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Colonialism Isn’t Dead Yet (Well, Not in Mali)



For those who have followed the situation, and even for those who haven’t, the story being told about Mali will be both convincing and familiar. It goes like this: In a part of the world known for instability, terrorists threaten to overthrow a democratic government. These terrorists are characterized by repressive political and religious attitudes and violent opposition to the status quo, which is one of relative peace, justice and economic fluidity. More innocents than would normally be acceptable are threatened; therefore, it is necessary for both Western and native military forces to respond decisively. The victory is (typically) swift and bloodless, at least from our perspective. Having avoided disaster, politicians, military figures, writers and citizens reflect on what has happened, mostly praising the intervention and the virtues of those who led it, while lamenting the potential tyranny of the terrorists and the evil that they represent.

This narrative is simple, attractive even. This narrative reaffirms most of our attitudes about the world and its economic, political, social and moral structures. I’d also like to argue that this narrative is harmful.

For example, consider who the terrorists are. The group that has asserted its power in northern Mali is brutal. They are known for enforcing summary executions and practicing violence and repression. A certain amount of collusion with organized crime and drug trafficking is also evident. What might not appear on the surface, however, and what helps to color our understanding of just how it is that such a seemingly horrid bunch are able to rule with a certain amount of legitimacy, is the fact that this group provides essential public services to a population that has been abandoned by the government of Mali.

We can dig deeper into the nature of the conflict from other angles. An article in the New York Times will likely only provide a few weeks’ worth of history. Perhaps brief mention will be made of the fact that Mali is a former French colony, but that’s about it.

We read nothing of France’s brutal colonization and even less about the process of decolonization — both of which bound large swaths of land that contained groups of people diverse in their ethnic, linguistic, religious and political backgrounds together, and how this process sowed the seeds of conflict while Western powers cared little. After all, instability generally means economic exploitation can easily be continued long past the date of independence.

In Mali’s case, we don’t have to look any further than the 2011 invasion of Libya to find evidence of France’s lasting economic interest that turned violent when their interests where threatened. When NATO decided to provide support to the opponents of the Gaddafi regime, France in particular played a leading role in the action, which exacted a bloody toll of its own. Drawing on a myriad of geo-political inspirations — not least among them control of North African oil refineries — Western powers helped to drive the “extremists” into Mali where they’ve controlled the northern territories for the past seven months.

My claim is not to defend the “extremists,” but to point out that their authority legitimates itself by means other than violence. I do not argue that France is solely responsible for the present situation, but I do argue that the history of French colonialism and France’s present economic interests play a clear and significant role.

More than anything, in the brief time allotted, I want to suggest that the faults of the narrative presented to us have grave implications. The same story that legitimates intervention in Mali also legitimated intervention in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam before that and indeed, all over the world. It should be clear that this narrative is not helpful; it solves far fewer problems than it creates. A deeper, more complex narrative must be written if we’d like it to answer the questions that Mali’s and many other nation’s conflicts ask of us.

One more thing: Late last Sunday night, France deployed troops to “protect” a French-owned uranium mine in Niger, which borders Mali. This development is evidence of France’s economic interest in upholding a friendly Malian government. Francois Hollande speaks much of peace and human rights but given his actions, it is more accurate to say that he defends the profits of French companies operating in the area.

Michael Dean thinks France’s colonial history is as stinky as its cheese.

 

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.

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4 Responses to Colonialism Isn’t Dead Yet (Well, Not in Mali)

  1. Problem Reply

    February 6, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Your analysis of France’s colonial history is lazy and weak but largely true, however your conclusion is wrong.

    YES, France as well as every European country had very active colonial past and imposed much suffering on the peoples in Africa and Asia. And while one can still see many problems in Africa can be attributed to colonial meddling, for the most part the problem rests solely on the governments in Africa. The absence of effective government is not consequence of colonial but the incompetence of African leaders. Period.

    I personally find France’s justification for war in Mali as shallow and hypocritcal. It certainly isn’t for the benefit of Mali rather it is designed to protect economic interests of France, and drive up support among the electorate by fighting Al Qaeda.

    Virtually all of Africa and Asia are former colonies. America is a former colony. South America, the Muslim world, Asia, all victims to colonialism. But pretending many problems in Africa and the Middle East have little to do with the powers in Europe/USA is a serious problem. Blame France all you want, in its absence, say France suddenly disappeared tomorrow, Africa would still be a cesspool and place of perpetual war, starvation, and suffering. This is a FACT.

    Some countries have achieved stability in spite of being jerked around by colonials. Israel managed an effective, stable government and successfully resisted belligerent Arab and Muslim nations aided by Europe/Russia/USA. India is doing well even though close to 10 million hindus and muslims perished during the partition, solely the fault of the British. Millions more died in the 19th and 20th century due to famine as a result of British rule.

