Workers' Communist Party of France (PCOF)

The war in Mali: The imperialist redivision of spheres of influence in Africa is speeding up under the pretext of the “War on Terror”

It is rather rare to witness whole populations acclaim the French troops who are speeding along African roads. But that is what happened in Mali, where France has intervened militarily since January 11. This war to which F. Hollande has committed himself, has the support of the government coalition (PS [Socialist Party] - Europe Ecology, the Greens – Radical Party of the Left) of practically the whole right, with some exceptions, of the extreme right and of a number of organizations to the left of the PS.

F. Hollande and his government, which is facing difficulty on social questions and economic positions, have carried on an intense campaign, highlighting the support of the Malian population and the diaspora in France. They are justifying this new war in Africa as a "fight against terrorism" and against the obscurantism of the armed Islamist groups that control a part of Mali. He even lectured his European and U.S. counterparts for their lack of commitment. The “lightning” war that the French army is waging in the Malian desert seems to prove him right: the armed Islamist groups have practically "disappeared" and the French troops, reinforced by contingents from Chad and Mali, are going from town to town without meeting real resistance.

But that victory with hardly any fighting does not mean the disappearance of these groups, let alone the resolution of the immense difficulties facing the Malian population, and there is fertile ground for the development of Islamic radicalism. What Bush, and later Obama, have not been able to do in Afghanistan, Hollande could also not do in Mali, especially in the vast sub-Saharan region ranging from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and across the African continent.

To escape from the quagmire, Hollande and the French military high command are trying to achieve by deploying African troops under the leadership of the UN. But the "allies" are hesitant to commit themselves more in a situation that could become a permanent military presence whose main beneficiary would be French imperialism.

This vast region, which has rich deposits of uranium, oil, etc., is increasing the greed of the great powers, including China, the large users of these raw materials, but it is French imperialism which is on the ground. The war in Mali, following the war in Libya, is further transforming this part of Africa into a field of confrontation between the great powers for the control of the wealth and the geostrategic position of the sub-Saharan region. Therefore, the French military presence in Mali is not a temporary matter; in one way or another it will continue.

Some parties and organizations have resisted the steamroller in favour of this war and have denounced it. Our Party had already taken a position against it, well before it started. It has worked for the opposition to develop in the country, in order to then listen to and win over the popular sectors... It has based itself on the position of the fraternal parties in Africa and of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations, which met for the first time in Africa, specifically in Tunisia.

Presently, Hollande is not benefitting from the "Mali effect”: the explosion of unemployment and the loss of jobs (1,000 a day!), the increasing difficulties for 10 million people who are unemployed or in very precarious circumstances, are major concerns for the popular masses.

Our Party is working to develop the resistance to this policy at the service of the oligarchy, of the major employers, and to build a political and social front that fights against it and that would be an alternative of a break with this system in ever deepening crisis.

The war in Mali is part of this crisis; it is a war of redivision of the African continent, of its immense wealth, particularly mineral wealth. This reality will soon become clear. On the basis of this denunciation, many forces can agree, both in Mali and in France.

Our Party has issued a supplement: "The reasons for our opposition to French military intervention in Mali", which accompanies the article. It is available (in French) at our address.

A false choice

The justification for the French military intervention has been the advance of the “jihadist” groups towards the capital, Bamako, "it is necessary to stop these fanatical groups from imposing terror in the areas that they occupy," was the argument repeated over and over again, on a background of testimony to the barbaric mistreatment inflicted on the population in the areas of northern Mali.

This is not the first time that the public has been asked to take a position in favor of an imperialist military intervention, always presented as a necessity to prevent "something worse" or to defend democracy, etc. The truth is that they are not asked their opinions; they are bombarded ideologically to neutralize their capacity to think and to put them in a dilemma of an impossible and false choice. Indeed there is no "choice," since the decision was taken a long time ago by the French authorities. However, one can and must maintain the ability to resist the steamroller, and this is what we are working for. What Hollande is trying to do is to create a national and international consensus in favour of this military operation, which has been prepared long ago.

Indeed, after having called from the rostrum of the UN in September 2012 for an international operation "carried out by the Africans with a clear mandate from the Security Council,” in early January of 2013, dressed in the suit of the President of the 5th Republic and of the chief of the armed forces, he announced the unilateral intervention of France in Mali. Parliament only had the right to a statement several days after the start of the military operations, and the UN, as usual, did not react to a unilateral decision contrary to the resolution adopted.

