On 11 January 2013, the French president François Hollande launched Operation Serval to wage the ‘war against terrorism’ in Mali. Planes, tanks and men armed to the teeth are now being employed in the southern Sahel. As these lines are being written, bombs and machine guns are speaking and the first civilian victims have fallen. The British bourgeoisie has pledged planes and logistical support to the French effort, and Cameron has not ruled out the deployment of British troops. And the ‘blow back’ from this conflict has already appeared in the shape of the blood-soaked hostage crisis in Algeria.
Once again the French bourgeoisie has thrown itself into an armed conflict in Africa. Once again, it is doing it in the name of peace. In Mali, it’s presented as a fight against terrorism and thus for the protection of the population. Quiet clearly, there’s no doubt about the cruelty of the armed Islamist gangs which reign in the north of Mali. These warlords sow war and terror wherever they go. But the motives behind the French intervention have nothing to do with the suffering of the local peoples. The French state is there only to defend its sordid imperialist interests. It’s true that the inhabitants of Mali’s capital, Bamako, have, for now, joyfully welcomed Hollande as their saviour. And these of course are the only images of this war which the media are disseminating right now: happy populations, relieved that the Islamist mafia’s advance towards the city has been halted. But this mood is not likely to last long. When a ‘great democracy’ passes through with its tanks, the grass is never green afterwards. On the contrary: desolation, chaos, and misery are the legacy of their intervention. The attached map shows the main conflicts which have ravaged Africa since the 90s and the famines which followed in their wake. The result is evident: each war – often carried out under the banner of humanitarian intervention, like in Somalia in 1992 or Rwanda in 1994 – has resulted in serious food shortages. It’s not going to be different in Mali. This new war is going destabilise the whole region and add considerably to the chaos.
An imperialist war
“With me as President, it’s the end of ‘Francafrique’”. François Hollande’s blatant lie would make us laugh if it didn’t mean a new pile of corpses. The left has never failed to talk about its humanism but for nearly a century the values it drapes itself with have served only to hide its real nature: a bourgeois faction like all the rest, ready to commit any crime to defend the national interest. Because that’s what we seeing in Mali: France defending its strategic interests. Like François Mitterand, who took the decision to intervene militarily in Chad, Iraq, ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda, Hollande has proved once again that the ‘socialists’ will never hesitate to protect their values – i.e. the bourgeois interests of the French nation – at the point of a bayonet.
Since the beginning of the occupation of the north of the country by the Islamist forces, the big powers, in particular France and the USA, have been egging on the countries of the region to get involved militarily, promising them money and logistical aid. But in this little game of alliances and manipulations, the American state seemed to be more adept and to be gradually gaining influence. Being outwitted in its own hunting ground was quite unacceptable for France. It had to react and react with some force: “At the decisive moment, France reacted by using its ‘rights and duties’ as a former colonial power. Mali was getting a bit too close to the USA, to the point of looking like the official seat of Africom, the unified military command for Africa, set up in 2007 by George Bush and consolidated since then by Barack Obama” (Courrier International, 17.1.13)
In reality, in this region of the world, imperialist alliances are an infinitely complex and very unstable web. Today’s friends can become tomorrow’s enemies when they are not both at the same time! Thus, everyone knows that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the declared allies of France and the USA, but they are also the main suppliers of funds to the Islamist groups operating in the Sahel. It was thus no surprise to read in Le Monde on 18 January that the prime minister of Qatar had pronounced himself against the war France is waging in Mali and had questioned the pertinence of Operation Serval. And what can be said about superpowers like the USA and China who officially support France but have been whispering in the corridors and advancing their own pawns?
