Browsing Tag

european imposition series

MADNESS - July & August 2018 Sarah Osei-Bonsu

Mais qu’est-ce que vous faites ici? The French Army in Africa

Written by Sarah Osei-Bonsu, Staff Writer

On 5th April 2018, thirty Islamic State (IS )militants were reported killed in clashes with the French army in Mali. This followed intelligence of an armed terrorist group of an estimated sixty individuals positioned three kilometers north of the Nigerian border. This area has been a suspected haven of the IS and the French operation was allegedly an intervention to chase out these jihadist offshoots. The successful operation was not an isolated operation; in recent years the French army has expanded its military presence in Africa stating the primary objective to be fighting radical Islam. There are currently about 4,000 French troops stationed in Mali alone, and although their stated intentions might be good, their actions say otherwise.

The increase in terrorist attacks in Europe has generated a lot of public awareness and concern about radical Islamic terrorism manifested in Jihadist groups such as the IS. With France being one of the countries hard hit by terrorism – with the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in 2015 – it has also become one of the most decisive players in fighting radical Islam at its core, unafraid of using military action to do so, notably in the Sahel region of Africa. Under this pretense, France has led several military operations in the countries where it has military bases on the continent. It established Operation Barkhane in Mali in 2012 as a reaction to a Jihadist insurgency, but this has grown into a permanent counter-terrorism effort across Mali and several of its neighboring countries. This means that since 2012 there has consistently been French military action in the region. These kinds of operations are largely successful at fighting terrorism, however, even though they are seemingly for altruistic reasons, this French military presence has a darker connotation of a colonialist legacy and foreign disruption in Africa.

France’s colonial presence in Africa dates back to the sixteenth century. French imperialism and colonialism were very severe for those living in its African territories both in hard power and in soft power. Colonization ended in most of Africa in the mid-20th century, and decolonization in most Francophone countries had an understandably anti-France tone. Despite this, France maintained a military presence in many of these states, and continued to intervene in African states over the years following decolonization, with their military presence intensifying recently. This increased presence is often seen as a form of peace-keeping in that it claims to serve the interests of the local people by protecting them against Islamist groups. However, this is not wholly the case. Many locals support these militants as legitimate political groups because they often represent cultural minorities and oppose the (French-backed) government. At the same time, these operations are killing Malian civilians. French writer Raphael Granvaud, spokesman for the NGO Survie, says “It is clear that France’s military operations in Africa led to civilian casualties […] The French army is doing everything it takes to hide civilian casualties, this is why we do not know the exact number of civilian casualties caused by the military operations by France.” And Granvaud claims these are not the only crimes France covered up during its military presence in Mali, alleging that many cases of sexual and physical assault by French soldiers have also gone unreported. French claims of blamelessness have gone unchallenged by both the media and major international organizations.

Photo by Ken Treloar

As problematic as these allegations are, France’s military presence is supported by the United Nations and a wide network of bilateral military and defense treaties with African countries. It should be noted that these were initially given in isolated crises, for instance after Mali’s Tuareg rebellion in 2012. Six years later, it seems France has overstayed its welcome. In the name of fighting terrorism, French troops have remained in Mali and through continued military operations France is gaining (or shall I say regaining) political influence. This isn’t counter-terrorism, it’s neo-colonialism.

France does not have the leverage that it had on Mali in colonial times and the immediate post-colonial period, but it wants to remain a major player in the region. Counter-terrorism gives France a geostrategic stake in Mali once again. While there is a genuine interest on France’s part to fight terrorism in its military missions in Mali and neighboring African countries, this form of intervention coupled with the Franco-African history is worrying. Despite the increased military presence being supported by politics of ethics and diplomacy, these kinds of intrusions in the form of long-term ‘aid’ are damaging to Mali and the continent as a whole.

The French presence is actually destabilizing the region, by making local governments more dependent on their military support. While France’s counter-terrorism operations in the north of the country were in the best interests of the current regime, the government is suffering now as a result of it. Due to the fact that France is undertaking operations across the Sahel region, Mali is now feeling the spillover effects of insecurity, such as refugee flows. In Mali there have already been makers of destabilization like escalating levels of corruption, unemployment and low living standards. Incoming refugee populations place additional pressure on these infrastructures and systems in Mali, which are already deplorably weak. Many Malians are themselves being externally displaced because of these conditions, according to the UNHCR, the number of Malian refugees peaked to 145,000 people in 2017. And in 2018, Mali is the 27th most fragile state in the world. This insecurity keeps France in a powerful position in Mali and Africa. These states are becoming increasingly unstable while France progressively increases its presence; this looks more like occupation and re-conquest than neutral intervention.