    STILL, this is all in the past. We need to look at the future. Lumping Somalia (Britain/France), Afghanistan (Britain, Russia), Iraq (Britain) and Vietnam (France) is trivializing history. Different objectives, different government, different historical era. And if we go back far enough, the ancestors of contemporary native Africans and Muslims brutalized their own people and the people they conquered. The Africans practiced slavery on Europeans and fellow black/muslim people. They violently took over territory throughout the world through war. The entire muslim world, which is scattered through Africa and Asia, is solely the result of conquest and in some cases genocide.

    POINT IS, everyone is guilty. Assigning 100% blame to Europe because a million years ago they robbed Africa does not excuse the behavior of individuals in Africa.

  2. Arafat Reply

    February 5, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Of course this is France’s fault for I am a liberal student at UCSB and that is what they drum into my head.

    And, of course, the murder and mayhem foisted upon millions of Sudanese was also the colonialist’s fault. And the current murderous rmapage against Buddhists in southern Thailand is someone’s fault other than the Muslims weidling the guns who pull the trigger.

    And it follows that the 60,000 dead in Syria is also not the Muslim’s fault who cut off the head and blow up the women for that is too simple an explanation. And the anarchy, death and destruction in Somalia at the hands of Islamists is not the Islamist’s fault, it is, I suppose, the fault of some self-interested Western country instead.

    And in Libya, the sodomizing of Gadaffi with a tree branch was France’s fault too. Right? The gang-rape of western journalists in Tahir Square was not the fault of the teachings of the Quran. Couldn’t be.

    The one million killed in the Iran/Iraq War was not due to rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites it was because of Israel and America instead. You get the logic, right?

    And the endless killing in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria, Kashmir and elsewhere is NEVER the fault of those doing the killings (Muslims) it is ALWAYS someone esles fault. Right?

    Of course it’s right for that is what we’re taught at California universities so it must be right.

    • Pete Reply

      February 8, 2013 at 12:16 am

      Arafat,
      So who then attacked us on November 11th, Muslim peace makers or extremest with an agenda, calling themselves Al Qaeda?

      Everywhere you go in the world where there’s hatred and evil, with people killing each other for there fundamentalism hard line insane ideas, you’ll find hard line Muslims endlessly killing there own for what they believe to be a higher agenda.

      We are fighting them in there part of the world, and because of the war powers act that was put in place because of there attack on us were killing innocent Muslims too because fundamentalist extremists forced there will on innocent Muslim people using them as shield nice people who want to live decent peaceful lives following the good principals of the Quran! Sunnis and Shiites, can and have gotten along peacefully for centuries, why are they killing each other again. Al Qaeda Extremists that’s why, Al Qaeda Muslim extremists! We know who you are and were killing you before you kill us and our innocent people, like you did on 9/11. No more, we didn’t start this war, Al Qaeda did.

      Now the French are at war with them too, in Mali, and the French are not as nice in battle as we are. The French go to war to win, or to lose and then pack up and admit defeat, like they did in Vietnam, Mali will not be another Vietnam for the French! Not in supporting a democracy that wants there support in killing an Al Qaeda enemy who isn’t wanted there Remember the French are not nice people, ask the Algerians about the French? This time Al Qaeda won’t be able to kill on the streets of Paris like the Algerians did.

    • Pete Reply

      February 8, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Arafat,
      So who then attacked us on November 11th, Muslim peace makers or extremest with an agenda, calling themselves Al Qaeda?
      Everywhere you go in the world where there’s hatred and evil, with people killing each other for there fundamentalism hard line insane ideas, you’ll find hard line Muslims endlessly killing there own for what they believe to be a higher agenda.
      We are fighting them in there part of the world, and because of the war powers act that was put in place because of there attack on us were killing innocent Muslims too because fundamentalist extremists forced there will on innocent Muslim people using them as shields thinking that we won’t us drones to get to them, and because of that were killing nice people who want to live decent peaceful lives following the good principals of the Quran! Sunnis and Shiites, can and have gotten along peacefully for centuries, why are they killing each other again. Al Qaeda Extremists that’s why, Al Qaeda Muslim extremists whose main weapon is fear and death! We know who you are and were killing you before you kill us and our innocent people again,like you did on 9/11. No more, we didn’t start this war, Al Qaeda did. Now the next battlefield will be Mali, but not so fast. The French with our support are in on this one.

      Now the French are at war with them too, in Mali, and the French are not as nice in battle as we are. The French go to war to win, or to lose and then pack up and admit defeat, like they did in Vietnam, Mali will not be another Vietnam for the French! Not in supporting a democracy that wants there support in killing an Al Qaeda enemy who isn’t wanted there Remember the French are not nice people, ask the Algerians about the French? This time Al Qaeda won’t be able to kill on the streets of Paris like the Algerians did.

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