France will be bogged down for a long time in the Sahel
Like the USA in Afghanistan, there is every possibility that France is going to get stuck for an indefinite period in the quicksand of Mali and the Sahel in general (“for as long as necessary”, as Hollande put it). “While the military operation is justified because of the danger represented by the activities of the terrorist groups, who are well armed and increasingly fanatical, it is not exempt from risk in terms of getting bogged down and of instability throughout West Africa. Its difficult to avoid comparison with Somalia. Following the tragic events in Mogadishu at the beginning of the 90s, the violence in this country spread to the whole of the Horn of Africa and 20 years later stability has not returned there” (A Borgi, Le Monde, 15/1/13). This last point needs emphasis: the war in Somalia destabilised the whole of the Horn of Africa and “20 years later stability has not returned there”. This is what these ‘humanitarian’ and ‘anti-terrorist’ wars are really like. When the ‘great democracies’ brandish the flag of military intervention in defence of the ‘wellbeing’ of the population, of ‘morality’ and ‘peace’, they always leave ruin and the reek of death in their wake.
From Libya to the Ivory Coast and Algeria, the generalisation of chaos
“It’s impossible not to notice that the recent coup in Mali was a collateral effect of the rebellions in the north of the country, which were in turn the consequence of the destabilisation of Libya by a western coalition which strangely enough has shown no remorse or sentiment of responsibility. It’s also difficult not to recognise that this khaki harmattan, which has swept through Mali, has also passed through its Ivorian, Guinean, Nigerian and Mauritanian neighbours” (Currier International, 11.4.12). Many of the armed groups who fought alongside Gaddafi are now in Mali and elsewhere, having stripped bare the arms caches in Libya.
In Libya too the ‘western coalition’ claimed that it was intervening for justice and for the good of the Libyan people. Today the same barbarism is being experienced by the oppressed of the Sahel and chaos is spreading. Alongside the war in Mali, it’s Algeria’s turn to be destabilised. On 17 January a battalion organised by an offshoot of Al Qaida in the Maghreb kidnapped hundreds of employees of the gas plant at In Amenas. The Algerian army’s reaction was to rain fire on both kidnappers and hostages, leaving dozens dead. After this butchery, Hollande spoke like any other warmonger in defence of ‘his’ side “a country like Algeria has responses which, it seems to be, are the most suitable because there could not be any negotiation”. This spectacular entry of Algeria into the war in the Sahel, saluted by a head of state caught up in the logic of imperialism, is an expression of the infernal cycle into which capitalism is falling. “For Algiers, this unprecedented action on its own territory has plunged the country a little deeper into a war which it wanted to avoid at all costs, out of fear of the consequences inside its own frontiers” (Le Monde, 18.1.130).
Since the beginning of the crisis in Mali, the Algerian regime has been playing a double game, as can be shown by two significant facts: on the one hand it is openly ‘negotiating’ with certain Islamist groups, even supplying them with a large amount of fuel during their offensive towards the conquest of Konna on the road to Bamako; on the other hand, Algiers has authorised French planes to fly over its air space to bomb the jihadist groups in the north of Mali. This contradictory position, and the ease with which the jihadists gained access to the most securitised industrial site in the country, shows just how much the Algerian state is succumbing to a process of decomposition. Like the states in the Sahel, Algeria’s entry into the war can only accelerate this process.
All these wars show that capitalism is descending into a very dangerous spiral which is a threat to the very survival of humanity. More and more zones are sinking into barbarism. We are witnessing a nightmarish brew made up of the savagery of the local torturers (warlords, clan chiefs, terrorist gangs...), the cruelty of the second string imperialist powers (small and medium sized states) and the devastating firepower of the big nations – all of them ready to get involved in any intrigue, any manipulation, any crime, any atrocity to defend their pathetic, squalid interests. The incessant changing of alliances gives the whole thing the look of a danse macabre, a dance of death.
This moribund system is going to sink deeper, these wars are going to spread to more and more regions of the globe. To choose one camp against the other, in the name of the lesser evil, is to participate in this dynamic which has no other outcome than the destruction of humanity. There is only one realistic alternative, one way to escape this hellish forced march: the massive, international struggle of the exploited for a new world without classes or exploitation, without poverty and war