There is a continuity of the policy of French imperialism in the sub-Saharan region. Since 2008, special forces have been discreetly deployed in Niger (a country with large uranium mines exploited by AREVA, the French nuclear giant), in Burkina Faso, where their presence has always been passed over in silence, and forces have been permanently stationed in the Ivory Coast, Chad, Gabon, as well as in Senegal and Djibouti, to only mention countries where French troops are numerous. It is also very difficult to know the exact number of those troops!

Particularly striking is the number and speed with which troops have been deployed to Mali: a few hundred quickly grew to 2,000, then to 4,000 troops. That is, this operation was planned together with important resources. The general in charge of field operations is the same one who directed “Operation Turquoise”1 in Rwanda in 1994, and who leads the French military forces in Senegal, which remains in the country despite the announcement of the withdrawal of French troops from the "Bel Air" base in Dakar (June of 2010, under the presidency of Sarkozy).

The appointment of this veteran of neocolonial wars and the importance of the resources used by the Army show that we are witnessing the return in force of a military presence on African soil, while the strategy developed by Sarkozy, as stated in the "Defence White Paper” of 2008 (a document which puts forward the military strategy for five years), puts the emphasis on the deployment of forces in the Persian Gulf. Several military and political officials had been, at that time, "worried" over the "abandonment" of Africa. Clearly that viewpoint has been revised and the economic, political and geopolitical stakes in Africa have been reevaluated in Paris. The next "white paper" that is being developed will give specific details on the course of military policy in Africa. In no event will they abandon their position to benefit their imperialist allies and rivals for the control of uranium and other raw materials from that continent. Among their rivals is China, which is trying to conclude the agreements with as many African governments as possible for access to raw materials and cultivable soil, and which is flooding the African market with low-price products, corresponding to the limited purchasing power of the inhabitants of those countries.

That is, to control the raw materials is not only to have access to them, but also to prevent rivals from having access to them.

The Libyan war has destabilized the corrupt and vacillating Malian regime

The wave of revolutionary popular movements that has shaken the Arab countries of the Maghreb started from Tunisia, then Egypt and reached Libya. The imperialist powers, which were bewildered for a time, are trying to take control of the situation. The rebellion of a large part of the Libyan people, who wanted to get rid of the Gaddafi regime, was the occasion for the leaders of the imperialist powers to do that. It was Sarkozy who took the initiative of a military intervention, in close collaboration with the British leader Cameron and the support of Obama. Without going into the consequences of that war here, one can say that it allowed different groups to gain important stocks of arms. Among these groups were the "jihadists" who "served" them. Another consequence was that the Tuareg groups, which formed part of the guard close to Gaddafi, left with "arms and equipment" to their regions of origin.

During that war, representatives of the Tuaregs were received by French emissaries in Paris. Several sources spoke of an agreement between Sarkozy’s government and the leaders of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) with the military leaders to negotiate the "abandonment" of Gaddafi in exchange for support of their demand for autonomy in that vast region. It is clear that the French authorities did not want to be forced into a battle with an uncertain outcome against Tuareg warriors in Libya.

After returning to their home tribes, the Tuaregs put their military experience at the service of the MNLA. No doubt, that was the reason why the MNLA launched its military offensive in January of 2012.

The troubled relationship between the French authorities and the Tuareg leaders

The Tuareg people put up a strong resistance to the French troops who went to colonize Africa. The Battle of Tit (1902) in the Hoggar Desert was an important step in the subjection of these peoples to colonial tyranny. The colonial redivision of the States, the result of the balance of forces among the colonial powers (particularly France and the United Kingdom), was the origin of the dispersal of the Tuareg tribes among five different states.

Before 1960, the year of the independence of the African countries colonized by France and the beginning of neocolonialism, there was, in the French political, economic and military environment, a draft constitution for a vast sub-Saharan region where the Tuareg people would have been together. That project, which aimed at preventing the development of the national consciousness of the people who demanded the independence of the colonies, also aimed at ensuring control of that vast region where deposits of uranium and other minerals were found that greatly interested the imperialist powers, particularly French imperialism. The colonial power had carried out large works of prospecting the subsoil of the French colonies in Africa, and they knew about these untapped resources. These geological maps and knowledge were never passed on to the States that were becoming independent, which is a robbery that still must not only be denounced, but also must be compensated for in one way or another.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also one of the oldest trade routes for all types of exchanges among peoples, and today serves for trade and drug trafficking, coming in particular from Latin America. The drugs come in quantity by sea or air to this region, from where they are distributed to the consumer markets in Africa, Europe and Asia.

In Mali there has long been a great suspicion of France for its "interest" in the Tuaregs, who could have, by their demand for independence, which would have meant the partition of the country, supported the designs of French imperialism for control of these strategic areas.