What French intervention in Africa demonstrates is that good political intentions can often produce adverse effects. The bigger issue is about more than French military action in Mali; it’s how Africa has been, and continues to be, the playground for the West. African lives are lost as a result of this and the media doesn’t talk about it because it falls within the bigger picture of the West’s vendetta against Islam. Africa offers a spectacle for the moral endeavors of the West but we don’t stop to look at the long-term consequences of such intervention, and refuse to acknowledge that Africa is still being subjugated because of it. The problem is not that France has returned to upset the power balance in former colonies, but that it never left. This perpetual presence of the former colonizer means decolonization never completely removed the top-down power structures, and that France still has the power to do whatever it wants in Africa.

Christian Hazes TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

The Gateway Kingdom

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

It was a bold move from Emmanuel Macron to visit Morocco as the first Maghreb destination, shortly after having been elected president. Macron’s predecessors frequently opted for visiting Algeria first, instead of its long-standing regional rival Morocco. Both countries constituted the invaluable core of the French empire in North and West Africa and the post-independence relationship between colonizer and colonized has been complex and often ambivalent.

Nevertheless, Macron’s choice to promote Morocco to France’s first state visit destination is not totally a surprise. Aside from some periods of accumulating tension, France and Morocco have always been on good terms with each other. This relationship caused both countries to substantially influence one another in an abundance of facets.

French involvement in Morocco is especially evident and worth taking a closer look at. The former colonizer, who granted Morocco independence in 1956, remains Morocco’s largest trading partner as well as its chief investor. Two fitting illustrations of France’s endeavours are the recently erected Renault fabrication plant in hub-city Tanger, and the establishment of a Moroccan equivalent of the Train à Grande Vitesse. This high-velocity rail service is the commencement of fulfilling Morocco’s wish to modernize its infrastructure. The “fastest train in Africa” will make traveling by train in Morocco considerably less time-consuming. Macron has vowed to ensure France’s commitment to the Moroccan cause of realizing economic emergence, industrial development and the implementation of political and institutional reforms. A logical consequence is that France has the honor to call itself Morocco’s paramount bilateral donor.

When it comes to the political sphere, one does not have to search long to unveil French influence. Strong Franco-Moroccan political ties have the by-result of spawning a growing stream of concerns regarding the return of ‘Françafrique’. French general consulates are in abundance in Morocco, a phenomenon not quite unique to the country. The extensive network of French embassies and consulates across much of Africa is a remnant of colonial times. Less overt, or obvious, instances of the French finger in the political pie of Morocco are the joint action programs on climate change, combating terrorism, and the growing presence of French cultural institutions.

Even the more trivial Moroccan domains couldn’t escape the French claws,inevitably bearing the mark of its former colonizer. During a meeting in Marrakech, I asked a young Moroccan sports journalist who had just recently launched the site League Live for his opinion on the fact that many football trainers for the Moroccan squad are born and raised Frenchmen. He confirmed that the Moroccan football federation has a tendency to appoint French trainers, but that it doesn’t stop there. French staff is also deployed to train the Moroccan youth squads. Not merely in the light of the national squads, but also concerning that of the Moroccan clubs. As expected, the French style of playing has now become the status quo in Morocco.

Not unimportantly, when asked for Morocco’s chances at surviving the group stage of the upcoming World Cup, the journalist advocated for discarding the French way of playing. Instead, “parking the bus”, a highly defensive tactic that aims at conceding as few as possible goals, ought to take precedence.

Is France driven by genuine goodwill? Or are there underlying motives that hint to self-interest? A mixture of both? Could that be possible?

Like any other country, France craves expanding its operations into broader markets, and Africa is the “new” El Dorado. The continent’s riches, when it comes to natural resources, attracts an abundance of foreign partners. Morocco possesses a great deal of natural resources itself, such as phosphate reserves and fish, but the kingdom is also seen as a potential portal and connector to the African hinterland.

