” Ban told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

And Russia’s special envoy for Africa, Mikhail Margelov, says that France’s military deployment does not correspond to what was previously agreed at the UN Security Council. While not challenging the legitimacy of the French move, the Russian government has ruled out any military support for it stressing that the Malians must be given unconditional support for fighting extremists under the aegis of the UN and the African Union.

French and Malian troops, backed by war planes and helicopter gunships, drove the rebels out of the towns of Diabaly and Douentza in central Mali this week and the rebel held towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the north have been repeatedly bombed.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Canada and Germany had offered vital aid for the attack on the towns. But that’s only the beginning. Le Drian says that “the goal is the total re-conquest of Mali” and many more imperialist troops are on their way to beef up the Malian military in their struggle to regain control of their northern territories.

Over 3,000 French troops are now in action in Mali, backed by around a 1,000 African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger and Chad. The French are hoping the African contingent will quickly rise to 6,000 to mask their presence in their former colony and give added international legitimacy to the offensive against the Touareg rebels.

In the Arab world Muslim brotherhoods are calling on their followers to support the Touareg Islamists who control two of the rebel militias that run northern Mali. In Algiers police blocked demonstrators from nearing the French embassy in a protest against the Nato intervention and their own government’s decision to allow French warplanes to cross Algeria to bomb Malian rebel positions.

In Cairo Muslim Brothers demonstrated outside the French embassy and called on their own Muslim Brotherhood- led government to break off relations with France.

While that’s not going to happen Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has become the first Arab and African leader to openly oppose the French operation. Speaking at the Arab summit on economic and social development in Saudi Arabia this week the Egyptian leader voiced his opposition to French intervention adding that “the situation must be dealt with wisely.”

“We are against the intervention in Mali because it will spread the conflict,” he said. More French reinforcements are on their way. And in France public concern is growing at the prospect of a protracted Afghan-style war in West Africa. When the social-democratic French president Francois Hollande launched “Operation Serval” on 11th January the proclaimed objective was to prop up the Malian government and defeat Islamic terrorist groups, which French imperialism claims are the dominant factor within the Touareg independence movement.

Now some doubt whether France can do it on its own and others believe that the real motive is simply French imperialism’s desire to get its greedy hands on Mali’s abandoned natural resources that include gold, uranium, gas, oil and diamonds.

“I have the impression that we have committed ourselves to reconquering the totality of an immense country. France will not be able to accomplish this task alone,” said former Gaullist leader Alain Juppé, while Left Party leader Jean- Luc Mélenchon condemned Hollande for ordering the operation without consulting parliament or his government earlier.

“There are many dark points in this matter,” Mélenchon said while a prominent member of the Greens said the operation was simply a neo-colonial manoeuvre.

And despite a French news ban, atrocity stories are coming in, including claims that Touaregs, Arabs and Fulanis are being persecuted in government- controlled areas because their tribal leaders have largely supported the revolt, as well as reports of arrests, interrogations and the torture of civilians by French and Malian soldiers in the towns the French took this week.

Mali, Imperialism, and “Françafrique”

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Emile Schepers

About 3,000 French troops have now entered the war in Mali, at the request of Malian President Dioncounda Traoré. Television shows Malian citizens cheering them as, alongside the Malian army, they head to battle against Islamist rebels who have taken over the entire Northeast of the country and had seemed ready to conquer the rest of it. Yet doubts are expressed by some, given France’s recent historical role in West Africa.

After the Second World War, Europe’s two major remaining colonial powers, France and the United Kingdom, found that they could no longer rule their African colonies as before. Yet for reasons mostly economic but also geopolitical and nationalistic, they were not willing to give them up entirely, and sought mechanisms to maintain control. This replacement for colonial rule came in the form of what Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, called “neocolonialism”. By this Nkrumah meant maintaining effective control by means of outside-directed economic, political, diplomatic and, sometimes, military means.

For France, neocolonialism came in the form of what today is called “Françafrique“.

