New scramble for Africa: No to expanding Canada’s military presence in Africa

By ENVER VILLAMIZAR

On March 19, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that Canada would be sending a task force of an as-yet undetermined number of troops and Chinook and Griffon helicopters to join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for a one-year deployment. The announcement in fact expands Canada’s military involvement in Mali and the Sahel region of Africa which has been ongoing since 2010.[1]

A Department of National Defence press release says that the mission is to “bring sustainable peace and stability to Mali and the Sahel.”[2] ”Canada is committed to building a more peaceful and prosperous world. Ensuring the safety and security of our citizens – and those of our allies – means working to confront instability and conflict around the world. Canada’s support for United Nations peacekeeping will help vulnerable and marginalized communities build a better future for themselves,” the press release says.

The Sahel covers (from west to east) parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria and Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.

None of this clarifies what is meant by “peacekeeping” today. Nor does it reveal the real purpose of Canada’s presence in Africa along with that of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and others. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance told a press conference that the Chinook helicopters would be used for medical evacuations but could also be used for transporting other UN troops and equipment, while the Griffons would act as an “armed escort” and possibly also be used “for support to ground forces.” Vance indicated that final decisions around the number of helicopters and personnel would not be made until after a military team was able to visit Mali and the multinational camp in Gao, saying a lot more details were still needed. Planners also still need to consult with the Germans, whose air support operation Canada will be replacing, he said.

Meanwhile, the CBC reported that the government confirmed it will send “up to six helicopters and as many as 250 aircrew and troops” to Mali this summer.

A statement by the Department of National Defence said the new “peace operation” is a result of commitments the government made at the Vancouver Peacekeeping Summit it hosted with the U.S. in November 2017. At that time, Canada announced it was dedicating up to 600 troops and 150 police officers to what are defined as “peace operations.”

Since the announcement, the government and media have done everything possible to divert attention from the real reasons Canada is joining the U.S. in its rivalry with other European powers and China in Africa in the name of peacekeeping. One diversion is the emphasis on Canada’s prevarication because it failed to announce where it would deploy its troops.

Canada’s statement also referred to another commitment yet to be announced of a “Quick Reaction Force and accompanying equipment.” A third commitment, for “a tactical airlift support to …. transport UN troops, equipment, and supplies to their missions,” was announced in November as being for “one or two” C-130 Hercules aircraft to support the UN’s Regional Support Centre in Entebbe, Uganda. It is said to be in the preparation stage currently.

Mining Mali

When evaluating what Canada is doing in Mali it is important to consider amongst other things that Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold producer and eighth in the world. Along with Niger, Mali also has large deposits of uranium.

According to Natural Resources Canada, Canadian mining assets in Mali in 2016 were $1.529 billion held by 12 companies.  In 2015, 15 companies held $1.221 billion in assets. Companies with stakes in industrial gold mines in Mali include Randgold, AngloGold Ashanti, B2Gold, IAMGOLD and Hummingbird Resources.[3],[4] Those with stakes in uranium mining include Cascade Resources Ltd., Northern Canadian Uranium Inc., Rockgate Capital Corp. and Oklo Resources Ltd.

Natural Resources Canada 2012 map of major mines and gold deposits in Mali and neighbouring countries. (Click to enlarge)

The government of Mali is in the midst of changing its mining code. Mali’s Minister of Economy and Finance Boubou Cisse told reporters on March 16 that existing “protections” against changes to the 30-year-old mining code would be reduced. “The negotiations are underway. If they don’t pan out, it will be a unilateral decision like in [Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)],” Cisse said. Cisse’s remarks led to “concerns” from mining companies in Mali.

On March 20, a day after Canada officially announced its expanded military presence in Mali, Canadian-based B2Gold issued a statement “responding to news” regarding the new Mali mining code. It says that: “statements attributed to a Government Minister at a recent joint news conference with the International Monetary Fund suggested that if compromises with mining companies are not achieved, amendments to the mining code may be unilaterally implemented. The full details of any proposed new mining code and the timing for its implementation are not known at this time. Government officials have advised the Company that the Minister’s comments were taken out of context in such news report and should not be applied to all mining operations in Mali.”

