France is continuing its occupation of northern Mali to the growing displeasure of youth who have staged a sit-in in the city of Gao. The young people, many of them women, believe that Paris is seeking to maintain its control over the region by pitting the Tuareg people against other nationalities inside the country.
On May 30 the youth of Gao accused France of favoring the Tuareg rebel movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), over other groups by not consulting broadly in regard to plans related to the future of the state. National elections are scheduled to be held in July and talks have already been held in neighboring Burkina Faso between various political parties.
The civilian government of President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a military coup on March 20, 2012. The engineer of the seizure of power was Capt. Amadou Sanogo who was trained in several military academies in the United States.
During the protest in Gao people carried signs saying ‘No elections without trust,’ and ‘Our thoughts are with the victims, not the killers.’
Much attention was focused on the northern city of Kidal where France appears to be operating in alliance with the MNLA in the occupation. Reports indicate that the Malian army has not been able to enter the city through an agreement between France and the MNLA.
One youth activist at the demonstration in Gao told Middle East online that “The banners, which were addressed to Francois Hollande, were saying ‘you liberated Mali from terrorists, now free Kidal, otherwise Mali is going to brutally divorce you'”. (May 30)
Despite this widespread notion that France played a positive role in driving out several Islamist organizations from several northern cities, criticism against Paris has escalated in recent months. Attacks on the French occupation have taken place within the press and among some Malian politicians who are accusing the occupation forces of working to extend their presence inside the country.
Gao was the first city that was attacked by the French military in January. Consequently, it is significant that the first mass demonstration was held there.
One of the organizers of the Gao demonstration, Moussa Boureima Yoro, said that “We want to give France a heads-up and to tell them that they are allowing a situation to take place in Kidal that we do not understand. We want France to tell us what they are up to because we are confused when they say on the one hand that Kidal is part of Mali, and at the same time, they act as if it doesn’t belong to Mali.”(Associated Press, May 30)
Humanitarian Crisis Worsens in Gao and Other Areas
Since the rebel campaign of the MNLA and other armed groups in the north of Mali, there have been hundreds of thousands of people who are internally displaced and forced into exile. Gao, which has a population of 70,000, has been severely impacted as well.
In the aftermath of the military coup, and the seizure of power by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine in several northern cities and towns, France utilized this internal political crisis as a rationale for intervention. Nonetheless, the social situation of the civilian population has deteriorated with the French invasion.
A recent United Nations report documents that there are serious issues that need addressing in Gao. For example, the access to clean drinking water is in serious decline.
An Inter-agency mission to Gao led by Aurelien Agbemonci, who is the coordinator for Malian humanitarian assistance from the United Nations, noted that it was imperative that the availability of drinking water be addressed. Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the international press that available drinking water had fallen by 60 percent over the last few weeks. (United Nations News Service, May 28)
“Water is a main issue: some neighborhoods in Gao did not have water at all due to dysfunctional pumps and lack of electricity,” said Mr. Laerke. “Outside of the city, the situation is even worse because the Niger River was the only source of water and there were concerns about cholera outbreaks.”
In addition to problems involving access to clean drinking water, food is also in short supply. The UN says that only one-third of the population of Gao is being serviced with food distribution.
At present there are approximately 100 humanitarian organizations operating in Mali. According to the UN, the proposed budget of $410 million needed for humanitarian relief is only 29 percent funded.
Most of the schools in the cities of Gao, Timbuctu and Kidal are still not functioning. The conditions in areas outside the cities and towns are even more precarious due to the lack of security despite the presence of nearly 4,000 French troops as well as thousands of soldiers from Chad and other regional states.
With these problems continuing, it will be very difficult to organize credible national elections by the end of July. The UN reports that 174,000 Malians are living outside the country in neighboring states.
The UN is attempting to ensure that refugees will have an opportunity to participate in the upcoming elections. “While details of the out-of-country electoral process are still being worked out, UNHCR is ready to facilitate the exercise by refugees of their right to vote,” said UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
The bulk of Malian refugees are to be found in Mauritania with some 74,000 people being harbored. In Burkina Faso, it is reported that at least 50,000 have taken residence there and in Niger, another 50,000 have fled from the fighting and dislocation in northern Mali.
France Deepens Involvement in West Africa
Although France publicized its withdrawal of what it said was 2,000 troops from Mali during May, the occupation of the country will continue even into 2014. French defense ministry officials have said that at least 1,000 troops will remain after the conclusion of 2013 to serve as trainers for the Malian army and to work in conjunction with a UN peacekeeping force, numbering nearly 13,000 scheduled to take control of the country beginning on July 1.
The French National Assembly and Senate voted on April 22 to extend its occupation of Mali. There was no opposition to the plan by any political party within the legislative body. (Center for Research on Globalization, May 7)
When members of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and the Signatories in Blood staged a joint attack in two locations within neighboring Niger against the French-owned Areva uranium mining facilities and the local military on May 23, France took the lead in so-called counter-insurgency operations. Over two dozen Niger troops were killed in the attacks which the government claims was organized from southern Libya.
Since the attacks on French interests in Niger, France has called for military operations in southern Libya to ostensibly prevent further attacks. The United States has also dispatched at least 100 Special Forces in Niger where it is establishing a drone station in the uranium-rich nation.
Despite the presence of French and U.S. forces in Niger, on June 1, an attack on a prison in the capital of Niamey resulted in the deaths of two guards and the wounding of 10 others. Reports indicate that inmates held in the facility are from the Boko Haram group that is operating in northern Nigeria as well as others designated as ‘terrorists’ from throughout West Africa. (Daily News & Analysis, June 1)….
France Utilizes Divisive Tactics To Maintain Control Over West African State