Previously published on Black Agenda Report.
France has thrown its military weight around in Africa for years, but recently, in the wake of troop casualties, and with the prospect of more soldier deaths, French imperialist punks have signaled their plan to withdraw more than 2,000 troops from the continent.
France began “Operation Barkhane” in 2013, supposedly to rid the Sahel region of al-Qaeda cells and sympathizers. However, resistance to the military campaign has left about 55 French soldiers dead. French President Emmanuel Macron said: “Many of our soldiers have fallen, I have a thought for their families. We owe them consistency, clarity.”
When it comes to Africa, France has always been both consistent and clear about its plan to dominate and exploit. Also, while other western powers, including the U.S. have participated in neo-colonial projects, French efforts have included an extra dose of nasty. For example, as colonialism breathed its last gasps in 1958, France arrogantly strong-armed most of its African colonies into relationships designed to perpetuate the colonial model in a different form. When, by referendum, Guinea alone stood tall and strong for true independence and rejected the French proposal, France threw a tantrum. Author Elizabeth Schmidt wrote:
“France retaliated with a vengeance. Even before the vote, France began its withdrawal, sabotaging archives, infrastructure and the economy. After the referendum, France attempted to isolate Guinea diplomatically, economically and militarily.”
The bullying of Africa has been driven entirely by self-interest and greed. In more recent years, and as just one example, the French military presence in Niger has been for the purpose of protecting French uranium mines, notwithstanding claims the mission’s focus is anti-terrorism.
For its own exploitative purposes, in 2014 the U.S. chose to become militarily involved in Mali and other countries in the region. In response, a French Special Forces officer said: “The Americans want to get involved in Africa. That’s good for us. We know that with the Americans it will be more efficient. We use American logistics – that’s what we are missing. On the other hand, we provide the local knowledge.”
U.S. involvement may have been good for France, but ultimately it proved costly for the U.S. In 2017, four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger, and the public reaction was so strong that the U.S. was forced to substantially reduce its troop presence in Africa. Nevertheless, then as in preceding years, the imperialist imperative demanded alternative approaches to the domination of Africa. In the case of Niger, the U.S. intensified and expanded its use of armed drones.
Notwithstanding the devastation generally caused by French and U.S. military operations in Africa, a crime that left Africa reeling, and from which it has not yet recovered, was the depraved, barbaric assassination of Moammar Gadhafi and the destruction of Libya in 2011. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and France armed anti-Black and other reactionary forces in Libya which carried out a protracted process of genocide and mass destruction that culminated in a mob’s use of a bayonet to murder Gadhafi by rectal disembowelment. Unlike many imperialist operations of this kind where we are left to connect the dots, we have damning evidence of the motive.
An April 2, 2011 State Department memo frankly and bluntly states. “[Libya’s 143 tons of gold] was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc…”
The memo goes on to explain: “French intelligence officers discovered this plan [for a pan-African currency] shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.”
The explanation doesn’t stop there: “According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues: a) A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production; b) Increase French influence in North Africa, c) Improve his internal political situation in France, d) Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world, e) Address the concern of his advisors over [Gadhafi’s] long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.”
In more recent years, French military efforts in the Sahel region have failed to defeat the forces they have been fighting, and this along with French opposition to decisions by African governments in the region to talk with these groups have played a role in the decision to cut and run. French troops have had a substantial presence in Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso for years. Yet, these military operations have succeeded only in increasing the number of violent attacks.
When African governments decided to negotiate truces and begin a dialogue with those forces, President Macron declared France would cease collaboration with countries that “decide to negotiate with groups that…shoot at our children.” However, studies show that in regions where truces are in effect, there have been dramatic decreases in the number of deaths. In one region civilian deaths decreased from 65 in the first quarter of 2020 to 26 in the first quarter of 2021. In the Sahel they dropped from 487 to 191, and in still another region they dropped from 66 to zero.
These results demonstrate yet again that the longstanding imperialists’ efforts to shoot and bomb their way into domination of devastated regions is a manifestation of clueless arrogance and a failure to consider Africa’s realities. When neo-colonial African governments fail to meet the most basic needs of their people, the way is clear for so-called terrorists to win the support of the people both by presenting themselves as opponents of neglectful or oppressive governments, and by also helping the people survive. When imperialist military forces engage in combat and cause civilian deaths, the support for the so-called terrorists grows. So-called terrorist organizations are not what Africa needs for its revolution, but for some desperate, oppressed people attempting to resist neo-colonialism and imperialism, such groups may appear to be the only game in town.
While France may be scaling down its military operations, it is not removing all its troops, and the country’s interest in Africa has not evaporated. Macron has explained his plan to encourage greater military engagement by its toady, the United States of America and other imperialist and neo-colonial forces. In true cowardly style, France hopes to hide within an imperialist coalition to do its dirty work in Africa. Consequently, Africa is still faced with the challenge of overcoming foreign military intervention.
There may nevertheless be reasons to be encouraged by these developments. Notwithstanding the fact that imperialist governments are chronically stuck on stupid when it comes to using armed force to impose their will in underdeveloped regions, there is ever-diminishing patience and tolerance for such activities among the broad masses of people in France, the U.S. and other western countries when the cost of these operations is the deaths of soldiers. The U.S. government felt pressure from its own citizens when four soldiers were killed in Niger in 2017. France is now feeling heat because of deaths of its soldiers.
The public pressure triggered by military casualties may not signal significant growth of revolutionary consciousness, but it does have a limiting effect that is useful to those resisting the militarization of Africa. It even presents for Africans born and living in imperialist countries the best opportunities to fight for Africa by taking advantage of direct access to those who can, through force of mass movement end the militarization of the continent. Africa’s potential for using its resources to save not only itself, but its diaspora can’t be realized until the imperialist combat-booted foot on the continent’s neck is removed.