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Labeeb Abdul Baasit asked: Why is France playing such a proactive role in combating the Mali crisis? What is its interest in having a stable and democratic Mali?

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  • Ruchita Beri replies: France’s intervention is in response to an urgent plea of the interim government of Mali, a former colony. Moreover, the United Nations (UN) has unanimously backed France’s intervention in the conflict-ridden country. France has been calling for an African-led UN intervention for the last one year. The main concern is over the rise of extremism in the region.

    The current crisis can be traced back to the renewed fight against the Malian Government by the National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an armed insurgent group. The MNLA was formed in 2011 and comprises mainly of Mali’s Tuareg minority and many of its members had earlier served with the Libyan Army during Muammar Gaddafi’s era. The Tauregs have been demanding an independent state of Azawad. The fall of the Gaddafi Government strengthened the cadres of MNLA and it started attacking the government positions in northern Mali. In March 2012, disgruntled by the government’s mishandling of Tuareg attacks, a coup by the army led to the downfall of President Amadou Toumani Torre’s government in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Meanwhile, during this confusion, the MNLA captured the major towns in north and declared the independence of Azawad.

    One of the fall outs of this crisis was that two Islamists groups - Ansar Dine & Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) - joined hands with the MNLA in the fight against the Malian transitional government. MUJAO is an offshoot of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Ansar Dine and MUJAO aim to impose Sharia law in the north. Subsequently, the MNLA and Ansar Dine reportedly fought for control of northern areas. By November 2012, Ansar Dine had gained complete control of north Mali. Meanwhile, after repeated requests by the Malian transitional government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on 20 December 2012, the UNSC passed Resolution 2085 authorising the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) in September 2013. However, the immediate trigger for intervention was capture of Kanno city in central Mali by the rebels. This city is around 650 kms from Mali’s national capital and alarmed both Bamako and Paris.

    The French Government, led by President Francios Hollande, believes that deterioration of the situation in Mali and take over of northern Mali by the terror groups threatened the security of the region and that of Europe and France in particular. However, there are other factors that seem to have prompted this intervention. France has considerable economic interests in the region. French company, Areva, is involved in Uranium extraction in Niger. Apparently, seven per cent of France’s domestic energy supplies are sourced from uranium in Niger. Mali is also the third largest exporter of gold. While the African Union (AU) has acknowledged the “substantial French assistance in these trying moments in Mali”, the intervention has exposed AU’s inadequacies in mounting a rapid response to such a crisis and reiterated France’s role as a security provider in former colonies within Africa.

    The recent intervention also highlights France’s continuous role in the Francophone Africa, a policy that has been criticised in the past. President Hollande had last year promised to end “Francafrique” that is rooted in continued meddling by France in its former colonies, and had called for a new era of relationship based on equal partnership. However, the French assertiveness in Mali indicates that President Hollande seems to have gone back on his promises.