Category Archives: Mali

No British troops on the ground in the Sahel?

US involvement in Vietnam began with sending military advisers and look what happened.

Since the French military adventure in Mali began, we’ve heard a lot from Dizzy Dave Cameron about how British troops will not be sent to the Sahel to serve in a combat role. So the other day when I heard Britain was to dispatch 330 soldiers to the region in an “advisory” capacity, I was reminded of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which began in 1956 when Eisenhower sent “military advisers” there to “train” the Vietnamese forces. In actual fact, advisers and observers had been sent there in 1950 by Truman to support the French efforts but in small numbers.

In 1954, the Americans and the French installed the puppet president, Ngô Đình Diệm in Saigon (he won a rigged election). He had impeccable anti-Communist credentials and was a Roman Catholic. An ideal choice for a country with a large Buddhist population. Opposition grew to  Diệm’s rule and by 1957, there was a full-scale insurgency. Diệm responded by torturing and killing those whom he believed were Communists. Such was his popularity, that he faced two assassination attempts. He was finally killed in 1963 in a CIA-supported coup and was replaced by Dương Văn Minh.

When Kennedy became US president in 1961, he sent more “military advisers” to Vietnam to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My father was part of a contingent sent to Saigon in 1963. When Kennedy was assassinated in the same year, Johnson sent even more troops to Vietnam and by 1965, he’d escalated the war. You know what happened next.

The sending of “military advisers” to another country to counter “insurgents” is never a good sign. The Cat suspects that British special forces have also been sent to Mali and neighbouring Niger. Today, Cameron has flown to Algeria to have talks with his opposite number, Abdelmalek Sellal. No prizes for guessing what they’ll be talking about.

The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian special forces are already in Mali to “protect the country’s diplomats”.

The US has negotiated a deal with the Nigerien government to establish a base for its unmanned drones.

The head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, visited Niger last month. The poor, landlocked West Africa state has said it wants to have closer security cooperation with Washington.

Carter Ham… you’ve got to love that name. AFRICOM was established in 2006.

The new scramble for Africa is under way and ordinary people will get caught in the middle while the US, France, Britain, Canada and the rest of them slug it out with China and India (yes, India) for the continent’s resources.

Anyone for yellow cake uranium?

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Mali, Mauritania and slavery

Biram Dah Abeid. Picture courtesy of  babacarbaye.unblog.fr

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the current conflict in Mali (and neighbouring Mauritania) is slavery. For centuries Tauregs have kept slaves and I remember reading about this many years ago.

I found this article on the International Business Times website.

The practice of slavery long has been a cultural norm in many Malian communities. As in neighboring Mauritania, slaves and slave owners are often described in terms of “black” and “white,” since slave descendants tend to have black African roots and their masters are typically of lighter-skinned Berber ancestry. But in fact, members of both groups have varying skin tones, and ethnicities are sometimes mixed due to masters raping female slaves.

According to Temedt, a Mali-based advocacy program, about 200,000 people are currently enslaved in the country and about 600,000 more are slave descendants under some form of control even though they live separately from their masters. Temedt works with Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights organization, to help free victims of slavery and then assist them in the transition to independence.

This article by Mark Tran in The Guardian (dated 23/10/12) says,

“The slave population is already defenceless; it will become even more so as the conflict intensifies. We are like the straw that will be trampled underfoot when elephants fight,” said Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, an activist who received the Anti-Slavery International award in London last Wednesday.

Slavery was formally abolished in Mali in the 1960s, after the country gained independence from France. However, although slavery is not allowed under the constitution, there is no anti-slavery law and descent-based slavery through the maternal bloodline still exists in northern regions.

People descended from slaves remain the “property” of their “masters”, either living with them and serving them directly, or living separately but remaining under their control.

While slavery was abolished in the 1960s, the practice continues particularly in Mauritania where it is officially illegal.

This is from Anti-Slavery International.

Whilst there has been no definitive research on the extent of slavery in the country, SOS Esclaves estimate that approximately 18 per cent of Mauritania’s population (over half a million people) live in slavery today.

