What did I say a couple of weeks ago? That the French intervention in Mali was about more than shooting Islamist militants and indeed it is. When I was listening to the BBC World Service last night, my fears were confirmed when I heard that French special forces were now guarding uranium mines in Niger.
France is to deploy special forces to protect uranium mines belonging to French nuclear energy giant Areva in Niger, according to a report in a news magazine this week.
According to weekly Le Point, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has given the go-ahead for an elite team from France’s armed forces to reinforce local security at the company’s two sites in Niger, a former French colony.
The move comes amid a heightened security threat following a French-led offensive to drive Islamist separatists out of northern Mali, and the deadly hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, which militants said was in revenge for the French military intervention.
The US are about to base drones in Niger. Coincidence?
Niger has confirmed that French special forces are protecting one of the country’s biggest uranium mines.
President Mahamadou Issoufou told French media that security was being tightened at the Arlit mine after the recent hostage crisis in Algeria.
Despite having large deposits of uranium, gold and other minerals, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world.
After independence in 1960 its progress was stymied by political instability and a five-year drought, which devastated livestock and crops.
With little primary education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Its health system is basic and disease is widespread.
After a break of a decade, Niger again experienced an insurgency by Tuareg rebels in the north in 2007.
Political instability only benefits France and other countries, who continue to exploit Niger’s mineral wealth and give nothing back to the country. One thing you can say about China is that they at least build infrastructure, Western nations take and give nothing in return. But we also know that Tuareg rebels have been fighting with the Nigerien (as opposed to the Nigerian government in Nigeria) government for decades as they have in Mali. This is a typical scene across the Sahel and it is barely mentioned in Western news reports.
I also heard that 2,000 Chadian troops had joined French forces in Northern Mali. There is a precedence for this too. France first organized the Chadian army and its military works alongside it,this included the long civil war (1965 to 1979), which began with a peasant uprising. In that conflict, the Chadian government asked France to intervene. Does that sound familiar?
Yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (sans le mal Andrew Marr, mais avec la minaudant Sian Williams en lieu), the war criminal Tony Blair gave his support to his ‘heir’, David Cameron.
Blair said: “I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are.
“Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.
“If we engage with this, not just military but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater.”
Blair talks about choices being “binary”. Nothing is ever that simple, especially where geopolitics is concerned.
As you’d expect, the mining of uranium is hazardous. Greenpeace produced a report in 2010 about the levels of atmospheric contamination as well as the dangers posed to those who work in the mines.
Watch this Greenpeace video.
I wonder if the French special forces realize what they’re dealing with? They’re not only guarding these mines but they’re being exposed to the health dangers too. I expect to hear stories of French soldiers being afflicted with mysterious ailments, which can all be traced to their time in Niger. But it’s the people who live near these mines who will continue to live with the consequences of the Areva’s mining operation and the French demand for nuclear energy. They don’t benefit from France’s intervention; they’re merely pawns in another great game.
For more on French military interventions on the African continent, read this.