Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, chairing the Detroit MLK Day Rally & March on Jan. 21, 2013. The event attracts activists from throughout the region. (Photo: Sharon Black), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
UNAC Holds Educational Conference Call on the Imperialist War in Mali
Activists from across the U.S. and Canada participate while imperialist war intensifies
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
An educational conference call was convened by the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) on the evening of February 24. Participation came from across the United States from California to New York involving UNAC activists as well as other political forces.
Ana Edwards, a leader of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality based in Richmond, was the first speaker on the call which was chaired by UNAC administrative committee member Joe Lombardo who is based in upstate New York.
Edwards was in Mali as part of ongoing solidarity work through the Friends of Mali when the French military invasion began on January 11. Since early 2010, she has worked to develop people-to-people ties with the West African state.
At the time of the intervention Edwards was in the city of Segou some 150 miles northeast of the capital of Bamako. Reports reached her and other members of their delegation that for safety reasons they should be re-located to the capital of Bamako in the south of the country.
Edwards witnessed the French military build-up that was facilitated by Pentagon warplanes. Mali’s government under former President Amadou Toumani Toure had been a participant in the U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) joint training operations ostensibly designed to enhance the national security capability of the country.
The leader of the military coup in Mali last March 21-22, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, was trained in several military academies in the U.S. Sanogo orchestrated the coup under the guise that the Toure government was failing in efforts to defeat the advances of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country which was led at the time by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
Yet despite these allegations by the coup-makers, the military putsch set off a national and regional crisis. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for the isolation of the military junta and the U.S. and other countries said they were suspending ties with Mali pending a political resolution to the seizure of power by these army officers.
Edwards, who drafted a statement put out by UNAC opposing the intervention in Mali by France and other imperialist states, acknowledged that many within the country believed that the intervention of France would halt the reported advances by the Islamist groups who had taken several towns in the North including Gao, Timbuktu and other areas.
These Islamist organizations, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJUWA) and the Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), had taken the military initiative from the MNLA in the north. The presence of these organizations provided a pretext for France and the U.S. to militarily intervene and to extend their involvement into neighboring Niger.
Another presenter during the UNAC conference call was Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, an online news agency encompassing written articles, research reports, a radio broadcast and television outlet. Ford has been broadcasting commentaries highly critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward Africa as well as the relative inactivity of the Congressional Black Caucus in defending the interests of the African continent.
Ford examined the widening role of AFRICOM where most states within Africa have been lured into joint military operations with the Pentagon. Ford said that only the governments in Zimbabwe, Eritrea and the Republic of Sudan were refusing to have a relationship with AFRICOM.
A number of the activists on the call raised questions about the current situation in Mali in regard to resistance to French intervention, the role of the U.S. and the need to develop an action plan that can be taken up by broad sections of the anti-war movement to halt and rollback Pentagon interventions on the continent.
War Escalates In Mali
Although France claims that it will withdraw its forces from Mali in April, the situation on the ground indicates that the war is intensifying. Paris has admitted that two of its soldiers have been killed in the operations while the government in Chad, which has troops operating alongside the French, has announced that 23 of its soldiers died in fighting during February 22-24 around the mountainous Ifoghas region near the border with Algeria.
Reports are emerging from the war despite an attempt to block news from coming out of the country. Clashes have taken place in Gao, Kidal, and Tessalit where MOJUWA has engaged both French and Malian units.
With the escalation in the ground war, Human Rights Watch has called upon the Malian government to investigate allegations of violations carried out by their military forces. In a statement issued by HRW on February 22, it said that the government in Bamako should “urgently investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for torture, summary executions, and enforced disappearances of suspected Islamist rebels and alleged collaborators.” (HRW Report)
Yet France’s bombing of the country, particularly in recent weeks around the Ifoghas Mountains, has drawn less scrutiny from western-based human rights organizations. France and Chad have admitted that its operations have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people who they claim are all so-called “al-Qaeda linked” fighters.
Considering the worsening situation in Mali, it will remain to be seen if France withdraws its ground forces and warplanes from the country. An article published by Colum Lynch on February 22 may provide a glimpse into the character of France’s long term military plans for Mali.
According to Lynch, “When France eventually ends its military operations in Mali, the French military intends to position a rapid reaction force somewhere in West Africa to support African peacekeepers facing serious challenges to their authority by Islamist insurgents, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the plans. Paris has not informed its allies where this new force would be deployed, but diplomats said it would most likely be in Senegal, Niger, or Chad, where France maintains military bases.”
This same article goes on to say that “France’s U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud, has sought to assure his counterparts that Paris will not abruptly pull out of Mali in the coming weeks, saying that the French military presence will be phased out gradually to allow time for a new U.N. peacekeeping mission to get its bearings.”
France says that it is working on a new resolution to go before the U.N. Security Council to formally establish an African-led peacekeeping force to be based in Mali. At present there are 5,000 troops from Chad, Niger, Nigeria and other regional countries inside Mali, however, it is being reported that most of them have not been deployed to the frontlines.
Since the intervention of France and its allies in Mali, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated. A recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) notes that 1.2 million people have been directly impacted by the fighting and approximately 700,000 children have been forced from schools due to the closing of educational institutions and the displacement of teachers.
At the same time as the war in Mali escalates, French President Francois Hollande has been awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) peace prize for his unilateral intervention in this West African state. Many people throughout the international community have questioned the UNESCO choice for the award in light of the growing militarism of Paris.
Finian Cunningham, an African affairs correspondent, wrote on February 22 that “France’s claim of combating terrorism in Mali does not add up. Re-conquest of this former French colony and control of rich natural resources in West Africa are some of the more plausible reasons for this criminal offensive that began on January 11.” (Press TV)
U.S. Deploys 100 Troops to Niger
On February 22 President Obama announced that he was deploying 100 troops to the West African nation of Niger, which borders Mali. The placing of troops in Niger is related to the conduct of unmanned reconnaissance flights over Malian territory in an effort to share intelligence with the French military. (Reuters)
The U.S. and the government of Niger signed a Status of Forces Agreement during January which is designed to govern the presence of Pentagon troops in the uranium-rich nation. The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) already have many drones and other surveillance aircraft stationed in several regions of the African continent in addition to a permanent base in the Horn of Africa state of Djibouti.
This announcement by Obama is in line with the December declaration by the White House that 3,500 troops would be dispatched to nearly three dozen states around the continent. These policy decisions will further destabilize Africa and create more resistance among the masses of the people struggling to win a better life free of imperialism and national oppression.