Slavery has existed in Mauritania for hundreds of years and is deeply rooted within society across the country. The Haratine are the group most affected by slavery practices and are traditionally owned by Bidane, or white moors, the minority ruling elite of Arab-Berber descent in Mauritania. Historically the white moors raided and enslaved people from the indigenous black population and today, all cases of slavery in Mauritania involve people whose ancestors were enslaved before them.

Slavery status is an inherited status. This age-old distinction underpins the very nature of slavery in Mauritania whereby individuals are assigned to a ‘slave caste’ which is ascribed at birth. Those in slavery are devoid of all their fundamental human rights, are owned and controlled by their masters, and are treated like their property. They are forced to work for their masters throughout their lives and are never paid for their work. They do what their masters tell them to do or they are threatened and abused.

A new law criminalising slavery was passed by the Mauritanian Parliament in 2007 but it is not clear how many people have been prosecuted for keeping slaves if, indeed, anyone has been prosecuted at all. It seems that slavery is still taking place in Mauritania in spite of the law.

In 2011,Biram Dah Abeid, a prominent anti-slavery activist, was arrested on trumped up charges. The Guardian reports,

Abeid originally went to a police station with two girls, aged nine and 13, who had been forced to work as servants for the family of the local police commissioner, according to the press release published by the NGOs. An argument took place, which allegedly ended with Abeid being injured. The “mistress” of the girls was charged but released on bail.

A 2007 law made slavery illegal in Mauritania. “But in fact no one has ever been sentenced. Charges are dropped because the courts are under constant pressure from traditional, religious and tribal forces, all of which tolerate this practice,” said Fatima Mbaye, head of the Mauritanian Human Rights League.

Abeid was eventually released on bail last September. The charges, as far as I know, have not been dropped. However he was granted freedom of movement and visited Europe to raise awareness of the issue of the continued practice of slavery in Mauritania.

According to this blog, Abeid narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott on 5 January.  Other anti-slavery activists have also been harassed.

While Cameron, Hollande and other Western leaders talk about “Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” and “Jihadists”, they deliberately elide the region’s other problems. The situation is not as clear cut as “good guys versus evil terrorists”. Yet our media continues to ply us with this grog.

Slavery is still alive in the Sahel and thousands of French troops in the region will do nothing to end it.

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Nina Wallet Intalou: the strongwoman of the MNLA

Western leaders and their media lackeys have been at pains to point out that the French military presence in Mali is aimed to destroy Islamist militants in that country and the Maghreb. Many of us understand that the words “Islamists” and “Jihadis” are dog whistle words that are intended to strike fear and, indeed, terror into the minds of those who hear them. In another time, the word “German” would have been used in much the same way. In fact, in  England (and not the rest of the UK), “German” is similarly deployed by Europhobes to convince people that leaving the EU is in their best interests – the spectre of a powerful Germany still exercises the minds of these people who still pine for the long-dead British Empire.

If Islamism is the driving force behind the rebellion in the Azawad region of Mali, then it isn’t doing a particularly good job. Under Islamism, women have no say in political discourse. They are kept silent.  Yet in the Taureg MNLA, there is one woman to whom men will listen. She is Nina Wallet Intalou and she is the voice of her people’s struggle for liberation.

I found this article on a site called WorldCrunch. Here’s an excerpt,

A member of the Executive Bureau of the NMLA (most of whose members live in exile here in Nouakchott), Nina Wallet Intalou, 49, is a key figure of the movement. She is also the only woman of the group. Wrapped in a shiny black malafa, the traditional Sahara veiling dress, and smoking a cigarette, she smiles, trying to conceal her concern about the possibility of a reverse: “AQIM is occupying our land,” she said. “Even men are not allowed to smoke any more. They are fighting our culture and our identity. Mali has never done anything against them. They want to erase us, with the complicity of Algerian authorities.”

Her father was a top nurse in the military from the Idnane tribe. Raised between Kidal, Gao and Mopti, the activist moved to Ivory Coast in 1984, aiming to raise awareness about the Tuareg cause among her African brothers. There, she married a rich businessman, with whom she had three children, and resumed her studies. After graduating in Public Law, she set up a construction business at the age of 26, leading 250 employees and holding the monopoly on the cleaning of phone booths in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital.