France recognized the nominal independence of African colonies in exchange for which local ruling elites remained subordinate to French interests. French companies got favorable trade and development deals, and the currencies of the former colonies were to be the West African and Central African CFA Francs, with France playing a major role in monetary policy. The French military was allowed access to bases in the African countries, initially to ward off “communist” challenges.

Françafrique involves institutional structures in both France and Africa, and is tightly tied to the French president’s office and to French undercover services. Various crimes, including corruption and murder, have been carried out under its aegis. It has often worked in tandem with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and also British and other European intelligence services.

Almost all the French colonies in Africa were at one time or another forced to accept arrangement. There were exceptions. The president of Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Touré, refused to enter into agreements limiting his country’s national sovereignty. In reprisal, departing French colonial employees destroyed as much infrastructure and equipment as they could. In Togo, the first president, Sylvanus Olympio, decided to ally himself with the United States instead of France. His reward, in 1963, was a bullet. The shooter was a Togolese sergeant in the French army, Etienne Eyadéma, whose stated gripe was that Olympio was trying to keep the Togolese army small so as to save money, thus denying jobs to soldiers like himself. To nobody’s surprise, Eyadéma became president, a faithful servant of French neocolonial interests for 38 years.

This was the pattern that followed for decades. African rulers who were faithful to Françafrique, such as President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote-D’Ivoire, stayed in power while those who objected were overthrown. Eventually, this “Françafrique” system came to include other francophone countries in Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that had never been French colonies, and even the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea.

“Françafrique” brought France some very unsavory friends, many of whom had been soldiers either in the French colonial army or in the French army proper, and who shot their way into power with French connivance. One example of many was Hissene Habré, the dictator of Chad, now awaiting trial for crimes against humanity that cost thousands of innocent lives.

Françafrique ended the life of one of the most outstanding left-wing leaders of post-colonial Africa. Thomas Sankara became president of Upper Volta in 1983 and changed its name to Burkina Faso. He set out on a socialist program that included land reform and other policies beneficial to the working class and poor farmers. In 1987 Sankara was killed in a French-backed military coup headed by Blaise Compoaré, another ex soldier of the colonial forces, who is today the president.

The result of all this French “help” for its former African colonies has been that many are among the poorest countries in the world, with abysmal standards of education and health. Yet Mali and its neighbors have fabulous subsoil wealth.

The end of Françafrique has been a major demand of the communist left in France, and also of the African left. In last year’s French presidential elections, the victorious Socialist Party candidate and now president, Francois Hollande promised to accomplish this. But the rise of China in African economic affairs, competing with France for resources and markets, has given Françafrique another reason to exist. A pretext is “the war against terrorism”.

The overthrow of Gadaffi of Libya last year can be seen as partly a Françafrique operation. Gadaffi’s Libya, with its vast supplies of oil, natural gas and subterranean water, and especially with its ability to out-invest and out-purchase French interests in trade and financial matters, was a very big threat. The president of France at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, was gung ho to use violence against Gadaffi. The other NATO powers joined in, including especially the United States whose pressure in the United Nations got the disastrous “humanitarian intervention” in Libya underway.

On Sunday, the French defense minister, Jean Yves le Drian, had a little slip of the tongue: He swore that France’s goal is nothing less than the “reconquest” of the whole of Mali.

Perhaps he meant “liberation,” n’est ce pas?

Imperialist Hands off Mali!

Workers World

A full analysis of France’s imperialist invasion of Mali requires a look at the relations among the different peoples of this West African country and the history of their struggles. It also involves the contradictions among the imperialist powers for hegemony in Africa and the world.

But sometimes you can see clearest by looking from a distance.

Step back far enough to see the Berlin Conference on Africa of 1884. Then 14 European states met to organize the seizure of Africa’s wealth while reducing the fighting among themselves. Most of Africa went to the biggest colonialists — France and Britain — and the rest to Portugal, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

French colonialism wound up exploiting 1.8 million square miles of territory in West Africa alone, including Mali and Algeria, or about nine times the area of European France. Starting in the 1950s, most of these countries either fought to win independence or gained at least nominal independence from France. Many wound up in the French West African trading bloc and used a currency tied first to the French franc and then to the euro.

