The United Nations Security Council has unanimously supported Western intervention in Mali.
Very few people have come out against this latest imperial venture. The liberal press is silent because the enemy are Islamists—apparently aligned to Al Qaida.
In reality the new scramble for Africa is a battle for resources and strategic interests.
Now the US and China have joined old colonial powers like Britain and France.
In some periods they have felt their best interests are served by supporting dictators.
They’re also happy to claim to be bringing freedom and ending oppression when they use force.
When Belgium invaded the Congo region in the 1870s and took control of its rubber, its excuse was the need to stop the slave trade.
In the following years forced labour killed half the country’s population—some ten million people.
The imperialist cure was far worse than the original problem.
When the US invaded Somalia in 1992 people came out to welcome troops. But they soon came to support the resistance that drove the invaders out.
France’s record is no better.
It sent troops to Rwanda during the genocide—but not to help the victims. Instead they protected French-owned property and citizens.
Somehow the rebels in Mali are seen as worse because they are Islamists. The Financial Times argued, “Mali was fast becoming a launch pad for a regional jihad a few hours’ aeroplane ride from Europe.”
But it warns that the intervention “will help Islamists to internationalise the conflict”.
The neoliberalism that is sweeping Africa has concentrated what investment there is in ever smaller areas. In Mali this is the capital Bamako and its hinterland.
Anger at this has led to separatist movements that feel their areas have been marginalised. This anger is repeated across the continent.
Mali is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Islamism has grown there because the fighters claim to challenge imperial intervention.
It offers a solution to people’s growing poverty and marginalisation.
The arrival of foreign troops strengthens the Islamists’ argument that a small elite benefits from neoliberalism, and has succumbed to Western values and capitalist greed.
This is why French and British commanders are scared of getting bogged down in a ground war.
Even if the Islamists beat them the Islamists will not be able to deliver change. The hope for the future lies in revolutionary movements like those in Egypt.
These show it is possible to challenge imperialism, reject neoliberalism and provide for the poor and marginalised.