In spite of the promise early this year by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that their intervention in Mali would be short, France has just announced a change of mind – despite the desert pull out, it would retain about 1,000 soldiers in Mali, to help keep the peace, prevent the Islamic extremists from returning to the cities and establish democracy. Those are the official reasons but many people doubt it, asserting that France (and the US) instead want to keep Mali under colonial rule.
Islamic militants with link to Al Qaeda have held Mali to ransom and France, longtime ally of the country could not sit back and let them have another foothold from where to launch attacks on the rest of the world. Every right thinking person should support the routing of Al Qaeda and any form of terrorism, never giving them a moment pause, never a safe haven to regroup and cause mayhem. In that wise France should be commended for the sacrifice they make.
Are there publicly unstated economic reasons why France seems so desperate to remain in Mali? Mali, though poor, is one of the African countries with the greatest variety and quantity of many natural resources. Gold: it is Africa’s third largest producer and has many active mines with several starting production. In fact its gold exploration goes back at least 500 years; Uranium: there are rich reserves and tempting prospects; Diamonds, Precious Stones, Salt… name it, Mali has it.
In a recent opinion poll of 17,287 people, 63% believe that retaining control of Mali’s natural resources is France’s primary reason for intervening; 26% say France seeks to retain its colonial control in Africa while only 11% believe stamping out Islamic terrorism was France’s aims.
Understandably, despite good will, short foreign military interventions are never easy. Look at the US in Afghanistan, extremists are pushed away, retreating only to regroup, and so France would naturally be worried that a weakened Malian army cannot be expected to contain the renewed attack from the desert when it comes.
France has the support of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon as well as the leaders of several non-African countries, although those others are not committing fighting forces, only training support. In Mali, feelings are divided. While some say Vive Le France! Others want it out quickly. In the name of the fight against insurgents, France has bombed and destroyed a great part of Mali. These will need reconstruction and repair and unfortunately the country may be worse off when France leaves. Leave it may eventually do but only after, as some say, it has assured itself that French companies doing business extracting Mali’s rich natural resources, can safely resume.
There again you find the “enlightened self-interest” that seem to be lurking behind most foreign interventions.