After divorcing from her husband, she returned to northern Mali. She was elected Mayor of Kidal in 1997, but could never exert power. “Islamists were starting to settle in the region, and they didn’t want a woman to rule a city,” she said. “At the time, most of them were from Pakistan and were beginning to create the katiba combat units. Algerians only came in 2003.”  As a consolation prize, Alpha Oumar Kondaré, then Mali President, offered her a position of local councilor.

My bold. Let us not forget how the 1992 Algerian elections were cancelled when Islamist parties performed well in the first two rounds,and the military forced the president, Chadli Bendjedid, to resign and replaced him with a “High Council of State” (a junta in all but name). The civil war that followed was bitter and brutal.

The above article was originally published in Le Monde and can be read here (in French).

The weak Malian government is using the threat of Islamism as a cover for its wider aims of smashing the MNLA, who are opposed to Islamism. Indeed, according to Intalou, the Malian government largely ignored the Islamists. So what changed?

This video of an interview with Intalou came to me from Lissnup on Twitter.

Like many of her compatriots, Intalou is currently in exile in Mauritania.

If Islamism is gaining traction in the Maghreb, then it would be important to ask why that is the case.  But as we know, the word “causality” has always absent from the warmongers’ discourse.

Elsewhere, Front de Gauche leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon points out that Hollande’s decision to put French troops on Malian soil was done without consulting parliament or the Prime Minister.

Enfin, il apparaît que la décision d’intervention a été prise par le seul président Hollande, non seulement sans consultation préalable du Parlement, mais même sans que le gouvernement de Jean-Marc Ayrault en ait été officiellement saisi.

That sounds so familiar.

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Mali: we’ve seen this movie before (reprise)

Map of Mali showing the Azawad region

Already the Mali adventure looks like the opener for something nasty. Today, the Independent reports that “alleged Islamists” (described as “Jihadists” by the BBC’s Frank Gardner) have taken 41 people, all of them foreign workers, hostage at a remote gas plant on the Algerian-Libyan border. 2 people have been killed, one of them a Briton, the other a Frenchman.

This caught my eye,

Reports suggested that the raiders spoke Arabic with “strong Libyan  accents”. A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or “Masked Brigade”, told Mauritanian radio the attack was a “punishment” for Algeria’s decision to permit French warplanes to use its airspace to attack Malian rebels.

In neighbouring Mauritania there have been ongoing protests, none of them have been reported in Western mainstream media, while Syria, Egypt and Tunisia receive more than ample coverage. Mauritania has seen a massive influx of refugees from Mali.

In the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring” similar things were predicted for “sub-Saharan” (a term I absolutely detest) Africa. From al-Arabiya,

There was eventually no “African Spring”. But Sub-Saharan Africa is not impervious to change. Sporadic protest movements there still could turn into clamoring for radical overhaul of current systems, if living conditions do not improve. Recent events have also shown that the Sahara is not an impenetrable wall. It could not prevent the destabilization of Mali after Tuareg fighters flocked back home following the collapse of the Gadhafi regime.

But this article should be approached with caution, because it was written by Oussama Romdhani, a former Tunisian Communications Minister and “Fulbright scholar”.

It was reported in most of the mainstream media that French troops would engage in direct combat with the insurgents.

Last April, The Christian Science Monitor reported,

This year, Mali‘s restive Tuareg minority has erupted into rebellion after four years of relative quiet, the army has mutinied and seized control of the capital city of Bamako, and today Tuareg separatists declared an independent republic in the country’s vast north.

And asked,

Is this all NATO‘s fault?

Not exactly. But the law of unintended consequences is (as usual) rearing its head. In this case, the successful popular uprising against Muammar Qaddafi‘s regime inLibya, which was substantially aided by the air power of NATO members, has sent Mali tumbling back into chaos, something that neither France nor the US (two of the major backers of the war to oust Qaddafi) are happy about. Far from it.

They call it blowback.

I found this interesting article from The Guardian. It’s dated 28 December, 2010. It poses the question, “Mali: whose land is it anyway”?

