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What’s Canada’s agenda in Mali?

Parry Mudhar

April 6, 2018

After promising early in their mandate to take Canada to war in Africa, the Liberals are now delivering. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced on March 19 the federal government’s intent of joining the UN’s operation in Mali by August of this year. Although dubbed a “peacekeeping mission,” this is a continuation of Canada’s involvement in war in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, which continues the long colonial history of regional power shifts for the benefit of western interests.

Harper sent troops in 2013 and Trudeau is continuing this imperial policy. Canadian troops will most likely be replacing the current German contingent for a deployment that will last around a year. Although dubbed a “peace keeping mission” there are many unknowns currently surrounding this campaign on West African soil. As of now, six helicopters, to provide protection services and logistical support, and an unknown number of personnel will be deployed; however such details including Canada’s rules of engagement, a true aviation and troop count, and actual logistics have not been determined. On the matter Sajjan recently stated: "We have to be able to determine what type of planning figure we need to move forward on… Exactly where they’re going to be based and what’s actually needed there, that determination… all those things will have to be taken into account."

Ongoing colonial scramble

Mali is currently in a tremulous state, with various groups vying for control over land, resources, and the continuation of local culture. The semi-nomadic Tuareg people who stretch across the Sahara make up 3 per cent of Mali’s population of 18 million but are the majority in the North’s vast desert expanse. The ethic confederation first fought against colonial France in their invasion of Africa in the late 19th century, where borders were drawn across their lands and their native self-determination dismantled.

Again during the 1960’s African independence movement, land that had been native to the Tuareg people was split into countries that included: Libya, Mali, Algeria, and Nigeria. After a long period of economic growth and social stability in the 1990s a coup occurred in 2012 as a result of the government’s handling of the latest Tuareg attempts of securing independence of the northern portion of Mali they called Azawad which was spearheaded by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). During the coup’s power vacuum, Saharan branches of al Qaeda were able to gain allies in the north and assert their own governance to regions which at times the Tuareg have worked with and at others fought against.

The “Scramble for Africa” during colonial European times didn’t end in the late 1800’s. Mali is Africa’s third largest producer of gold and Canadian mining companies haven’t fail to notice. Between 2005 and 2010, Canadian mining increased investment from $6 billion to $23 billion, and increased to $31.6 billion over the African continent according to Natural Resources Canada. In 1991 there were only four Canadian owned mining companies operating in Mali, but since 2005 this figure has grown to 73—with assets in 2009 estimated at around $500 million. While mining remains Mali’s greatest export resource, 60 per cent of mining revenue leaves the country to foreign shareholders mainly in Europe and North America. Despite Mali’s clear mineral wealth, around 60 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, the country depends heavily on foreign aid, and in 2009 the United Nations Development Program listed Mali at 178 out of 182 countries in their Human Development Index.

Canadian mining companies want a compliant and stable Malian government to be able to continue mining, disregarding local independence movements and using cheap labor to maximize gold profits for North American and European shareholders. Canada is sending troops to Mali to make sure that colonialism in Africa doesn’t end.

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