It asserted that B2Gold’s “interest in its Fekola Mine in Mali is governed by a finalized and enforceable mining convention (as amended) with the State of Mali that includes stabilization provisions which provide that the Fekola Mine is subject to the Mali Mining Code (2012) for the duration of its operations and subsequent amendments to the Mali Mining Code are not applicable to it. As a result of these provisions, the Company believes its interests in Fekola are protected and that any contemplated amendments in a new mining code will not apply to Fekola without B2Gold’s agreement.” The B2Gold statement added, “No Malian government representative has informed any B2Gold representatives in Mali or elsewhere that the government does not agree with the Company’s position.”[5]

The agreement between B2Gold and the Malian government over its Fekola project, however, is subject to final ratification by the Mali National Assembly, which is expected at their next scheduled sitting in April.

The presence of the forces of the U.S., Canada and European powers in Mali, as in other strategic African countries, is part of a new scramble for Africa which causes harm to the peoples of that continent. In the name of fighting terrorism and peacekeeping, inter-imperialist rivalries for domination of Africa and the world are escalating. It is very important for Canadians to step up their work to make Canada a zone for peace and oppose the presence of Canadian troops abroad in the name of peacekeeping.

Notes

1.While the government presents its UN mission in Mali as something new, it in fact represents an expansion of Canada’s military involvement in Mali and the region. Writing in the Globe and Mailon March 19, Geoffrey York says, “Canada has…sent hundreds of soldiers to Mali since 2010 in a multimillion-dollar effort to help train the Malian army in counterterrorism, border security and other priorities. Much of this training was led by the U.S. military under a U.S.$500-million counterterrorism program.” York notes that one of the graduates of that training program who led a 2012 military coup against the government of Mali.

On January 14, 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would participate in a French-led military intervention in Mali, a former French colony. He said a Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 military transport aircraft would be provided “for a period of one week” in response to a request from the French government for military assistance. This was subsequently extended to one month. The intervention was generally supported by both the NDP and Liberals who spoke in favour of Canada’s role and even called for it to be made longer lasting and to extend more broadly in the region.

A report on the Canadian Armed Forces website states that a total of 48 airlifts were carried out between January 15 and March 31, 2013 in support of France’s “joint combat operation” with government of Mali forces. At the time, Harper said the aircraft was providing “logistical support” and that it would not participate in “direct combat” or operate in zones where direct combat was taking place. This claim contradicted the plane’s daily shipments of military hardware and equipment to French forces that had begun a ground offensive in Mali against those it said were terrorists.

The Harper government steadily increased Canada’s military presence in Africa, especially in the Sahel region. Fifty Canadian Special Forces were sent to Mauritania, which shares an eastern border with Mali, for ‘training,’ TML Weekly reported in 2013. Canadian Special Forces were also said to be training the military forces of Niger, another country which neighbours Mali to the east.

Canada continues to train Niger’s military forces today under Global Affairs Canada’s Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program. Information about this operation on the Canadian Armed Forces website makes clear that it is “not part of any peace support operation.”

The website notes that since 2015 Canada has been transporting French military equipment and personnel between France and countries of the Sahel region of Africa in support of France’s Operation Barkhane. Canada’s airlifts – the most recent at the end of February – are Code-named Operation Frequence and are reported to be “in support of international counterterrorism efforts in the region.”

2.The Sahel stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward through northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and into Sudan.

3.Canadian mining assets in countries bordering Mali:

Burkina Faso

2015: $2.287 billion – 14 companies

2016: $2.180 billion – 13 companies

Mauritania
2015: $1.338 billion – 4 companies

2016: $1.392 billion – 4 companies

Guinea
2015: $12 million – 7 companies

2016: $12 million – 4 companies

4.For information about IAMGOLD’s operations in Mali and Burkino Faso see here.

5.The Fekola project is an open pit gold mine situated in southwestern Mali, on the border between Mali and Senegal. The mill for the mine was completed in October 2017 and has commenced processing ore. At that time, the company announced that gold production from the Fekola Mine in 2017 was forecast to be between 100,000 and 110,000 ounces, “far surpassing the upper end of the original guidance of 45,000 to 55,000 ounces, and exceeding its reforecast production guidance range of between 50,000 and 55,000 ounces.”

(With files from CP, CBC, Al Jazeera, Xinhua)

From TML Weekly, April 7, 2018. www.cpcml.ca.


Related reading on this website

Africa: Remember this war?, August 12, 2014

Hands Off Africa! CTV, W5 and “Secret Warriors” should be widely denounced and condemned by everyone, April 2, 2014

Stop the warmongers! Reject the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s call for the invasion of Africa!, April 29, 2011

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