Photo by J. Audema, 1905

During colonial times, the French only shared their hegemony on the African continent with the British. Now in 2018 a lot has changed. France’s near total domination has vanished into thin air. With Germany, the United States, and most notably China and India joining the fray, France has receded substantially compared to their position only a decade ago. France’s deteriorating competitiveness is a chief culprit, which is mostly due to the floundering French economy. The economically booming states of China and India easily outgun France when it comes to financial means. But it is primarily the former Francophone Africa turning its back on France that proves to be fatal for the latter’s languishing domination in Africa. From Senegal to Madagascar, they yearn to reduce their dependence on Paris. This also explains why many African countries turn to non-French investors and benefactors.

It is, in addition to the already strong bonds, Morocco’s envisaged role as the gateway to the new El Dorado that explains France’s reinvigorated interest in bolstering its partnership with the kingdom. In 2013, King Mohammed VI explicitly stated that the African continent is Morocco’s top-priority in light of international relations. The kingdom’s expanded political and economic footprint in Africa marks the inception of a new era in multilateral collaboration between Morocco and the other, predominantly Sub-Saharan, African states. Morocco’s recent return to the African Union and its accession in some regional cooperative pacts couldn’t have a better timing.

Obviously, France cannot miss out on this opportunity. France’s narrative is one that emphasizes the shared quest that both countries are to embark on: pursuing joint interests, involving multiple facets of life.

Former French Prime-Minister François Mitterand stated in 1957 that “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21th century”. The daunting fear of losing Africa is still relevant to contemporary France. This says a lot about the current relations between the two. Although de jure decolonized, Francophone Africa is still of the utmost importance to France. Plus, it remains connected to its former colonizer as if nothing has changed ever since the struggles for independence were ultimately rewarded with independence.

Admittedly, France preserves various and important stakes in the cultural, political and economic ties between Africa and the self. But this is nothing in comparison with the power and status that it once enjoyed in the African Backyard. Regardless of the still evident French influence, it is slowly waning.

It is the latter and a hint of optimism that make me conclude that the fear that Mitterand voiced is finite.

Jurek Wotzel TWISTED MORALITY - June 2018

How Israel Got This Way

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

While US and Israeli officials celebrated the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, one of the most violent protests of the past years took place a few dozen miles away, in Palestine. It was part of a greater wave of protests this year in relation to the March of Return. Palestinian officials say that in the past seven weeks, about 100 have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces and a few thousand injured. Now, Palestinians have asked for an official ICC investigation into the occurrences at the Israeli border since 2014.

At the subsequent UN Human Rights Council session, Spain, Belgium and Slovenia voted together with 26 other countries in favor of the investigation, while 14 countries abstained, among them Germany and Britain. Only Australia and the United States voted against. Israel’s reaction to this was to immediately summon the Belgian, Spanish and Slovenian ambassadors to the foreign ministry.

In the West, the political divide over the Israel-Palestine conflict runs across the whole political spectrum. From right to left, there is disagreement about the responsibilities of the two conflicting parties, as well as potential peace-building. Staunch Israel defenders argue that Israel must be protected as a refuge for the historically oppressed Jewish people and as the center of stability in the Middle East. Critical voices complain about human rights abuses. Following the recent killings, the UN rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestine issued a statement asserting that this “blatant excessive use of force […] must come to an end” and that those in charge must be held accountable.

History matters for present-day politics. It gives us a lens through which we can judge the legitimacy of political action. The particular histories of most European countries, involving colonialism and genocide obligate, Europeans to find ways of rehabilitation. In the same line of argumentation, Israel’s present-day politics should be conscious of how the state came about.

The idea of Jewish settlement in Palestine was an essential part of Zionist ideology of the 19th century. It had in part sprung out of the realization that even the liberal turn would not bring about a conflict-free coexistence of the Christian majorities and Jewish minorities in Europe. Theodor Herzl in 1896 formulated this idea in his work “Der Judenstaat” (“The Jewish State”) and became the main figure of the movement. Thus, the seeds of eventual Jewish settlement in Palestine were planted at the end of the 19th century. Under the influence of British Zionist lobbyists, the British first promised Palestinian land to Jewish settlers in the 1917 Balfour declaration. In 1922, Palestine fell under British rule as a result of a League of Nations agreement the British Mandate for Palestine. Subsequently, the imperial rulers facilitated Jewish settlement in Palestine, causing the social fabric to change drastically: in 1918, 10% of the population residing in Palestinian lands was Jewish, by 1945, it was 30%.

