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"Habits of French colonialism"

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  • Kevin Lindemann and Cathy Campo
    Habits of French colonialism. Vijay Prashad, Newsclick, January 22, 2013 In other days France was the name of a country. We should take care that in 1961 it
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 22, 2013
      Habits of French colonialism.

      Vijay Prashad, Newsclick, January 22, 2013

      "In other days France was the name of a country. We should take care
      that in 1961 it does not become the name of a
      nervous disease."

      -- Jean Paul Sartre, preface to Frantz Fanon's *Wretched of the Earth*.

      In an early French film on the colonies, *Enfants annamites ramassant
      des sepques devant la Pagode des dames* (Lumiere Brothers, 1897), two
      French women smile condescendingly as they scatter coins to a group of
      Vietnamese children, who scramble to gather them. Little has changed in
      the French attitude to its former colonies in more than a century. The
      "Socialist" president Francois Hollande's deceitful claim that France is
      in Mali to protect the country from Islamism is shallow: there are other
      motivations that linger so close to the surface, such as France's desire
      to project itself into an increasingly restive Francophone Africa since
      its 2011 intervention into Cote d'Ivoire as well as France's need for
      nearby Niger's uranium for its nuclear energy and for Mali's gold. Like
      the two women in 1897, Hollande stands at the Elysee Palace, dripping
      with hypocrisy.

      The French "socialists" have always been keen colonizers, and
      strikingly, they have found willing collaborators
      in the wider French Left. In 1956, at the height of the Algerian
      struggle for national self-determination, the French communist
      delegates voted in favour of the Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet's
      government to grant "special powers" to its colonial security services
      in Algeria. Mollet was committed to anti-colonialism before he became
      the head of the government, with his volte-face treated to tomatoes
      during a visit to Algiers (la journee des tomates, it is called). French
      philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote a stinging attack on the Left’s
      position on Algeria in 1957. "They talk of Algeria," he wrote, "but in
      moderate terms." No protests against the war, no days of action. Its
      activists are grumbling,” he wrote, and “as for the
      working-class, the result, and perhaps the aim, of this policy is that
      it is entirely demobilized…..The [Left] is reaping what it has
      sown: when it needs the masses, it will no longer find them."

      Sartre was right. Eighteen months later, when the Fourth Republic
      collapsed, the Left could not seize the situation. It lost a
      million and a half votes in the elections, ushering Charles de Gaulle
      back to power and inaugurating the Fifth Republic.

      The French Left has learned no lessons.

      On January 16, Deputy Francois Asensi of the Gauche democrate et
      rebublicaine parliamentary bloc (and former Communist
      member) gave a speech at the National Assembly. Non-intervention would
      have been cowardice, he notes (La
      non-intervention aurait ete la pire des lachetet). The position of the
      Left Front, the Communists and the Republicans, he
      continued, is clear: "to abandon the people of Mali to the barbarism of
      fanatics would be a political error and a moral
      failing" (La position des deputes du Front de gauche, communistes et
      reblicains, est claire: abandonner le
      peuple malien a barbarie a la des fanatiques aurait ete une erreur
      politique et une faute morale). The jihadists of
      Northern Mali had to be stopped, said Deputy Asensi, or else they would
      create a despotic, blood thirsty and medieval state
      (des regimes despotiques, sanguinaires et moyenageux). Echoing George W.
      Bush and his amanuensis on the war on Iraq
      Christopher Hitchens, Deputy Asensi notes, that fundamentalism is a new
      form of fascism (Leur fondamentalisme constitue
      une forme nouvelle du fascism). There is no mention here of the Tuareg
      fight for self-determination that goes back to the
      1960s which had been suppressed by the French themselves, nor anything
      about the French-led Libyan war of 2011 that sent
      radical Islamist fighters across the border into Azwad (northern Mali)
      to tip the balance against the Tuareg nationalists. What
      we get from Deputy Asensi is the bland defence of French neo-colonialism
      couched in the language of humanitarian
      internationalism, "International military action was necessary to avoid
      the installation of a terrorist state" (Une
      action militaire internationale etait nessaire pour eviter
      l'installation d'un Etat Terroriste).

