TW: military intervention, neocolonialism
In the past couple of days, I’ve been seeing Bruce Whitehouse’s blog generally and his specific post on the various flawed narratives of what’s really going in in the French (and to a lesser extent West African) intervention in Mali. I made it quite clear yesterday that I don’t think asking actual Malians living in Bamako to comment on the conflict isn’t going to lead to a very representative understanding of how the conflict is understood by Malians in general, and I’m even more skeptical when it’s an anthropologist who moved to Mali later in life (although he is fluent in at least one local language, so props to Whitehouse).
Still, while his explanation of how the Clash of Civilizations going on is hardly the one many European and American observers have perceived is rather insightful, and he makes a lot of other good points, his leading and third ones are astoundingly bad. He starts out his debunking by saying that there’s not really much in the way of mineral resources in north Mali or Azawad, at least, and this is a direct quote, “of which I’m aware”. Oh, can you spot the problem with me, dear readers?
Yes, the majority of the gold deposits aren’t located in rebel-controlled areas, the actual extent of gas and oil reserves is probably not as much as hoped for, and there is a big uranium deposit in Faléa, in the southern, non-rebel-controlled part of the country. What isn’t true, however, is that that’s the only uranium deposit in the country, as the Malian government’s website for their own conference on mineral reserves notes, there’s also the “Kidal Project, in the north eastern part of Mali, with an area of 19,930 km2” which is expected to further the reserves in Faléa along with the uranium in the Samit deposit. The Samit deposit, like the reserves in Kidal, is located in the rebel-controlled northwest, and “is thought to [contain] 200 tonnes” of uranium if not more.
As the website gushes over the mineral wealth in Mali it mentions what Whitehouse was aware of – the gold and uranium in the South, but also the scattered bauxite and iron ores in the center of the country, and what’s more the deposits of that incredibly pricey metal, copper, in the north. There’s also reserves of phosphates, tin, and zinc in the north that have proven extensive. Funny how none of those got a mention while the minerals that Whitehouse knows aren’t actually all that prevalent in the north did?
In any case, it’s clear that a government that could control the entire territory that Mali is currently recognized as controlling would have, should we say a diverse portfolio of natural resources to sell at profits? Unlike most export-dependent economies, the variety of resources in play would shield Mali from the short term but unpredictable threat of unstable global prices (well, except on copper, which again, is costly and just getting pricier).
(Looks like the Malian government had that same thought and foolishly said it out loud on their website for their conference on mineral extraction in the country. From here.)
Of course, that’s not just to the benefit of Mali, but also whichever country owns or even simply invests in the Malian mines. Speaking of which, is the fact that many of the French national hostages captured in the region were working for French mining companies another thing that Whitehouse and others who are certain this isn’t about resources or neo-colonial just aren’t “aware” of?
Ah, but Whitehouse has anticipated this sort of argument – after all, he explains, “Operation Serval was a last resort, whereas a few years ago it would have been the default option.” Because colonialism is definitely about how occupying forces feel about their actions, rather than their powers and impacts on the region they occupy and the world in general. Likewise, there’s an interesting belief here that colonialism was never interested in intermediaries or non-military means of exploitation. I’ve already talked about how in other corners of Africa, European powers ruled through local authorities which allowed them to avoid frequent and direct military confrontations, so let’s just call that point what it is – a wishful need for this to not be colonialism.