Lessons learnt from French intervention in Mali

Photo credit: Steve Conover

Photo credit: Steve Conover

The French intervention in Mali early in 2013 created a number of opinions and comments, which aim at describing and explaining the motivations behind the French actions. What are the lessons from Mali intervention or what the Mali intervention tell us about the existing global politics?

Despite the official end of colonialism, the former metropoles still exert a degree of influence within former colonies. What has really changed is the control mechanism-while previously control was established through legal-political structures, control today is exercised either through culture (language) or more importantly, through economic means, as trade relationships between the former oppressor and current “independent” nation are built in a way that causes African economies to be dominated by capital and investment from Western multinational corporations

The importance of political structures cannot be ignored. While the colonisers left their states formally independent, the state structures remained relatively unchanged. The problem with these structures was that they tended to give power and control to a specific ethnic group within a multi-ethnic state. The consequences often were tragic-for instance, Belgian legal structures giving gave power, authority and greater social position to Tutsi in Rwanda was one of the reasons behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of over 800, 000 civilians.

The current problems in Mali also have historic causes-the French colonisers established a centralised form of rule, which marginalised the previously dominant Tuareg minority. This led to a growing Tuareg dissatisfaction with the political system, which became expressed as a series series of unsuccessful rebellions firstly again France and then against new rulers of Mali. Moreover, a large group of Tuaregs migrated from Libya after the fall of Gaddafi regime, which strengthened the chances of rebellious minority for success.

Despite the existence of these and other problems in Africa, the likelihood that they will be solved soon remains low for at least two reasons. Firstly, the attention of the international community is often ignoring the African problems. The humanitarian tragedy in Mali attracted attention predominantly because it resulted in French intervention – indeed, most observers questioned the motivation and the possible consequences of French actions, instead of explaining the humanitarian tragedy and the crisis emergence. As the time passed, even this limited attention shifted to other issues, which included Syria, EU eastward expansion, the decline of US hegemony, US-Iran nuclear talks and other similar issues. Secondly, even if French intervention would defeat the existing terrorist networks, is unlikely to bring anything more than a short-term. The establishment of terrorist networks is the manifestation of the wide range of African problems, which include the lack of democracy, poverty, human rights issues, social and economic inequality and unless these issues are addressed and tackled regularly, the shape and the form of the problem will change depending on circumstances, not its existence.

The existing problems in Mali are not related to the specific country located in a specific continent. Instead, they show that there is a collective failure of the international community to deal with new globalised problems. The crisis in Mali would have never occurred if the rights of Islamist Tuaregs were fully respected, which means that the Malinese government failed to respect universally recognized norm, which resulted in no reaction from the international community. Furthermore, if the problem of Tuareg refugees would have been solved at either regional or international level, the crisis would have not been such acute and intense.

Finally, if the wider African problems would have been resolved systematically by the international community, then the terrorist networks would find problematic to recruit new supporters in first place. Simply put, the international community needs a framework, which can explain the existence of these problems and offer an immediate and necessary response-otherwise, similar problems are likely to persist.

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