Lattanzi-Silveus ’14: A contemporary colonial war

Opinions Columnist
Monday, February 11, 2013

If the intervention in the West African country of Mali shows us anything, it’s that colonialism is still alive and well, though its form has changed somewhat. Its old colonial ruler, France, has directly intervened in Mali in the name of “humanitarian intervention,” claiming that if they do not, Mali will degenerate into some form of a Islamic republic.

Shamefully, even much of the French left has assented to the deployment of the French military. In a phrase eerily reminiscent of the colonial quest to “civilize” the rest of the world, Deputy Francois Asensi of the main left parliamentary coalition in France said that “to abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of fanatics would be a political error and a moral failing.” This kind of talk is not new — it is usually what leaders say before sending in the bombs, the drones and the troops.

To make the narrative of “humanitarian intervention” work, you must ignore the nature of the rebel groups, the Malian government and the very causes of the civil war. First off, the rebels. Yes, some of them are Islamists who want to impose some form of Sharia law. But the rebels are a divided group. There are also the Tuareg nationalist rebels who are fighting for independence of the area known as Azawad. In fact, Tuareg nationalists are arguably the dominant group — though information from the area is sketchy at best — and their goal is simply self-determination. They also have particular interest in creating an Islamic republic.

The Western-backed Malian government is not a model government. It was installed by a military coup in March 2012 and its army has been continually cited for human rights abuses. A confidential United Nations report argues that intervention will make things worse, leading to 400,000 more people being displaced, after 500,000 were displaced last year.

What is usually ignored in these conflicts are the causes. Masses of people don’t just take up arms and risk death or torture for the thrill of it. The main reason for the uprising in Azawad is the Malian government’s continual repression of the Tuaregs, as well as of the peoples in the north more generally. And if we trace this cause back one step we again end up at French colonialism. The borders of most African countries were drawn without any correspondence to ethnicity. The Tuaregs were a nomadic people that historically interacted much more with northern Africa than with Mali. Not to mention that large parts of the Tuareg community are not in Mali at all, but in neighboring Niger. They are one of the very many peoples in Africa that are without a state or divided into different states. They are also one of the many peoples in Africa that are being oppressed because the government is dominated by another ethnic group.

The practicality of this setup for Western dominance indicates that there is more than mere carelessness at play. The borders set up by the colonial powers left the Malian government facing a perpetual threat of rebellion that it is unable to handle on its own. In order to brutally maintain control, the government has to turn to Europe or the United States to receive military aid, weapons and in some cases, direct military intervention. Mali is thus dependent on the support of the West, which means that the West can make demands. These demands include opening up countries to the effects of free international trade, which are devastating for countries that have very little domestic capital or industry. The demands also include allowing Western companies free rein to extract the vast wealth of resources in these countries. Mali has huge gold deposits, making gold one of its main exports. France also has an economic interest in Mali, but its main reason for intervention is its own extraction in neighboring countries that would be affected if the Malian uprising were to spread.  In Niger — one of the poorest countries on Earth and home to another large Tuareg minority — the French energy company Areva is currently building the second-largest uranium mine in the world.

This is why there is a “resource curse” — why countries with such great wealths of resources end up as underdeveloped dictatorships. The West will use what it can to make sure the western capitalist class is the one making money off of these resources instead of the peoples whose territories these resources are in. It has no qualms about setting peoples against each other or propping up oppressive dictatorial regimes like the one in Mali or the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Colonialism has not ended, it just looks a little different.



Luke Lattanzi-Silveus ’14 is a member of the International Socialist Organization and can be contacted at


  1. EastAsianNationalist says:

    >International Socialist Organization

    Bias alert.

    What precisely do the French have to gain by wasting their money in Mali? And more importantly, do you have the evidence to back it up? Show me how, exactly, France stands to gain more resources from Mali as the result of this intervention than they would have otherwise.

    And why is it such a problem that the Tuareg are included in the same nation when the borders were drawn? Surely they could just tolerate and enrich each other in a loving display of multiculturalism.

  2. “If the intervention in the West African country of Mali shows us anything, it’s that colonialism is still alive and well, though its form has changed somewhat.”
    Indeed it is. Just as Muslim colonialists took over Sudan they are now doing in Mali, Nigeria, Southern Thailand, Kashmir, Israel, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
    When will these Islamist colonialists be stopped? Will we wait until they take over Spain again? (Just kidding!)

  3. “First off, the rebels. Yes, some of them are Islamists who want to impose some form of Sharia law.”
    Wow, Luke! You certainly are the master of under-statement.
    Have you seen footage out of Mali? The recent video of a woman being stoned to death by tolerant, compassionate Islamists? Of the live footage of men’s hands being amputated, the live footage of men being beheaded for breaking Sharia law?
    Through what lens are you seeing this through? What is the other side of rose-colored because that’s your color lens.

  4. Luke – let me remind you that Islam and Sharia law go hand-in-hand. One cannot exist without the other.
    In Islam there is no “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” there is only Islam: Islam dominates religious, civil, legal, social, etc…
    Islam means submission. Submission to Allah without question, submission to allah’s laws without question.
    So, yes, there are many differences in interpretation of Sharia law, but EVERY single Islamic country has some degree of Sharia law. Even at the UN all 57 member OIC countries have signed onto the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights instead of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Cairo Declaration designates Sharia law as the final word in matters of State. It also acknowledges, quite clearly, that non-Muslims are not equal to Muslims.
    So much for universal human rights. It’s Sharia instead.

  5. CitizenWhy says:

    This brief excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on the French intervention in Mali (Operation Serval) points out that the Taureg Rebellion leaders were pushed out extremists Jihadists. The French intervention was not against the Taureg rebellion but the Jihadist takeover and its imposition of Sharia law on a Muslim population where women enjoyed a great degree of equality and did not want to lose that equality:

    “In January 2012, following an influx of weapons that occurred after the Libyan Civil War, Tuareg tribesmen of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began a rebellion against Mali’s central government.[25] … In April, the MNLA said it had accomplished its goals and called off … its offensive against the government, proclaiming the independence of Azawad.[26] In June 2012, however, the MNLA came into conflict with the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa after the Islamists began imposing Sharia in Azawad.[27] By 17 July, MOJWA and Ansar Dine had pushed the MNLA out of all the major cities.[28] On 1 September 2012, the town of Douentza, in the Mopti Region, until then controlled by the Ganda Iso militia, was taken by the MOJWA,[29] and on 28 November 2012, the MNLA was pushed out of Léré, Timbuktu Region, by Ansar Dine.[30]”

    One of the enduring problems in international relations is the creation of a bi-polar model of the world in our heads., the CIA operated the Cold War on this theological model and did great damage as a result. Another bi-polar model is Islam against The West. Automatically dividing the world into suffering colonies and exploitative colonials is another form of bi-polar abstract thinking when it ignores the specific historic context, the facts on the ground.

    Bi-polar thinking is a plague on the western intellectual mind, as is the idea that colonized people are not the primary agents of their destiny but only westerners can be the agents of history, always the cause. Both intellectuals failings are found in both the US left and right.

    As for resources in Mali the main export is gold, and the gold is mined in the south.

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