Now the former colonialists want to revert back to direct rule.

The current intervention is French imperialism’s attempt to directly control Mali and its abundant natural resources, rather than depend on an unstable Malian government. At stake are deposits of gold, various ores, oil, gas and, most essential for France’s power needs, uranium.

U.S. imperialism now plays a major role in Africa, as in the rest of the world, due to the Pentagon’s overwhelming destructive power. It and Britain, Germany and other NATO imperialist states, despite their competition, have joined to try to reconquer the former colonial world now that there is no longer a Soviet Union to counter them.

French President François Hollande’s claim that the intervention is to help the Malian people is a lie. This is the “humanitarian” pretext.

The imperialists’ claim that they are waging a war on al-Qaida is equally a lie. This is the “fear” pretext for intervention.

The truth is that the imperialists have manipulated and used the al-Qaida-type groups both to destroy independent states and as a pretext for war.

In the 1980s, Washington used Osama Bin Laden himself to destroy the progressive government in Afghanistan, covertly paying for every murder of women, teachers, and students. NATO used similar reactionary groups against Libya in 2011 and now against Syria.

The same groups, heavily armed from their fight against Moammar Gadhafi, moved into Mali. Switching gears, the imperialists cynically expose these groups’ backward positions on all social issues to demonize anyone fighting imperialist intervention and to justify the French intervention.

It is also the U.S.-backed French invasion of Mali that is responsible for causing the tragic deaths of dozens of workers in Algeria this week. Without the invasion these workers would have been left alone. These deaths, too, are another imperialist crime.

Every workers’ organization, every progressive should oppose the French offensive. It is past time to take this struggle into the streets. French, U.S. and all imperialist hands off Mali!

France Imposes Media Blackout on Mali War

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France has reportedly imposed a media blackout on its invasion of Mali amid a growing war that rages on in the West African nation.

On January 11, France launched the war under the pretext of halting the advance of fighters in Mali. However, as Paris has stepped up its ground offensive and aerial strikes in Mali few images of the conflict have come out of the African country.

 French networks TF1 and France Televisions have also sent several teams to Bamako, but a media blackout on images of the clashes has confined all journalists to the city.

This comes as French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said the number of French troops on the ground in the West African country could top the initially-planned number of 2,500.

“Two thousand five hundred is what was initially announced, maybe that will be exceeded,” Le Drian said in a Saturday television interview.

Also on Sunday, Le Drian announced that Paris’ goal in the African country “is the total reconquest of Mali,” adding, “We will not leave any pockets” of resistance.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was preparing for around 700,000 people to flee the violence in Mali.

The United States, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark have already said they would support the French war against Mali.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also pledged to support the French war by sending 5,800 soldiers to Mali.

Some analysts believe that Malian abandoned natural resources, including gold and uranium reserves, could be one of the reasons behind French war on the country.

France Launches War in Mali to Secure Resources

Roger Annis

France, the former slave power of west Africa, has poured into Mali with a vengeance in a military attack launched on January 11. French warplanes are bombing towns and cities across the vast swath of northern Mali, a territory measuring some one thousand kilometres from south to north and east to west. French soldiers in armoured columns have launched a ground offensive, beginning with towns in the south of the northern territory, some 300 kilometres north and east of the Malian capital of Bamako.

A French armoured convoy entered Mali several days ago from neighbouring Ivory Coast, another former French colony. French troops spearheaded the overthrow of that country’s government in 2011.

The invasion has received universal support from France’s imperialist allies. The United States, Canada and Europe are assisting financially and with military transport. To provide a fig leaf of African legitimacy, plans have been accelerated to introduce troops from eight regional countries to join the fighting (map here).

‘Islamist terrorists’ etc., etc.

The public relations version of the French et al invasion is a familiar refrain. “Islamic terrorists” and “jihadists” have taken control of northern Mali and are a threat to international security and to the wellbeing of the local population. Terrible atrocities against the local populace are alleged and given wide publicity by corporate media. Similar myths were peddled by the war makers when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over in 2012. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world’s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.

