The theme of the 20th Summit of African Union Heads of State and Government this past January was “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”.
It could not have been more ironic even if the officials at the AU Commission had tried.
Speaker after speaker lined up to thank France for its military intervention in Mali, just a year after Paris oversaw the murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and led the United Nations in one of its only – if not first – offensive operation in history when facilitating the ouster of Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire.
Add to that reports that France has been meddling in Madagascar hence the protracted stand-off in that country, and the covetous glances Paris has been casting on the DRC, the praises sang for the French military by African leaders at the AU Summit were in stark contrast with the meeting’s stated theme.
As Al Jazeera beamed images of French army boots on African soil, AU leaders lined up eagerly to express gratitude to France.
The irony of the fact that the African Standby Force remains in limbo because of inaction by Africa’s leaders seemed lost on those addressing the Summit and its various meetings.
In the rush to laud France, little attention has been paid to the words of outgoing AU Chair, President Boni Yayi of Benin, who chided: "How could it be that when faced with a danger that threatens its very foundations, Africa, although it had the means to defend itself, continued to wait?”
> The Trouble With France
Analysts have said that the situation in Mali - as was the case in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya before this - required urgent intervention, and Africa reacted slowly thus affording France to get another foothold in Africa.
Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies has said: “I think what we have to recognise is that … often military intervention breeds greater challenges, unintended consequences.
“And so what we have created now is a situation where … all the challenges internal to Mali have been exacerbated by people, extremists, coming - many foreign fighters coming from other countries into Mali to unseat the French, to offset Western colonial powers, and to assert their own image of what Mali should look like for the future.
“I think it is not only dangerous for Mali, but also for the neighbouring countries, countries like Algeria that has now seen hostages taken at oil installations because of this, now, desire to combat the French and to stop the interventionists from the West.”
Woods goes on to say the French action is in violation of international law, even though some African leaders are cheering it on.
“France essentially went to the UN to try to brief the UN, but there has been no new Security Council resolution. So what stands is the resolution passed, which calls for an Africa-led force…and yet the focus of the international (community) - particularly the French action now - is on sort of this military intervention.”
Woods also points out that the government in Mali lacks the legitimacy to “invite” the French military into the country.
“I think we have to question, really, the legitimacy of the government and understand that a government that comes to power through a coup that has - and led a series of coups and countercoups and ousted a civilian prime minister just as recent as December, that government is really lacking credibility in quite a number of ways.”
So why then is France rushing to support a government whose legitimacy is questionable?
American publication Time magazine may have hit the nail on the head when it recently stated that “huge oil reserves” were “attracting Western companies to set up production across the vast Sahel”.
It went on: “South of Algeria and Mali sits Niger, a dirt-poor desert country with the world’s fourth-largest output of uranium, which supplies France’s crucial network of nuclear-power stations. East of Algeria is Libya, where a number of Western companies exploit some of Africa’s biggest oil reserves.”
This has lent credibility to claims that France’s intervention in Libya and now Mali has to do with resource control and is not about “humanitarianism”.
Even the intervention in Cote d’Ivoire has been linked to the huge cocoa industry in the West African country, while the meddling in Madagascar could be a means of gaining some traction in Southern African affairs.
Alexander Mezyaev of Global Research said France was involved in a wider “orderly and consistent capture of new African territories” by Western powers.
“They have got hold of Sudan by dismembering it (taking away the oil deposits from the major part of the country), the Nigerian oilfields have been captured in accordance with the International Court of Justice rulings, Libya has been captured as a result of direct military intervention, Cote d’Ivoire has been conquered thanks to a small-scale military action conducted under the aegis of the United Nations.
“The way to do the things differ, but the result is the same. The process of recolonisation picks up momentum in Africa.”
> Back to the Future
Africa’s reaction to French military involvement is a throwback to the immediate post-colonial period when continental leaders actively co-operated with former colonial masters in the disenfranchisement of their own peoples.
AU Chair, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said: “Of course, we are very grateful to France and the international community, that have stood with Mali at this trying moment.”
Rwanda’s Paul Kagame chipped in saying “when the terrorist and criminal groups launched an attack on 10 January, it was thanks to the prompt intervention by France that the situation was contained.”
Other leaders were equally fawning, with very few openly stating the obvious fact that France was now effectively in control of North and West Africa through a network of client states.
At a Press conference before the AU Summit, France’s Foreign Minister -. Laurent Fabius – revealed the extent to which African countries were rushing to be seen to be on Paris’ side, expending energy that would have been better spent creating an African Standby Force.
> Where is the
Establishment of an African Standby Force was mooted in 1997 following the Rwanda Genocide.
The force should consist five brigades covering the five regions of the continent and should have been operational by 2010.
The troops were to be deployed either in a preventive mandate or in the context of the implementation of peace agreements made to end conflicts. Plans were that the force would have an annual budget of US$300 million.
The establishment of an AU Standby Force was supposed to preceded by the establishment of regional standby forces in each region, but inadequate budgets, tensions between neighbours, different military strategies and language barriers have hampered functionality.
The International Institute of Strategic Studies says each of the five regions is limping along in fulfilling agreed objectives.
The institute says while SADC has gone some way, with its regional force being launched in 2007, “the logistical challenges of setting up the force and deploying peace missions are immense, and the difficulties of making the force operational are exacerbated by shortages of capacity in most member states, including airlift, engineer support, essential supplies and training”.
“In spite of these problems, the SADC force successfully held Exercise Golfinho to establish its readiness to meet the 2010 target.”
The institute adds that, “Despite the concerted efforts of individual nations, the AU's aim for the ASF to be operational by 2010 remains unfulfilled.
The original vision behind it was that standby brigades would basically be military forces, as peacekeeping was then seen as an essentially military activity with other elements acting in support.
“However, the peacekeeping paradigm has changed, and the importance of integrated missions is no longer questioned.”
• Reporting by Mabasa Sasa in Addis Ababa and Farirai Machivenyika in Harare.