This suspicion has been reinforced by the fact that the MNLA is expressing itself from Paris and launched a military offensive in 2012 against garrisons of the Malian army. Quickly “Jihadist” groups, some of which were MNLA allies, penetrated into the void, occupying the terrain abandoned by the rout of the Malian army. This reality and the brutality of the January offensive, which caused many victims and led to significant displacement of the population, increased the resentment of part of the population against the Tuaregs, who were presented as responsible for the "Jihadist invasion."

Some Malian political forces are encouraging this hatred against "the Arabs and the Tuaregs” to hide the reasons why French imperialism has deployed its forces militarily in this region and to evade the responsibility of the regimes that participated in the economic neglect of the region of northern Mali.

Presently, the French army has enlisted the MNLA in the hunt for “Jihadist groups on the borders of Mali and Algeria.

The Amani Toumani Toure regime has collapsed, undermined by corruption and sordid business deals

The ease with which the MNLA and its allies have been able to occupy much of the territory, brought to light the decomposition of the army and the authority.

Until the war in Libya, the media did not talk about Mali. The regime of Amani Toumani Toure (ATT) was reelected twice and appeared to be stable. The opposition was tolerated, even if it had few representatives in the institutions and its leaders were often imprisoned.

Mali is a country in which most of the population lives on agriculture and livestock-raising. Like many African countries, it is rich in minerals, particularly gold (it is Africa's third largest exporter) and raw materials; however it is not the people who benefit from these riches.

The people of Mali are the victims of the structural adjustment policies of the IMF, of its "structural adjustment plans” imposed on all African countries since the 1980s and more harshly since 1990.

The consequence of this neoliberal policy is misery for the majority of the population in the cities and the countryside. The State, which assumes no responsibility for health care, education or social protection... is reduced to a coercive apparatus that "maintains order," ensures the protection of the interests of the imperialist powers and their companies that get rich from the extraction of gold, from the sale of water, from communications (in such a large country, without infrastructure, a mobile phone is both a necessity and an important source of profits for the telecommunications companies), from the sale of cotton and other agricultural products, etc. The clans that are at the head of the States take their share of the booty and carry out all types of traffic.

In the years in which ATT was in power, his policies impoverished the majority of the population, at the same time as he implemented a system based on corruption and the enrichment of the clan in power.

The Army has not escaped from this phenomenon. On the one side are the "400 generals" and their clans and families who live very well, manipulating funds that should be used for the troops. On the other side is the army of junior officers and soldiers who are ill equipped, underpaid and underappreciated. An Army that is unprepared to fight against seasoned groups such as the MNLA fighters and the armed Islamist groups.

The central Power not only did not fight the development of trafficking of all kinds, but itself made profits from it.

For the presidential elections scheduled for 2012, ATT launched a series of reforms to strengthen his power. He approved a reform of the constitution that puts limits on the prerogatives of Parliament and other institutions. At the same time he reinforced the power of the religious Islamists to enact a family code that promotes the demands of the religious forces, three months before the scheduled date of the presidential elections.

But on March 22, 2012, a military coup carried out by Captain Sanogo overthrew ATT, who took refuge in the Senegalese embassy. At the same time, the coup leaders denounced the regime’s fraud and its inability to defend the country's unity. They announced that they would militarily "reconquer" the north of the country.

The reaction of the heads of state of "French Africa" and Hollande was to condemn the coup, and they decided to place an embargo, particularly on the shipment of arms. Paris did not trust a captain trained in the U.S., and in the African capitals the leaders, rejected by their peoples, were worried that the same thing could happen in their countries. For example, Compaore, President of Burkina Faso, was about to be overthrown by mutinies of soldiers in 2011. They all recalled the "dégage" (get out!) of the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt.

The “international community” was mobilized to "stabilize" the situation and to put in place a “transitional government,” which had no legitimacy. Veterans of the era of ATT resumed service and Captain Sanogo was slowly put into the limelight, until December 11, 2012 when he forced Prime Minister Diarra to "resign." It is possible that this new coup precipitated Hollande's decision to intervene.

Increase the opposition to this war

This war without images is presented by its supporters as a war that breaks with the policy of "French Africa." They talk about hundreds of deaths in the ranks of the Jihadists, but nothing about the thousands of people driven from their villages, since they live in the war zones.

It is true that Hollande’s style has nothing to do with that of "Sarkozy-the-warmonger," nor with that of Chirac, a personal friend of the majority of the heads of state of the African "territory", nor with that of Mitterrand, who could use a "third-worldist" discourse or cover up the Rwandan genocide, one of the biggest mass crimes since World War II and in which French imperialism was involved.