The uranium mines in neighbouring Niger and the uranium deposits in Mali are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Niger’s uranium mines are highly polluting and deeply resented by the population, including among the semi-nomadic Touareg people who reside in the mining regions. The French company Areva is presently constructing in Imouraren, Niger, what will become the second-largest uranium mine in the world.

Notwithstanding the fabulous wealth created by uranium mining, Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth. As one European researcher puts it, “Uranium mining in Niger sustains light in France and darkness in Niger.”

Mali (with a population of 15.5 million) is the third-largest gold producing country in Africa. Canada’s IAMGOLD operates two mines there (and a third in nearby Burkina Faso). Many other Canadian and foreign investors are present.

A key player in the unfolding war is Algeria. The government there is anxious to prove its loyalty to imperialism. Its lengthy border with northern Mali is a key zone for the “pacification” of northern Mali upon which France and its allies are embarked.

Further proof of the hypocrisy of the “democracy” that France claims to be fighting for in Mali is found in the nature of the Mali regime with which it is allied. Often presented in mainstream media as a “beacon of democracy” in west Africa, the Mali government was little more than a corrupt and pliant neocolonial regime before last year when the US-trained and equipped Mali army twice overthrew it – in March and again in December. The Mali army now scrambling to fight alongside its French big brother was condemned and boycotted by the US, Europe and Canada during a brief, sham interlude of concern following the first coup.

Today, the Mali government is a shell of a regime that rules at the behest of the Mali military, the latter’s foreign trainers, and the foreign mining companies that provide much of its revenue.

Touareg people

At the political heart of the conflict in Mali is the decades-long struggle of the Touareg people, a semi-nomadic people numbering some 1.2 million. Their language is part of the Berber language group. Their historic homeland includes much of Niger and northern Mali and smaller parts of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. They call themselvesKel Tamasheq (speakers of the Tamasheq language).

The Touareg have fought a succession of rebellions in the 20th century against the borders imposed by colonialism and then defended by post-independence, neocolonial regimes. They are one of many minority nationalities in west Africa fighting for national self-determination, including the Sahwari of Western Sahara, a region controlled by Morocco and whose Sahwari leadership, the Polisario Front, is widely recognised internationally.

The Tuareg were brutally subdued by colonial France at the outset of the 20th century. Following the independence of Mali and neighbouring countries in 1960, they continued to suffer discrimination. A first Touareg Rebellion took place in 1962-64.

A second, larger rebellion began in 1990 and won some autonomy from the Mali government that was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1997. A third rebellion in Mali and Niger in 2007 won further political and territorial concessions, but these were constantly reneged. A Libya-brokered peace deal ended fighting in 2009.

The Mali state and army constantly sought to retake what they had lost. Violence and even massacres against the Touareg population pushed matters to a head in 2011. The army was defeated by the military forces of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad and on April 6, 2012. The MNLA declared an independent Azawad, as they call northern Mali and surrounding region. The Touareg are one of several national groups within the disputed territory.

The independence declaration proved premature and unsustainable. The MNLA was soon pushed aside by Islamist-inspired armed groups that oppose Touareg self-determination and an independent state. The army, meanwhile, continued to harass and kill people. A group of 17 visiting Muslim clerics, for example, were massacred on September 22, 2012.

According to unconfirmed reports, the MNLA has renounced the goal of an independent Azawad. It entered into talks with the Mali regime in December for autonomy in the northern region. A January 13, 2013, statement on the group’s website acquiesces to the French intervention but says it should not allow troops of the Mali army to pass beyond the border demarcation line declared in April of last year.

Militarisation of Mali and west Africa

Mali is one of the poorest places on Earth but has been drawn into the whirlwind of post-September 2001 militarisation led by the United States. US armed forces have been training the Mali military for years. In 2005, the US established the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, comprising 11 “partner” African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.

The “partnership” conducts annual military exercises termed “Flintlock”. This year’s exercise is to take place in Niger and, according to the January 12 Globe and Mail, “Canada’s military involvement in Niger has already commenced.”

