The entrance of the French military into the Malian civil war further complicates a descent into hell which that country has been experiencing for the last two years. Mainstream media attention has largely focused on the emergence of right-wing Islamists associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the threat that this poses to the culture and people of Mali. Yet little background is presented regarding the whole conflict, particularly the circumstances that resulted in the unfolding disaster.
Up to the precipice
The country known as Mali was carved out of what was once known as “French West Africa.” Named after the famous empire of Mali (roughly 1200-1600 AD), Mali included various ethnicities, much like other former European colonies in Africa. In many cases, these ethnicities had little in common, a fact that became particularly important with regard to the Tuareg people in the northern part of the country.
The Tuareg, part of the larger so-called Berber population of northern Africa, engaged in non-violent and violent confrontations with the Malian state almost from the time of independence, in search of greater autonomy. This has been a source of constant instability.
Like most of the former French colonies, Mali remained of interest to France. During the years of Malian President Modibo Keita, efforts at genuine national sovereignty were pursued, but with the overthrow of Keita, French neo-colonial involvement regained the initiative. Mali, a country rich in natural resources, including gold and uranium, has remained important to global capitalism.
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