Mali is one of the countries most affected by the scramble for land, and Ségou, the country’s rice basket, is at the eye of the storm, with buyers from Senegal, South Africa, China, as well as domestic companies snapping up leases on thousands of hectares. This is land already intensively used in a country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world and where 80% of the people depend on farming for their livelihood.

People are being forced off their land by foreign investors. If this doesn’t sound like a new scramble for Africa, I don’t know what does.

French troops were apparently invited into Mali by that country’s government. But we need to remember that France still pulls many strings in its former colonies. To view this as a war against Islamist insurgents is a massive oversimplification of a complicated situation. It also ignores the ongoing global food crisis, which was partly responsible, along with neoliberalism, for the so-called “Arab Spring”.

The Tuareg people, who inhabit  Northern Mali have been neglected by the government and it is this region that has been singled out for French bombardment. Coincidence?

The pale-skinned Tuaregs, who inhabit northern Mali, have long complained of neglect and disrimination by the government dominated by southerns in far-off Bamako.

In February, Mr Kader says attacks increased against Tuareg in Bamako and the nearby garrison town of Kati.

“People started attacking anything Tuareg: They burnt houses, cars and attacked anyone with white skin – even Arabs,” he says.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad or MNLA is made up of Taureg, many of whom fought for the Libyan Army during the 2011 Civil War. It is they who are being linked to al-Qaeda by the Malian government. The MNLA declared independence from the rest of Mali.  That gets left out of the current narrative in order to advance the spurious argument that this is an “Islamist insurgency”. Al-Qaeda is often used as a handy catch-all term for any Arab or Muslim who demands rights or autonomy – especially if their demands don’t intersect with the free market dogma of the neoliberal West. There probably once was an al-Qaeda, but these days it sounds more like a brand name that almost anyone can use.

Oil, gold and uranium. There’s a lot of it in the region, as Globalresearch.ca points out (I urge you to read the article),

Whatever is reported by the mainstream media, the goal of this new war is no other than stripping yet another country of its natural resources by securing the access of international corporations to do it.  What is being done now in Mali through bombs and bullets is being done to Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain by means of debt enslavement.

Finally, I found this rather hilarious blog by Paul Cotterill on Liberal Conspiracy. It’s classic left-baiting stuff.

But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future – it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.

I bet he believes in “liberal intervention”.

POSTSCRIPT

I found this interesting article on Huffington Post, dated 27/9/11.

In the mid 1990s Gaddafi moved to quell the very Tuareg insurgencies he had once promised to support. A decade later he awarded Libyan citizenship to diehard Tuareg rebels who rejected the negotiated peace settlement in Niger and enlisted many of them in the Libyan army. It is among the Tuareg, according to Frederic Deycard and Yvan Guichaoua, that Gaddafi is likely to have secured troops to defend his crumbling regime.

Deycard and Guichaoua estimate that pro-Gaddafi elements recruited roughly 1,500 Tuaregs from Mali and Niger, most of who were already resident in Libya, over the course of the six-month conflict. In short they comprise a tiny fraction of the Libyan armed forces. To put this number in perspective, at the beginning of the conflict Gaddafi’s army was estimated to be 76,000 strong. Defection and death have greatly reduced this number, but attrition has also been high among foreign combatants, both African and non-African.

 

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Mali: we’ve seen this movie before

French Mirage fighter jet in Mali

It all began with the familiar rhetoric, “We’re going after Islamist terrorists” and with those magic words, the UK swung behind its neighbour, France,  in support of another desperate, but nakedly brazen, military adventure in Africa. The use of Islamists and associated “terror” groups to justify mass killing on an industrial scale is, by now, a familiar refrain. Indeed, the UN Security Council, on which France has a permanent seat, rubber-stamped the mission. François Hollande, the so-called Socialist Président de la République,  has revealed himself to be quite the little warmonger.

France enjoys wreaking havoc in Africa. It was quick to swing into action in the Central African Republic when the ostensible tyrant, Jean Bedel Bokassa, declared himself Emperor of his newly created “empire” (he was copying Napoleon I). France even has a military presence in Chad, a country that has a lot of desert and little else. It just happens to share a border with Libya.