But politics is not only a matter of style: what matters are the interests that it defends. And in this area, there has been no break with previous policies.

We have already said that this war is part of the struggle waged by the imperialist powers for control of the wealth of the continent. It is not a disinterested war: when Hollande says French troops are going to withdraw – which is not a promise – and that there will be "free elections" in the coming months, to "give a voice to the Malians,” he knows that these elections cannot be "free." Who can believe that those elected will be able to talk on equal terms with the French authorities? What can they deny those who have "saved" them? What room to manoeuvre will they have when it comes to deciding who will build a road or exploit a gold or uranium deposit?

On this issue, the first responsibility of those of us who are fighting in France for a real break with "French Africa," not its style, but its actions, is to maintain the mobilization to prevent silence from falling on what is happening in Mali and the activities of the big groups.

But for this it is essential that from the beginning we say clearly and openly "no to the war in Mali!", to show that the forces of the left are resisting the militaristic campaign and we are immediately beginning the task of explaining to the workers, the women of the popular classes, the youths, the progressive intellectuals, and also to the Malian workers living in France. To all who feel, more or less confusedly, that there are hidden objectives, that the war is a bad solution, who see that the first victims are the poor people displaced by the fighting...

Reality forces us to say that we do not have the means necessary today to prevent this war. But we do have the means and the duty to make it unpopular and unbearable among the broad masses of our people. We emphasize, as a first step to rejecting this war, that to finance it the government has spent large sums of money at a time when they are demanding austerity from us. True, this is not the only reason to oppose this war, but it is one reason connected with the concerns of the broad masses. We also have a responsibility towards the progressive, patriotic and anti-imperialist forces in Mali. By breaking the consensus in France towards this war, by denouncing its fundamentally imperialist nature, we are supporting the forces in Mali who are looking for a progressive solution, not only to the war but also, generally to the dependence of their country on imperialism. In short, we are on the side of the progressive forces of the African countries who are fighting the governments sold out to imperialism.

Workers' Communist Party of France (PCOF)


French Africa

“French Africa" is how French imperialist policy towards its former colonies in Africa is definted. A network of French bases are defending the interests of Total, Bouygues, Bolloré, Areva and French banks that control a part of the economy of these countries, whose development is hindered by those ties of dependency (...) Another part of "French Africa" are the suitcases of money that feed hidden circuits of financing, offices and networks of arms sales and trafficking of all kinds. (From our program, "For a Revolutionary Popular Front Now!")

We need to break with "French Africa" through concrete measures. The first concerns the removal of French military bases.

"We must establish concrete links of solidarity, particularly with the working class and youth, to strengthen the demand for the withdrawal of French troops and bases in Africa. It is our responsibility to the peoples who aspire to their national and social emancipation. It is a concrete proof of our commitment to them. We also demand the withdrawal of military protection by French imperialism to the reactionary regimes. A progressive government, without applying these measures, would it be at peace with these peoples? The imperialist debt to them is immense. This raises the question of compensation, which will never compensate for the looting of colonialism and afterwards of neocolonialism. It is the people of these countries who must decide how and in what manner such compensation should be carried out."


December 2010: The revolutionary process began in Tunisia. Sarkozy, who had hitherto supported Ben Ali, and all the leaders of the great powers, are taken by surprise.

February to October of 2011: The war in Libya.

January 2012: Offensive of the MNLA supported by Islamist groups.

March 2012: Coup that expels ATT

May 2012: Presidential elections in France. The leaders of “French Africa” parade in Paris.

September 2012: Hollande’s speech to the UN; meeting on the sub-Sahara.

December 2012: 600 French paratroopers land in Bangui (Central Africa) to "protect French citizens," while the Bozizé regime (installed by France and Chad in 2003) was threatened by a political-military coalition.

On December 11, the "transitional" Prime Minister Diarra announces his resignation; Sanogo is behind this resignation.

January 2013: Beginning of the war in Mali.


1) The so-called “Operation Turquoise” was part of the intervention of French troops during the genocide of the Rwandan people that caused some 800,000 deaths, mainly among the “Tutsi” ethnic group. There were close links between the Authority in Rwanda (responsible for the genocide) and Mitterrand and the French troops charged with training the Rwandan army. Those directly responsible for the genocide escaped the country with the protection of the French army. “Turquoise” is the name of the plan of protection for these forces based in the border zone with Zaire.

Click here to return to the Index, U&S 26