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The French seem to have taken an active interest in rescuing Africa from itself. They struck Libya in the name of democracy and moved to invade Mali a year later under the same premises. So now that former French colony, the Central African Republic, has been overrun by rebels, where is France?
There are 250 troops already stationed in the Central African Republic, which was once considered the “Cinderella” of the French colonies, and roughly 1,000 French citizens live in the CAR. France remains deeply involved in the diamond business in CAR, among other businesses, and sent military planes to drive away rebels in 2006. So where are they now?
Since the rebel advance, France has sent an additional 150 troops to defend the airport and ensure the security of its citizens, but has not moved beyond that to support the toppled President Bozizé’s army. Even as the rebels dissolve the constitution of the CAR, dismiss the government and parliament, loot the UNICEF office in Bangui, and determine to remain in power for the next three years without holding elections, the French insist that this is not their struggle. In fact, the only military action the French have taken so far has been to open fire from the airport on three civilian cars, killing two Indian passengers (an investigation is underway).
Why is CAR Different?
When the French military stormed into Mali with 4,000 soldiers, air strikes and Chadian soldiers, they declared themselves in favor of democracy over terrorism. They did not reinstate the liberal democracy of Amadou Toumani Touré, but they did dismantle the Tuareg rebellion leaving 200,000 refugees scattered in places like Burkina Faso.
According to the UN Human Rights Council, the invasion was “followed by a serious escalation of retaliatory violence by (Malian) government soldiers who appear to be targeting members of the Reuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups.” In the wake of the invasion, the UN has also declared a terrible food crisis in Mali amounting to widespread starvation—even as the North Atlantic puppets in Libya avow the security of their rice fields in the Office du Niger.
Bozizé, like Touré, had been dealing with France’s competitors, in some cases making deft compromises and in other cases mishandling matters severely. One important node is the notorious uranium mine operated in the Bakouma region, purchased in 2007 by the French corporation Areva under spectacularly controversial circumstances. Last year, Chadian rebels under the Islamist rebels of the Popular Front for Recovery (FPR) assaulted the mine, and has since issued a statement of support for Séléka. Séléka, itself, is linked to human rights violations as deep as the brutal murder of women for alleged witchcraft. Since capturing Bangui, rebels have run riot, looting shops and causing mayhem. Still, the French do not intervene.
A Stone in the Shoe
Séléka is also connected to the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which captured the northern town of Birao from across the Chadian border in 2010. Before his assassination (likely by the hand of his own agency), former head of Security Guy-Jean Le Foll Yamande declared that the French knew about the attack ahead of time and refused to inform Bozizé. By periodically playing the rebels off of one another and the government, the French could become a “stone in the shoe” of development, ensuring that the CAR would not become “the Switzerland of Africa” in spite of its great cache of untapped resources.
For Bozizé’s part, the rebel advance is explicable due to oil concessions recently signed away to Chinese and South African firms. “Why did they start raping, killing and hurting the Central African population? (…) We gave them everything. Before giving oil to the Chinese, I met Total in Paris and told them to take the oil, nothing happened, I gave oil to the Chinese and it became a problem. I sent counselor Maidou in Paris for the Uranium dossier, they refused. I finally gave it to the South Africans.” According to Bozizé, not only would total refuse the concessions, they would refuse the concessions to other states as well, presumably playing the game of underdevelopment that Africa knows so well.
Unlike the French, South Africa is fighting for its economic and political livelihood in CAR. The Zuma administration has sent 400 soldiers to support Bozizé’s army, and 13 South African soldiers have died in combat with the Séléka rebels. The African Union and the UN have roundly condemned the Séléka advance, calling for a restoration of the constitutional order. In the shadow of the BRICS summit in Durban, a symbol of the South’s participation in the African marketplace, the upheaval in CAR is, according to Reuters, “particularly embarrassing for South Africa, which is seeking to project itself as an influential regional power on the continent.”
In the situation of CAR, the bottom line does not seem as clear-cut as it did in Mali for the French. Whereas in Mali, a power vacuum opened up that allowed France the opportunity to churn the military industrial complex in favor of its investments, in the situation of the CAR, the power vacuum that has opened may not require an intervention. The rebels united against Bozizé for now will likely not have much to agree on in the future—the possibility of political fragmentation hangs over the country as rebels connected to Islamism gain ground, but France is not making that the centerpiece in their casting of the global theater of military intervention. Why? Perhaps they believe that the embarrassment of South Africa and the BRICS countries in CAR will open up new opportunities for them in the long run. As Hollande, himself, has proclaimed, “if we are present it is not to protect any regime but to protect our citizens and our interests.”
Sasha Ross lives in Portland, Oregon where he directs the Cascadia Field Office of the Earth First! Journal, and works at local bio-diversity group, Bark. He is currently editing an anthology about the Global Land Grab and his recent work can be found in Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at the Earth First! Newswire (newswire.earthfirstjournal.org).