From Mali to Niger: France Moves Military Operations, Questions about Motives Abound

Mali has blocked access to Radio France Internationale and France 24 news outlets.

The reason for this is that these outlets had reported on civilian deaths in Mali, the blame for which they said fell on Malian soldiers.

It very well could have. And if so, shame on them. The only problem is that by those standards, Mali should have thrown out France when they bombed a wedding.

Liberty-Equality-Fraternity France is, of course, against Mali’s move of blocking their news channels (the EU is as well), with Macron declaring:

“I condemn with the greatest firmness this decision, which seems to me totally at odds with the values espoused by the people of Mali since its independence.”

It’s kind of amusing considering they’re part of the European block of countries that have banned RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik news agency. I guess a bit more frankness is too much to ask for.

Malian forces have also been accused of massacring civilians, allegedly with the private military contractor the Russian Wagner Group between March 27 and March 31.

The Malian government had been begging for their colonial master’s help for years. They got it back in 2013 when various groups in the north of the country took regional control. That help—Operation Serval—became Operation Barkhane, “France’s largest overseas operation” with around a 650 million-dollars per year budget. Until now.

France has announced that they are pulling troops (2,400) out of Mali. We assume it’s for real this time, as France had announced some version of that last year too. The presence of these Russian forces in the country is said to be another reason France is leaving. Mali’s official line is that only military trainers from Russia are in the country.

It’s hard to declare this good news. Why? Because they’re simply moving the seat of operations to Mali’s neighbor, another slave to France, Niger (over 99% Muslim).

As always, none of this means that some local actors that are a concern to the government do not actually harm local populations. Rather, these groups are a product of a larger problem, one that includes that local governments themselves, which exploit resources for personal gain and refuse to cut ties with their harmful colonial masters.

RELATED: Mali: “Post”-Colonial Heartache in a Former Center of Islam

Natural Resources

Another thing we have to keep in mind is that along with fighting the supposed good fight from Niger—something the country’s president welcomes, France has another important interest in the country.[1] Uranium.

France runs 70 percent of its country on nuclear power, and to do that they need uranium. And to get that, uranium via the company Orano (formerly Areva) operating in Niger and Canada is vital. Orano is involved in mining uranium as well as in converting the raw material into a usable resource.[2]

This business likely pleases Niger’s leaders and those connected to them; corruption is not a particularly new problem in Niger. After all, it’s hard to guess where else the money would be going since the people of Niger are some of the poorest in the world and ironically lack access to electricity.

Additionally, it seems these uranium mines cause harm to the people and animals of this land. Listen to this herder’s description from a 2014 documentary of a deformity with which his child was born (3:14-5:46). The family lived in a uranium mining area. His infant child soon died. The doctors told him the problem was radiation, but they refused to formally document it. Closing these mines also creates environmental and economic problems for locals.

The War in Ukraine, the Energy Crisis, and Nuclear Power

Although it was a long time coming, it was late last month—about one week before Russia invaded Ukraine—that France announced it would be moving out of Mali and further into Niger.

On top of that, Russia’s partner, China, also has a uranium mining project in Niger.

Considering that Europe is feeling the ethical weight of their stance against Russia despite their reliance on the country for energy, and considering that France has proudly stood by their use of nuclear power (and therefore their lesser, though not zero, reliance on Russia for sources of energy), did this possibly influence their decision to move further into Niger? They essentially claim the move comes after Mali’s human rights violations, but, how much better morally is Niger’s government than Mali’s? How can we even trust France to make that judgement?

RELATED: Will France Ever Repent from Its Colonial Past (and Present)?

Even if we go by the mainstream western sources, we spiral into the same gyre: Just as Malian government and other groups are accused of killing civilians, so is Niger’s security forces, along with all other sides involved. And again, there’s France herself causing harm.

I’m ending with more questions than answers in part because that’s where this stands, and that’s the point—endless, ambling military ventures to maintain presence and help a select few at home and abroad, harming so many in the process.

Governments like France, which pride themselves on their strong sense of morality announce their political moves in euphemisms, in flowery language, leaving us to ask questions, have a keen eye for hypocrisy, and above all to remember those suffering and try and piece together what is actually happening.

We cannot say that France’s entire reason for being in Niger is uranium. But neither can we entirely disregard this reason. Countries need resources as much as they want influence abroad. The War on Terror provides an opportunity for both.

Notes

  1. “Of the 138,230 tonnes of uranium imported between 2005 and 2020 official Euratom data shows three quarters came from just four countries: Kazakhstan (27,748 tonnes), Australia (25,804 tonnes), Niger (24,787) and Uzbekistan (22,197).” https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20220223-does-nuclear-power-guarantee-france-s-energy-independence-uranium-imported-niger-macron-russia
  2. For a different perspective, which dismisses this argument as basically a conspiracy theory, see this 2014 paper written by a former employee of the French Ministry of Defense and NATO. Even if Niger’s importance to France has diminished, Niger is still an exporter of uranium to France, and Orano still operates there.
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