      The Communists partly differentiated themselves from their erstwhile
      member. Four days before, their statement echoed the
      French worry about the jihadist groups moving to the South. There was no
      mention of the resource wars. A small mention of
      the French neo-colonial agenda (Francafrique) was brushed aside by
      saying that this intervention "can be seen" in colonial terms (and not
      is a colonial assault). But then, as with Deputy Asensi, it tried to
      shift the burden of the military operation from France to Bamako and to
      the United Nations (Le PCF rappelle que la reponse a la demande d'aide
      du Presodent du Mali aurait du s'inscrire dans le cadre d'une mission de
      l'ONU et de l'Union africaine, realisee sous drapeau de l'ONU, par des
      forces maliennes et africaines, dans le strict respect de la Charte des
      Nations-Unies, dans les limites impose par l'exigence de la souverainete

      It is the case that the Malian "government" did request assistance. But
      bear in mind that this "government" came to power as a result of a coup
      led by the military, whose coup leadership (especially Captain Amadou
      Sanogo) was trained by the US; and that the actual Malian democracy of
      the 1990s was consistently undermined by the West and the IMF, who
      inserted their own man to the prime minister's office in the early
      2000s. Mali did not call for the intervention; the undemocratic, and
      Western backed, coup regime's antecedents did. The current President,
      Dioncounda Traore's only the Acting President, whose installation to his
      current office in April 2012 was sealed with a promise to fight a "total
      and relentless war" on the Tuareg, giving in, therefore, to the Malian
      military's main grouse that led to the March 2012 coup in the first
      place. Traore'squo;s first Acting Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra
      was removed by the coup leaders in mid-December 2012 and replaced by
      Django Sissoko, who presided over a regime dominated by the coup
      leaders. This is the government that invited the French into Mali.
      Sanogo's own political leanings can be gauged by the fact that he
      opposed the entry of an UN-authorized African force
      (staffed by ECOWAS) but he welcomed the French bombardment.

      The African Union's head, Yayi Boni, but not the African Union itself,
      hastily blessed the French intervention.
      Benin's President Boni, a former banker who has become paranoid about
      his own safety, said he was aux anges or
      thrilled with the French intervention. Niger's Mahamadou Issoufou backed
      the intervention and a military solution, but
      more it seems out of nervousness about Niger's precarious position. When
      Issoufou came to power in 2011, he
      appointed a Tuareg social democrat, Brigi Rafini to be his Prime
      Minister, seeking to unite all of Niger, including the restive
      Tuareg. Pressure on the Francophone African heads has been immense--but
      even here there are signs of stress, as it is
      disagreement amongst them that has prevented a clear line from the
      African Union in Addis Ababa.

      The UN support for the intervention is, despite Deputy Asensi's claims,
      also shaky. UN Security Council resolution
      2085, negotiated in December, was to provide safeguards against an
      extension of any intervention. It is not clear that the
      French provided any safeguards to the UN before its January 11
      bombardment of Konna. Paragraph 11 of the UN Resolution
      is fairly clear,

      "Emphasizes that the military planning will need to be further refined
      before the commencement of the
      offensive operation and requests that the Secretary-General, in close
      coordination with Mali, ECOWAS, the African
      Union, the neighbouring countries of Mali, other countries in the region
      and all other interested bilateral partners and
      international organizations, continue to support the planning and the
      preparations for the deployment of AFISMA
      [African Led Support Mission to Mali], regularly inform the Council of
      the progress of the process, and requests that
      the Secretary-General also confirm in advance the Council's satisfaction
      with the planned military offensive

      The UN has been caught a bit wrong-footed, once more opening the door to
      an intervention with safeguards in place, but then
      watching one of its permanent members disregard the caution and its
      provisions as it bombs and kills civilians in the name of
      the UN. For the French Left to hide behind the UN, when it is exactly
      what the French military assault is doing, is to ridicule
      both the UN Charter and the entire tradition of anti-colonialism and
      human rights. France's UN Ambassador Gerard
      Araud will brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday, January 22. It is
      expected that he will reinforce the tired narrative:
      jihadis have to be stopped, France is only assisting the Malian
      government, and so on.

      The French operation is called Serval, the African wild cat, whose
      figure is the symbol of the Italian island of Lampedusa--the gateway
      between Europe and Africa. During the Libyan war, Lampedusa became the
      contentious stopping point
      for Africans fleeing the crisis for Italy. Now, the herald of Lampedusa,
      the serval, blesses the jet fighters as they go in the other
      direction, bombing Africa as if by habit, throwing dust in the eyes of
      the world's peoples.

      Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views,
      and do not necessarily represent the views of

      Deom http://newsclick.in/international/habits-french-colonialism
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