On 31 January, Mali gave French Ambassador, Joël Meyer, 72 hours' notice to leave the country after "hostile and outrageous" comments made by the Foreign Minister of former colonial power, France, about the Malian transitional government.
French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, had said that Mali's military government was "out of control" and called it illegitimate. At the same time, French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, said that French troops would not stay in Mali if the price was too high, referring to over 5,000 French troops in the West African country.
"The Malian government vigorously condemns and rejects these remarks, which are contrary to the development of friendly relations between nations," an official statement, issued by the government and read over State television, said, pointing out that the Ambassador was given 72 hours to leave Bamako.
Expulsion of the French Ambassador came following a series of incidents that aroused tension between Mali and its European partner, which has been allegedly fighting extremist Islamists linked to ISIL and Al Qaeda in the Sahel region.
The Sahel region is the vast semi-arid region of Africa, separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south. According to a study conducted in 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Mali is one of the poorest countries in West Africa and its gross national product per capita is estimated at $671, ranking 182nd on the 2018 Human Development Index of the UN Development Programme. In 2015, its young population was estimated at 18.14 million.
Mali, one of the countries which shares the Sahel region, including Burkina Faso with 21 million residents, Chad with 16.5 million, Mauritania with 4.6 million and Niger with 26.1 million. The history of the Sahel was shaped by Islam, which reached the region in the 8th century and gradually became the main religion. However, Islamic empires and monarchies collapsed, but most of the inhabitants are moderate Sunni Muslims –92 per cent of Malian residents are Muslims.
France occupied Mali in 1892. Like what happened in other African countries, France carried out several massacres against its original inhabitants, including ethnic cleansing in order to turn the territory to be a part of France and called it French Sudan. However, active Islamic resistance to French rule continued until the colonial power was obliged to leave the country in 1960.
Like other former colonies, France has maintained strong relationship with Mali that are mainly based on serving its own interests –exploiting the natural resources of the poor Sahel region, if not of Mali's itself. Therefore, it maintained several thousands of French troops across the Sahel countries and, to serve its interests, it established a permanent military presence in Chad in 1986.
In 2012, following the uprisings in Libya, which saw the moderate Islamists rising to power in the country, like what happened in other Arab states, France raised its eyebrows and started to get worried about its interests in the Sahel region, where Areva, a French world leader in nuclear energy, is mining for uranium.
France did the same as what happened in Iraq, Syria and Libya: the illusive enemy of Al Qaeda and its offshoots were introduced to shake the sleeping international intelligence cells, alleged extremist Muslims, to create chaos and instability in order to justify direct military interference, explicitly to face off these extremists and terrorists, and implicitly to protect the big brother's interests in these countries.
In the Sahel, France claimed that it was going there to fight extremist and terrorist Islamists in 2012. "In the first days of the invasion of Mali, French President, François Hollande, promised that his country had 'neither economic nor political interests' in Mali," Quartz reported. The website stated that France has important strategic interests in promoting stability in the Sahel, which includes Mali, noting that "France has a profound economic interest in the area, if not in Mali itself."
The website said that France receives almost 80 per cent of its energy from nuclear power, more than any other country in the world, noting that the state-owned energy giant, Areva, gets a third of its uranium from two mines in Niger, where it is the second largest employer after the state." Later this year (2013), Areva is expected to begin extracting uranium from a site called Imouraren, which is thought to contain the second largest uranium deposits in the world," Quartz said.
Claiming to fight Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other alleged extremist Islamists were refuted by Malian victims, relatives of murdered people and tribal leaders. Speaking to ARTE TV in September 2021, a rape victim said: "They claimed would preach Islam, but they were not Muslims or even Christians. They fought for the non-believers. You do not preach religion by raping women."
Nouhoum Diallo from Victim Support Association told ARTE TV about the Islamists who went to Mali: "When the jihadists came, they claimed to be fighting for religion – for implementing Sharia, and fighting injustice. A part of the population wanted strict Islam, Sharia, veiled women, that's what they wanted. They said it was true Islam. And those who thought the same were on their side. And that's how they could establish themselves here."
How can Islamists, who should be aware of every single detail about Islam and Sharia, do not know what Islam is! How can they rape women, while even looking at the face of a woman, who is not a close relative, is prohibited in Islam? France was even less clever than the US in teaching fake Islam to its mercenaries. This is a proof that the alleged war on terror and extremist Islamists is nothing but a justification to make a footstep for the French troops in the Sahel region, including Mali.
Marie-Roger Biloa, Editor of Africa International, has told Al Jazeera that "France, actually, is not the forefront of the battle [in Mali] … France is not there to solve Malian problems, but because they believe in the security issue to Europe and France and that if Sahel keeps on becoming a dangerous zone where Jihadists can regroup and spread over, it will be dangerous for them."
But Adam Gaye, former Director of Information at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said: "France is trying to control the northern part of Mali, where it seems there is a huge amount of hydrocarbon and other natural resources."
Then, if French Special Forces are there in Mali to fight terrorism and extremism, what are their achievements in this regard on the ground? Largely to protect the theft of the poor and giving room to the alleged extremists to re-group and killing civilians.
"It is incomprehensible that Niger, the world's fourth-largest uranium producer and a strategic supplier for Areva and France, is not taking advantage of the revenue from this extraction and remains one of the poorest countries on the planet," an Oxfam study said.
Reuters reported Interim Malian Prime Minister, Choguel Maiga, saying that "the intervention turned into a de-facto partition of Mali, which contributed to the "sanctuarisation" of our territories for the terrorists, who had time to take refuge and reorganise themselves in order to come back in force."
Maiga, according to Voice of America, has in the past accused the French military of training terrorists and supporting Tuareg separatists, when the French intervention began in 2013. A regional tribe leader in Konna, a Malian governorate, wondered, as he has been speaking to ARTE TV, why do the international troops go to Mali if they do not kill the Jihadists?
During their existence in Mali, a UN report, which investigated one of the targets of the French troops in Mali, has confirmed they killed more than 20 civilians in January 2021. Al Jazeera reported the human rights division of the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) saying it had visited the targeted area, analysed satellite images and interviewed more than 400 people, including at least 115 in face-to-face individual sessions.
"MINUSMA is able to confirm that a wedding celebration was held that brought together about 100 civilians at the site of the strike," the report said. "The group affected by the strike was overwhelmingly composed of civilians, who are protected persons under international humanitarian law … This strike raises serious concerns about respect for the principles of the conduct of hostilities."
Malians got angry with France because it has been stealing their resources and keeping the country sunk in poverty as unemployment is over 40 per cent, because it has achieved nothing in its alleged war on terror and extremism and because it is disrespecting their life as the French battles in the Sahel have, so far, killed at least 7,000 people and displaced more than 2 million.
Fighting terror and returning the country to the democratic path is very important, but my advice to France is that you should take your hands off the country in order to let its people run it and give up stealing its resources, or pay the price for them instead of stealing them because it is shameful to see that a so-called democracy like France is doing everything opposite to the democratic values. This is the hidden reality that France does not want even its people, who have been calling for the return of their sons from Mali, to know.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.