Mali’s recent history has been a succession of disputed presidential elections marked by low voter turnout, military coups, insurgencies and civil war. Greatly complicating the situation, the country’s strategic location has seen it increasingly affected by international terrorism as well as geopolitical rivalries and conflicts. In the aftermath of the latest military coup, France and the US have reaffirmed their commitment to work together to maximize their influence over developments in the region. Meanwhile, Turkey is also seeking to gain a foothold in the region.
The military coup staged in Mali last month is the second since 2012, and was prompted by many of the same fundamental factors and causes. The threat posed by the rapid growth of ‘jihadist’ armed groups throughout the region following NATO’s overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, which has also resulted in a massive influx of weapons to disgruntled ethnic minorities in the central and northern parts of Mali, has resulted in a severe deterioration in economic and security conditions. It has also brought the US and France to the region in force.
The Organization of African Unity condemned the coup and announced that Mali’s membership of the organization was suspended. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced that it has closed the borders with Mali to everything except the most essential goods (such as food and medicines). Mali is a landlocked country, making this a particularly onerous move.
Facing enormous international diplomatic and economic pressure, the ‘National Committee for the Salvation of the People’ (CNSP) announced earlier today that Mali’s former defence minister, Ba N’Daou, has been named as president of the country’s new transition government.
Colonel Assimi Goita, the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) which overthrew Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was appointed vice president, Mali’s state television has announced.
N’Daou and Goita were appointed by a group of 17 electors chosen by the military leadership, and the transitional government will be inaugurated on September 25.
According to the new plan, the transitional president will lead the country during an 18-month transition period when elections will be held to return Mali to civilian rule. LINK
Late last week, the US and France emphasized that they intend to continue their counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel region.
The security situation, and in particular the persistent presence of al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the Sahel region, is of mutual concern to both France and the United States, with Mali currently the centre of attention as both countries attempt to consolidate their efforts and deal with the fallout of the August coup.
France has deployed around 5,200 troops in the Sahel region as part of its Operation Barkhane, and according to official statements the US has approximately 1,000 troops deployed throughout Western Africa.
US Africa Command’s Army General Stephen Townsend flew to Paris last Thursday to meet with French Chief of Defence Staff General Francois Lecointre and discuss US-France cooperation in Africa. The Washington Examiner reports of the latest developments:
“The U.S.-France relationship is very important to addressing areas of mutual national interest,” U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Karns told the Washington Examiner after the Paris meetings concluded. “The security situation in the Sahel is a mutual concern, considering how the area could become sanctuary for terrorist groups and create migration challenges for Europe”…
Karns said the meetings with French defense officials were meant to reassure them of their vital role in Africa and address other areas of mutual concern.
“The meeting provided reassurance of the value U.S. Africa Command places on its partnership with the French,” he said. “Africa presents a dynamic situation when you consider China’s future plans, Russian activity, the situation in Mali, and the fact [that] terrorists seek a foothold and sanctuary in the Sahel.”
French Army Col. Frederic Barbry told the Washington Examiner in July that continued intelligence, in-flight resupply, and tactical lift support to French and European partners in the Sahel is vital to the fight… Barbry described U.S. capabilities in Africa as ‘essential and critical’.
Following the military coup which took place on August 18, the US suspended military aid to Mali. At the time, US Special Envoy for the Sahel J. Peter Pham said that there would be no further training or support of the Mali armed forces.
However, the suspension of military aid will not affect intelligence-sharing in the counterterrorism realm.
“Clearly, we follow all the State Department guidance and, in terms of that relationship, [are] looking to continue our work and focus on counterterrorism operations in the country,” AFRICOM Deputy Director of Intelligence Rear Adm. Heidi Berg told the Washington Examiner on a media call on Friday.
At the same time, however, there are concerns that the presence of foreign troops in Mali may be generating new recruits for the ‘jihadist’ forces and/ or other insurgent or extremist groups even as they attempt to confront and eliminate them. Keenan argues that there could be a rational explanation for this apparent contradiction:
In 2003, former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon published a series of maps of Africa which depicted the western Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Southern Algeria, southern Libya, northern Nigeria and Chad) as a “Terrorist Corridor”.