Even though it ostensibly gave up its empire in West and Central Africa, France seems to spend rather too much time on the continent. It has a military presence in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and possibly Niger too. Niger being the alleged home of the infamous yellow cake uranium hoax.

It’s obvious why France is in Mali and it has nothing at all to do with “Islamist terrorists”, it’s more to do with the stuff that lies beneath the ground; the mineral wealth. Well, why else are European countries still exercising considerable influence on a continent that has been plundered and looted; its inhabitants forced to endure autocratic and capricious puppet rulers for the last 50 odd years? It ain’t humanitarianism, baby! Altruism is the last thing on their minds.

Britain wants a slice of the action too. We can see echoes in the Second Opium War, which was a joint military enterprise between the classical liberal British Empire and the newly liberal  Second French Empire, ruled by the vain and impulsive Napoleon III. Markets: they must be opened up – by force, if necessary. Yes, Britain is happy to provide military “assistance” because it wants a share of those riches – even though it may overstretch itself. Afghanistan?

Already, French air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians. There’s nowhere to hide in the desert and one group of people looks much the same as any other to the French pilots. If they wear turbans, gun them down where they stand. Better still, bomb the lot of them and save the bullets. The trouble is, a lot of people wear turbans in that part of the world.

This is another scramble for Africa. Desperate to relive the glories of 19th century imperial power and all the wealth it provided for the few, France is having another bash at the old imperialism game. A spokeswoman for the Stop the War movement, quoted in today’s Morning Star said,

The civil war in Mali is a direct consequence of the disastrous intervention in Libya and shows that the war on terror is a source of instability in Africa as in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Libya. Remember that place? It’s a total mess. And one mess leads inexorably to another mess. And messes can be used to the advantage of countries with massive military machines. They usually call this peace-keeping or a humanitarian intervention. Like the various aid appeals for famine-hit Ethiopia, the claim of humanitarianism rings rather hollow when weighed against the evident dash for the continent’s resources, backed up by the latest in killing technology.

The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor warns of mission creep,

David Cameron has insisted that no British combat troops from the UK will be involved in operations in Mali. Britain’s top military commanders have no wish to join French combat troops there — a view they were expected to make quite clear at a meeting on Tuesday of the National Security Council, chaired by Cameron.

However, that may not be the end of it. Britain and the US could yet provide surveillance and intelligence-gathering aircraft or pilotless drones. The European Union is planning to deploy a military training mission consisting of several hundred troops, including British soldiers, to Mali in the next few weeks.

This could be the pattern of future European military interventions, as our blog has suggested before. Britain, France, the US, all know air strikes from high-flying planes or drones is not the most effective way, militarily (or politically or ethically, given the likelihood of civilian casualties) to fight mobile forces speeding around on pickup trucks.

So the emphasis is on training local forces, in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and now Mali. They could be backed up by special forces, rather less visible than warplanes.

And mercenaries too, I shouldn’t wonder. After all, European and US mercenaries have been hanging around African countries for decades now. In 2002, the war criminal Blair chillingly told us how he would have liked to see mercenaries operate in a peace-keeping role in West Africa. Mercenaries only know how to do one thing: kill for money. Asking a mercenary to be a peacekeeper is a little like asking a butcher to perform keyhole surgery on a seriously ill patient. Why would you do it?

Finally, I need to mention arch-Blairite, Hatchet-job Hodges, who penned this blog, designed to goad and mock the left, whom he declares have “been silent” on the issue of military intervention in Mali.  As a “Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest” (the Torygraph’s words, not mine), he no doubt supports the Orwellian notion of “liberal intervention” and turns a blind eye to the war crimes associated with it. It seems to me he has no room to talk. He offers us this myopic vision from his crystal ball,

Francois Hollande is unlikely to emerge from his Mali adventure as the new De Gaulle. But he may well become the new Left-wing poster boy for progressive interventionism. It would be enough.

What a nasty piece of work. Just like his war criminal idol in fact. But in his haste to have a dirty little dig, he failed to spot this blog on the Stop the War Coalition website. Hodges talks shit, just like his war criminal idol.

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