A year ago, on January 11, 2013, France launched Operation Serval, sending 4000 troops into Mali. At the time, many supported this intervention. According to one poll, as many as 96% of Malians initially supported the French intervention. A year later, the ‘world’ has largely moved on. The global media is more interested in Hollande’s sleeping arrangements than in France’s African designs.
A survey conducted just before the French intervention found that everyone was distressed by the crises taking place, both in the north and in the government. Malians had long expressed a belief in the importance [a] of ‘democratic government’ and [b] of democratically held elections as key to that government. “In 2012, fully 82 percent continued to favor ‘choosing leaders through regular, open and honest elections’ rather than some ‘other method.’”
The survey’s findings concerning the way forward bear citing:
Asked about solutions to ‘the current crisis,’ they express ambivalent views. In December 2012, a plurality (38 percent) wanted ‘war against the armed groups in the North’ though, within this group, twice as many preferred that any retaliatory strike be led by the Malian army rather than by ECOWAS (the survey did not ask about France). On the other hand, 29 percent preferred ‘dialogue’ between combatants. And 12 percent called for a return to ‘a strong state.’ A related question asked, ‘What is the best way to move beyond a regime that is corrupt and incompetent?’ Clearer answers emerge here. Almost half of all survey respondents (48 percent) opt for elections. And 15 percent want ‘respect for the Constitution.’ Only 7 percent recommend a military coup.
According to another survey, in 2012, poverty became the leading issue for Malians. Food security and hunger, access to clean water and to health care, and general instability and insecurity preoccupied Malians in 2012.
In a new book, La gloire des imposteurs: lettres sur le Mali et l’Afrique, Malian writer, activist, former member of government Aminata Traoré and renowned Senegalese journalist, screenwriter and novelist Boubacar Boris Diop try to look past the glory and the imposture to articulate what happened in Mali … and in France.
In preparation for the book launch, Traoré and Diop gave a three-part interview to Politis, the anti-capitalist French news agency. Traoré and Diop discuss the sense of having been betrayed; the relationship of Mali, and of the Central African Republic, to the ‘Arab Spring’; and the progress made by Malians and others, despite the ‘protection’ of European and American military forces.
The two see the French incursion into Mali as yet another part of the ongoing French ‘African adventure’, and, in broader terms, as yet another chapter of European and American imperialism on the continent.
In all three interviews, Diop and Traoré decry an exclusively political narrative that forbids any mention of the economic. Where’s the French, and global, concern for massive unemployment and deepening poverty, especially among youth, in Mali? If France, and the world, is so interested in ‘promoting democracy’, where was the consultation prior to Operation Serval?
Diop and Traoré say it’s time the French thought about their engagement in Africa. As Diop notes, England never sent troops to post-independence Kenya, Nigeria, or Zimbabwe; Portugal never sent troops to any of its former colonies. With Operation Sangaris, in the Central African Republic, France has sent troops five times to intervene in former colonies. Why? As Traoré notes, Sarkozy’s war in Libya destabilized the entire Sahel region, and Mali is only the first to pay the price.
For Traoré, the takeaway is that Mali, and Africa more generally, is not apart. It is intimately and integrally part of the world, and that world must stop segregating it, on the rare occasion that it pays attention.
Diop has the last word, part of which is, paraphrasing,
Each country has to learn as well to think through its own dynamics and its own reality. For example, Mali and Senegal are like twins, in that they have identical forces and issues, but at the same time, they are extremely different, and must address their own particularities. We must stop thinking that ‘Africa’ must either progress together or stagnate. Each country has its own story, its own sovereignty.
Africa is not an island, alone unto itself, nor is it a country.