The annual Anglo-French summit meeting took place on January 18 with a high-level meeting at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst between Prime Minister Theresa May and President Macron. Although the summit’s agenda was presented as wide-ranging, it was evident that increasing military activity and what is referred to as security co-operation was at the heart of the meeting. What was particularly evident, was increasing intervention in the affairs of African countries by France and Britain both to prevent what is described as the threat of “Islamist-terrorism” in the Sahel and to establish the borders of the European Union (EU) firmly in that region allegedly to control the flow of migrants to Europe and prevent modern forms of slavery.
Ostensibly for these purposes the government announced that it was deploying three Chinook helicopters to Mali, where the French army has been engaged in what it claims are counter-terrorism activities since at least 2012. The French mission, known as Operation Barkhane, is based in Chad and has involved over 4,000 French troops as well as air support deployed in Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, which are all former French colonies. According to the French government Barkhane was established primarily in the interests of France and Europe not those of Africa. The British government has also been contributing to this activity since at least 2016 when Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the RAF would routinely airlift French troops in the region. The U.S. army also has troops and special forces in neighbouring Niger, as well as Burkina Faso and Cameroon. Amongst other things, the U.S. military is involved in regular drone surveillance of Mali from its base in Niger. The U.S. military have been engaged in what they refer to as counter-terrorism activities in the area even before the French, indeed from 2002, even before there was any evidence of “terrorist” activity.
These military activities have been stepped up following the military intervention in Libya by the Anglo-French coalition and other NATO powers in 2011.
Since that time, the country has been in a state of almost total anarchy, with rival governments and militias vying for power, and parts of the country in the hands of so-called Islamic State and other sinister organizations, the very forces that were supported and financed by the NATO powers with the aim of regime-change in Libya. The neighbouring countries and the entire Sahel has also become affected by similar instability, which has contributed to the problems of mass migration, people trafficking and a modern slave trade throughout the entire region. It is allegedly to counter these problems created by military intervention that the governments of Britain and France are engaged in more military intervention.
These military activities exist alongside the EUCAP Sahel Niger mission, part of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), begun in 2012 to allegedly give “security” advice to the government of Niger. Already over 120 representatives of European security forces and justice departments are deployed in Niamey, the country’s capital. Since 2014 EUCAP personnel have also been deployed in central Niger, specifically to deal with migration and other perceived threats to Europe and in regular liaison with other CSDP missions including EUCAP Sahel Mali, the EU Training Mission in Mali, UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Libya, which “supports the Libyan authorities in developing border management and security.” In addition, the French government and the EU have also been organizing and funding the so-called G5 Sahel Joint Force, launched in 2017 and comprising military forces from the five African countries in the Sahel, which is also to be deployed throughout the region.
The intervention by the EU and its allies in the Sahel, which has also involved economic interference and so-called “aid,” has done nothing to prevent instability or mass migration to Europe. Nor have the so-called migrant reception centres and other measures in Libya which were widely condemned, even by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who referred to EU policies as “inhuman” even before the centres were revealed as key institutions for people trafficking and enslavement by the media late last year. “The increasing interventions of the EU and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants,” the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights said. “Our monitoring, in fact, shows a fast deterioration in their situation in Libya.”
Although the intervention of Britain, France and other EU countries across the Sahel is presented as humanitarian activity or allegedly to combat terrorism it cannot be forgotten that the region is also of growing economic importance. Both Mali and Niger contain important deposits of uranium mined by the French nuclear power monopoly Areva, which is largely state-owned. Areva is a major player in the development of the planned Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Britain. In Niger, the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, Areva was the major player until the arrival of China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation broke its monopoly in 2007. China is also playing a major role in oil and gas exploration in Niger in rivalry with the U.S. and others, while in Mali it is making major investments in infrastructure as well as uranium, oil and iron ore exploration. Despite the poverty of its populations and large areas of desert, the entire Sahel is a region in which the big powers are vying for economic and geo-political advantage. These activities too have created instability as well as increasingly violent opposition to foreign interference.
The military intervention by Britain, France, the U.S. and others and the measures taken in North Africa and the Sahel have not prevented the mass human exodus that is a consequence of impoverishment and economic underdevelopment caused by colonial and neo-colonial rule, and more recent neo-liberal globalization. Rather, it has added to the increasingly inhuman treatment of migrants and the loss of thousands of lives. In addition, the mass movement of people is a direct result of the instability and armed conflicts in the world, caused largely by the intervention of Britain and the other big powers. Nor has military intervention in the region eliminated what is referred to as terrorism and other criminal activities, quite the reverse is the case.
The response of Britain and the other big powers is to use the consequences of intervention, such as the anarchy in Libya and instability in Mali, as the justification for further intervention in Africa in line with their geo-political and other aims. This course of action will only exacerbate such problems and bring further suffering to millions. There is an urgent need for the people of Britain and other European countries to take a stand against the actions of the EU and the other big powers which are creating such havoc and suffering throughout the world.
Workers’ Weekly is a publication of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). (February 3, 2018)