Canadian troops have participated in military exercises in west Africa since at least 2008. In 2009, Mali was named one of six “countries of focus” in Africa for Canadian aid. Beginning that year, Canadian aid to Mali leaped to where it is now one of the largest country recipients of Canada aid funds.

In 2008, Canada quietly launched a plan to establish at least six, new military bases abroad, including two in Africa. (It is not known exactly where the Africa part of the plan stands today.)

War atrocities

Only days into the French attack, evidence is mounting of significant civilian and military casualties. In the town of Douentza in central Mali, injured civilians can’t reach the local hospital, according to Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders). “Because of the bombardments and fighting, nobody is moving in the streets of Douentza and patients are not making it through to the hospital”, said a statement by the agency’s emergency response coordinator Rosa Crestani.

The International Red Cross is reporting scores of civilian and military casualties in the towns coming under French attack.

Amnesty International‘s West Africa researcher, Salvatore Saguès, was in the country in September and saw the recruitment of children into the Mali army. He is worried about retaliatory attacks by the army if it retakes control of the towns and cities it has lost, notably in the northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.

He also warned of the plans to bring neighbouring armies into northern Mali. “These armies, who are already committing serious violations in their countries, are most likely to do the same, or at least not behave in accordance to international law if they are in Mali”, he said.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the latest crisis has internally displaced nearly 230,000 Malians. An additional 144,500 Malians were already refugees in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards says half the population of the town of Konna, some 5000 people, sought as French bombs threatened to fall by fleeing across the River Niger.

In an ominous sign of more civilian casualties to come, and echoing the excuses for atrocities by invading armies against civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine in recent years, French military commanders are complaining of the difficulty in distinguishing fighters they are bombing from non-combatant populations. France’s army chief Edouard Guillaud told Reuters that France’s air strikes were being hampered because militants were using civilian populations as shields.

No to the war in Mali

The military attack in Mali was ordered by French President François Hollande, the winner of the 2012 election on behalf of the Socialist Party. His decision has been condemned by groups on the political left in France, including the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) and the Gauche anticapitaliste (Anti-Capitalist Left). The latter is a tendency within the Front de gauche (Left Front). The Left Front captured 11 per cent of the first-round presidential vote last year.

Shockingly, the Left Front leadership group has come out in favour of the intervention. Deputy François Asensi spoke on behalf of the party leadership in the National Assembly on January 16 and declared, “The positions of the deputies of the Left Front, Communists and republicans, is clear: To abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of fanatics would be a moral mistake… International military action was necessary in order to avoid the installation of a terrorist state.”

His statement went on to complain that President Hollande did not bother to seek the approval of the National Assembly.

A January 12 statement by the French Communist Party (PCF), a component of the Left Front, said, “The PCF shares the concern of Malians over the armed offensive of the Jihadist groups towards the south of their country… The party recalls here that the response to the request for assistance by the president of Mali should have been made in the framework of a United Nations and African Union sponsorship, under the flag of the UN…”

Unlike the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, which the PCF and Socialist Party supported at the time, France and its allies did not feel the need to obtain a rubber stamp of approval from the UN Security Council in Mali. But doing so would not have changed the predatory nature of this latest mission, just as it didn’t in Haiti.

A January 15 statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance explains: “The real reason for NATO’s involvement is to secure strategic, resource rich areas of Africa for the West. Canadian gold mining operations have significant holdings in Mali as do may other western nations…

“It is ironic that since the death of Osama Bin Laden, the US military boasts that Al-Qaeda is on the run and has no ability to wage its war. Meanwhile, any time there is a need for intervention, there is suddenly a new Al-Qaeda threat that comes out of the woodwork.

“Canada must not participate in this process of unending war.”

That’s a call to action which should be acted upon in the coming days and weeks as one of the poorest and most ecologically fragile regions of the world falls victim to deeper militarisation and plundering.

Roger Annis is an anti-war activist who lives in Vancouver, Canada.