During the British mandate, Jewish settlers, the ‘Yishuv,’ were increasingly given more rights to self-determination. Roads, schools, and hospitals were built in previously uncultivated, desert-like lands. The increase of Jewish presence both in numbers and quality was often met with Arab violence. Groups of Jews were massacred, shops were looted, property destroyed, finally culminating in the Arab revolt of 1936.

The reaction of the British was to put an end to Jewish immigration – at a time when the Nazis started mass persecution of Jews in Germany. In Palestine, extreme Jewish nationalist underground militias such as the Lehi and Irgun gained influence, demonstrating increasing Zionist radicalization. Several attacks on British officials, and the bombing of the King-David Hotel in 1946, killing 91, led the British to give up on Palestine.

Photo by Rob Bye

The 40s were a decade that made history. Freshly founded following the end of WWII, the UN was charged with solving the civil conflict in Palestine and in resolution 181 it split the territory into a Palestinian and an Israeli part. For Europeans, a Jewish-majority state seemed to be the perfect way to finally emancipate the Jewish people, centuries of anti-semitic persecution had culminated in the annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazis. In 1948, when the British had fully retreated, Israel declared its independence and an Arab coalition of six states immediately declared war.

During the first Arab-Israeli war, al-nakba (the catastrophe) saw a mass exodus of Palestinians. 700,000 Palestinians fled because they were dispelled or wanted to escape the violence. An important trigger: the extreme brutality of the Irgun and Lehi, or Stern Gang, which were obsessively anti-Arab. In the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, for instance, about 100 Palestinian civilians were killed, raped, and cut into body parts. Since then, the UN officially demands Israel to grant these Palestinians the right to return to their homes, which has not yet been realized even to this day. At the time of al-nakba, Anti-Jewish violence in other Arab states led to the immigration of roughly 750,000 Jews to Israel.

Israel finally won the war with the support of both the US and the Soviet Union, extending its 1947 borders by taking roughly 40% of the designated Palestinian lands. This resulted in a massive growth of anti-semitism in the Arab world.

The Zionist project was not destined to result in the violent ouster of Palestinians. Early settlement in uncultivated lands was not bound to create conflict. In fact, many Zionists believed in the possibility to share the land and live at peace with the Arab neighbors. Extreme views as they were held by Irgun and Lehi were not the norm. And before the 1970s, Israeli governments tended to condemn further settlement in Palestinian lands. But when the right-wing Likud party, which Netanyahu is currently chairman of, came to power, all this changed. It has continuously dominated. Israeli politics and has supported the push of ultra-orthodox Jews to further settle in the West Bank.

Likud is far away from appropriate historical awareness. Settlements into Palestinian land are continuing, and the opening of the US embassy demonstrates further consolidation of the purely Jewish character of the area. In Israeli political discourse, it is emphasized that Israel ought to remain a Jewish-majority state – defying potential Palestinian emancipation at its root.

Even worse are the apartheid-like conditions in which the Palestinians find themselves. Palestinians occupy a second-class citizen position, not even having Israeli nationality. Human Rights Watch criticizes the preferential treatment of Israelis in the West Bank as well as the restriction of movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza strip. Palestinians face employment barriers, travel bans, significantly worse access to education, and social discrimination. In addition, forced displacement continues as Israelis are further settling in Palestinian territory with the help of the Israeli government. Approximately 600 people have been displaced in the West Bank in 2017 alone.

Israel’s government officials defend their treatment of Palestinians by pointing out the anti-semitism of Hamas and other Palestinian movements. Hamas is openly anti-semitic in that it suspects a Jewish world conspiracy and has called for killing Jews worldwide. Often, reports of Palestinians wanting to simply do “Whatever is possible, to kill, throw stones” appear in Western newspapers. Radical Palestinian organizations also regularly fire rockets into the Israeli mainland, which are mostly ineffectual because of the Iron Dome defense system, but this gives rise to the impression that Israel is constantly under attack and is solely acting in its right of self-defense.

Yet, no state’s right to self-defense justifies human rights breaches as are happening in Israel. Indeed, next to open Palestinian hostility, Israel is also still officially at war with many Arab countries, only Egypt, Jordan, and just recently Saudi-Arabia have agreed on peace treaties. As the US, Russia or China must be criticized for their rights violations, so must be Israel. As Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States, Turkey, you name it, must learn to deal with their violent histories, so must Israel. And it must do so soon, since that violent history is not over yet, but still expresses itself every day.