While designed to demonstrate why Washington needed to take its global “war on terror” to North Africa, the maps were also part of the propaganda prepared by the Pentagon to support Rumsfeld’s Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG). This was a covert program to provoke terrorist groups into undertaking violent acts, or to penetrate terrorist groups and local peoples to dupe them into conducting terrorist activities, often in the form of “false-flag” operations, in order to expose them or others to counterattack by US forces…
It’s purpose was to justify the launch of the ‘Saharan-Sahelian front’ in the ‘war on terror’.
The front was launched in January 2004 through what former president George W Bush called the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), with 1,000 US forces rolled into action across Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. Local people called it the “American invasion”…
One decade later, on 8 May, France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that France was deploying 3,000 troops, in addition to 1,000 retained in Mali, to fight militant Islamists across the Sahara-Sahel, which he described as “the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling”…
Equally disconcerting was Le Drian’s statement: “We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date.” LINK
While it is arguable the extent to which the exponential growth and proliferation of extremist groups in the region may be the result of a deliberate plan by powerful groups in Western countries to destabilize and dominate the region or whether it is purely the result of endogenous factors and failure to identify and effectively pre-empt ongoing developments, the military campaign by NATO to overthrow the Libyan government at any cost has undeniably contributed enormously to the region’s difficulties and in particular the severe deterioration in the security situation.
A third possibility is that the greatly expanded US and French military presence is part of a separate scheme to secure a form of neo-colonial control over the region and its resources.
A detailed study by Gary Busch in 2017 examined the long term role and objectives of the French military in Africa. The study notes that during the de-colonization process France’s former colonies were obliged to sign a pact with their colonial master:
The Colonial Pact Agreement enshrined a number of special preferences for France in the political, commercial and defence processes in the African countries. On defence, it agreed to two types of continuing contact. The first was the agreement on military co-operation or Technical Military Aid (AMT) agreements. These covered education, training of soldiers and officers of African security forces.
The second type, secret and binding, were defence agreements supervised and implemented by the French Ministry of Defence, which served as a legal basis for French interventions within the African states by French military forces. These agreements allowed France to have pre-deployed troops and police in bases across Africa…
The Colonial Pact was much more than an agreement to station soldiers across Africa. It bound the economies of Africa to the control of France. It made the CFA franc the national currency in both former colonial regions of Africa and created a continuing, and enforceable, dependency on France.
In summary, the colonial pact maintained French control over the economies of the African states…
France not only set limits on the imports of a range of items from outside the franc zone but also set minimum quantities of imports from France. [Many of the provisions of these] treaties are still in force and operational. LINK
The article expressed concern that the US will end up paying for France’s neo-colonial control over large parts of its former empire. However, it appears that a quid pro quo may have been reached, as much of Mali’s gold production is now under the control of Anglo-US corporations. So while the US taxpayers may well be forced to pay a significant portion of the cost of what appears to be an evolving joint project of neo-colonial domination in the region, some US and UK companies are making hefty profits.
None of the gold mines have been affected by the turmoil that is ravaging the country, and the companies have reassured investors that they are confident their interests won’t be adversely affected.
Beyond the US’ and later Europe’s ‘War on Terror’, in more recent times to the existing regional conflicts and disputes has been added a new ‘Cold War’, as Western countries and experts express great concern over the increasing presence of Russia and China in many countries in the region.
In what could be in part at least an extension of the escalating enmity between France and Turkey, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, also recently travelled to Mali and met with the leadership of the military council that carried out the coup.
Çavuşoğlu travelled to Mali, Guinea Bissau and Senegal on September 9-11. While he was in Mali, he met with Colonel Goita and other council members in Bamako, Mali’s capital, on September 9.
Speaking after the meeting, Çavuşoğlu stated that he had “discussed the transition process” with the Council. “We discussed what steps can be taken in the next process. Our desire is for Mali to complete the transition process smoothly. And it is important for the future of Mali to take the necessary steps for democratic elections by establishing a constitutional order as soon as possible. We sincerely shared our views on this matter like a brother. Under the current conditions of Mali, we find it positive that comprehensive negotiations with civil society and political parties have begun.” LINK
Turkey recently signed a ‘military cooperation agreement’ with neighbouring Niger, though there are very few details as to the location, size and activities of the anticipated Turkish military contingent beyond the ubiquitous ‘training and assistance’ objectives.
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