Fahamu (Oxford)

24 January 2013

Mali: France's Just War in Mali

Photo: Elysee
French President François Hollande in Mali

opinion

Food for thought for Francophobes and opponents of the FrançAfrique?

When a country desperately calls for help to regain its territorial integrity finds a helping hand not in its neighbouring countries but in France, what does this say about the progress of pan-Africanism? What message does it send to young generations of Africans looking for models?

I am admittedly a Francophobe. More than two days' transit through Paris is the maximum I could ever stomach of the "Country of human rights", just long enough to enjoy fresh croissants at Paul's, a pint of pineapple juice at Monoprix and, on a good day, a trip down to the 1st arrondissement to eat delicious "crêpes au citron" at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

But by the end of the second day, I start to literally feel choked, oppressed anew by the cultural arrogance of the French you feel like claws on your throat when you buy a train ticket or just sitting at a café, the deterioration you see on their train going from the 1er arrondissement to Sarcelles or any other of their "banlieues", true human guts where African immigrants amass like rats, and of course, that plaque on their Arc de Triomphe "a nos morts pour la patrie", a very moving plaque for any tourist reading this, but for me, revolutionary daughter of the 21st Africa, in between the lines all I read are the words not spoken.. "and to the millions of other drafted men from our colonies of Africa and Indochina whom we never retributed decently, even bombarded them to silence when they dared make qualms in Thiaroye!). Yes, by day two, I am always ready to run back to the airport to catch the first plane out of the land of such non-humble people.

But today, for the first time in my life, I am rethinking my Francophobia ...

Last week's push of the jihadists towards the South of Mali, where lies the strategic capital city of Mali, Bamako, found me in Bamako. That fateful Thursday, January 10, we really thought we were dug in. This was it, the moment we were all dreading for months.

The crazed Islamists, set on installing strict Sharia law across the entire Muslim West Africa, too liberal and laic for their taste, were going to march towards Bamako, met by no resistance from the unorganized, leaderless and disorganized Malian army. I was packed up, purchased a one-way ticket for Dakar, and was ready to fly out on the first flight out of the city.

Then that evening the Malian president addressed a letter to the French president François Hollande pleading for international support to push back the jihadists before it was too late.

The French took this plea to the UN Security council for an international seal of approval. The next day, the first French planes were flying over Bamako on their way to the North, to seize back the city of Konna, first city of the South seized by the jahadists the day before. The rest is now history...

2,000 French troops are today in Mali, in a massive French effort to push back Islamist terrorists and help Mali regain its territorial integrity, an operation named "Serval", after a small animal of the desert.

"Le Mali Un et Indivisible, au côté des français" we can read today everywhere. Mali, one and indivisible. But not with our African brothers by our side, but with France by our side.

French flags are flying all over town, proudly displayed side-by-side with the Malian flag on two-wheelers, on car windows, in front porches of homes and businesses, as the pictures below display.

The tri-colored Malian flag side-by-side with that of the former French colonialist ... Who would have ever thought this day possible in the 21st century? Kwame Nkrumah is probably turning in his grave.

This moment is an important one in our history. And bodes to me of where we are heading in our globalized "one village" world, where citizen alliances and national sentiments will not go towards (as assumed) more Pan-Africanism, but towards where concrete fellowship and benevolent partnership will be forthcoming, be it from France, China or any other nation.

Serval is the savior of the day. Not Operation Misma that has been "under discussion" for almost a year now, at the innumerable CEDEAO and AU special summits held on the Mali impending crisis. Where is Misma today? It is the typical chronicle of a predicted catastrophe.

Ten days after the assault on Konna, when we escaped extinction here in Mali, it is shocking to see that the pledged 500 Senegalese troops are still not here.

Senegal is the closest neighbour to the West, in geography and history - reminding that Senegal and Mali used to be one single nation between 1960-62, and cultural kinship could not be highest anywhere on the continent as between these two countries, which still share the same flag (at least one star) and emblem (one People-one Nation-one Faith).

Nigeria, Chad, Togo and Niger at least have begun sending in their men, battalions of one to two hundred men at a time, slow drops of water to a parched tongue. But the truth remains that it is the French troops that are holding the front and manning the brunt of the war effort.

In these dire times of need, when a country, making the weightiest statement a sovereign country could ever make, calls for help to regain its territorial integrity and escape from extinction, finds a helping hand not in its neighbouring countries, but in France, what does this say about the progress of pan-Africanism? What message does it send to young generations of Africans looking for models?

What are we doing with ourselves, most of all, fellow Africans? More than half a century after Independence, we still are not able to agree to have a regional army able to protect our common borders and fight transnational threats? We are still incapable of coming to the rescue of a fellow country that is faced with a threat that could have happened to any of us?

We are all Malians today, by the sheer fact that the Jihadists, had they been allowed to reach Bamako, could have been next at the doorsteps of Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Burkina Faso, in a heartbeat. The Malian problem is a regional problem, which should have been addressed through a regional solution and response.

But the truth of the matter is: West Africa countries are not capable of bringing a regional response, not out of lack of desire to make Misma work, but out of limited means and national funds allocated to Pan-Africanist efforts. We prefer to invest in national armies and national priorities, not understanding that our minute national armies and markets are not the "way out". But Pan-Africanism is still not a priority. And here is the outcome ...

Once again, the thunder was stolen. Once again, we Africans missed our moment of glory. And instead of entering Mali as saviours, applauded by local populations who could have seen in practice the heights we reach when united as Africans, we are diminished to pronouncing accolades for the French president (every president has made a speech thanking France, once again), even stating to be "in heaven" after France's intervention in Mali (the very words of the head of the Africa Union, Yayi Bonni, Togolese president). What a shame...

Well, I say kudos to François Hollande's France. And shame on our African countries. I am no less a skeptic of the French, but today one courageous act of a man, François Hollande, at the right time, saved my life and that of millions here in Mali, in the first act of a Just War I have seen in this new century. This I can attest to.

Every generation seeks models and heroes to inspire it and guide its actions, and catalyze its most productive energies. In 1968, it was the winds of independences that moved millions of university students to riot all across Europe and the world.

Following our Independences, a generation of revolutionary African heroes, from Thomas Sankara (Burkina) to Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Frantz Fannon (Algeria) and later on Mandela inspired the generations of our parents to fight on, to secure substantive socio-economic rights for our nations.

Their ideas are very much alive today, and held on to desperately like flames of lingering hope by today's generation of youth, but no leader is presently on the front scene to catalyze them into action. Our leaders prefer to applaud François Hollande's heroism, instead of being heroes themselves for all of us.

My tenacious Francophobe friends say we wait a few years to see what the REAL covert intentions of the French were in reality in engaging in this war. Qui vivra, verra. We shall see!

But what remains is that it is the French who saved the day. Not the Africans. Once again, African leaders were not able to stand as one to uphold the priorities/deliver on the needs of their people, opening the space for jihadist terrorists to have such an appeal - at least they offer concrete opportunities of power, fellowship and money-making that are appealing to the young Somali who has no opportunities.

Will we be moving towards more sporadic terrorism and a turn towards hardliner Islamism in the region? Towards a new era of FrançAfrique relations, based on true partnership, respect and fellowship this time, doing good at long last on our histories' collisions, which thrust us into each other's national destinies?

We shall see, indeed!

But for now, lots of food for thought ...

- Afrooptimist can be reached at: afrooptimism@gmail.com

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