By Serhat Orakçı, World Bulletin
Those who keep track of African and world news have the following questions: Why is France in Mali? Is it a sign of power? Or rather an effort to reclaim colonies? Or is it trying to use the country's underground resources?
The French military intervention in Mali is rather new. French people are looking for answers to these questions just as we are. France is trying to persuade the international community and its own people that it is in Mali to fix certain things that have gone wrong. The purpose displayed is to clean the south of Mali from radical Islamists. Or, as France puts it, to clean Mali from Al-Quaeda and ensure its territorial integrity.
It is naive to believe that the reason for French presence in Mali is to bring harmony and prosperity to the Mali people. There is more than one reason to this initiative. Despite financial crisis in Europe and the risks France is facing, the benefits must also be substantial. When global powers make significant breakthroughs, they by all means calculate profits and losses.
God knows the real reason, we can only make certain conclusions. We can analyze the situation considering history, other interventions that took place and the evolving political discourse.
First and foremost the importance of Mali and disinformation of the public opinion should be highlighted. Mali is not much heard of but has a rather bright history. It is in the West Africa, the heart of Islam. It is one of these rear places that had developed peculiar architecture. Southern regions of Mali used to be an intellectual center, a source of knowledge where all the important writings of the period were collected. It has a strong literary tradition. Towns where clashes take place these days have libraries with around 700 thousand rear manuscripts. This legacy, collected in 13-14 centuries, was looted by French colonizers and about 1 million manuscripts were taken to French libraries. Locals managed to keep this legacy burying the manuscripts in the ground.
West Africa suffered a lot of devastation during colonization period. French colonies are still among the poorest countries in the world. Mali is world's 4th poorest country. France has established a strong economic and political network in the region. It can be deduced if we consider 6000 French nationals living in Mali. But French level of comfort has not reached here. The people are poor.
As Africa developed it became harder for the traditional players to keep their grip on the colonies. Countries like China, Russia, Brazil, India and Turkey are eager to do business in the region. The Africans began to realize that the were not impregnated by colonial powers. Thus the influence of traditional players in the region is reducing. China is the biggest investor in Africa nowadays. It imports most of its oil from Angola and Sudan. Turkey's trade turnover with Africa grows every year. These push the US, France and England towards more aggressive politics in Africa.
The fact that Salafi understanding of Islam has been gaining power in Africa is true. It is true for Mali as well.
Sunni Islam keeps losing followers because it cannot provide solutions to people's socio-economic problems. It is more in league with politics. Thus it becomes easier for Salafi movements to gain new followers. Regions that lack governmental support raise against the state trying to find a solution. Unfortunately those who claim that the Mali government has lost control over the southern part of the country are right. Bamako's weak management has never had any influence in the south.They assumed that they got the region under their control by just establishing a few police offices managed by those appointed by the center. The people respect tribe chiefs and religious leaders, who they consider to be closer to themselves. The people have seen them as more powerful in solving problems. A lot can be said about the Mali crisis but the power gained by the armed forces and Islamist rebels is largely due to the socio-economic situation the poor people are in.
What is France aimed at with this military operation? There is more than one answer to this question. Surely it is impossible to narrow everything down to one reason. France must have various political, economic and military expectations. Once in control of the central region of the West Africa it can get an opportunity to penetrate into the neighboring countries especially if permanent military bases are established. Mali borders Burkina Faso, Algeria, Mauritania and Niger on the north. The fact that the region has rich fields of uranium, gold, oil and phosphate cannot be ignored. France processes uranium in the north of Niger and has nuclear power. It needs uranium for its reactors. %70 of electricity in France is generated from the nuclear plants.
The north of Mali is located in the Sahara desert, seen by the locals as a group of smaller deserts and extremely rich in underground water resources. Africa's underground sweet water resources are 100 times greater than its surface waters. That is why Sahara is a significant field in terms of access to sweet water. Sahara is at the same time a storage for solar energy. Only 0.03% of solar energy accumulated here could provide all Europe with electricity for one year. Experiments with giant solar panels in Sahara started long ago. Besides, nuclear tests also take place. France's nuclear tests in the 1960s are quite famous. The results of these tests provided nuclear power to Israel. Speaking about experiments, agriculture should also be mentioned. It is known that France is engaged in agricultural tests in Sahara these days.
France will profit from this military operation in other ways as well, regaining influence over its old colonies, restoring its relations with Africa and regaining sympahties of African people by playing a savior role in the region. It is highly probable that France will gain control over the Islamic movements and be at the head of possible political changes later on. If we keep in mind the Arab spring atmosphere in Africa the picture becomes even more clear. The power to control North Africa should be influential in both Mediterranean and Sahara regions.
These are the benefits France can get. And that is why France is in Mali.