I recently found this article written by anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse who lived and worked in Bamako for five years as a Fulbright scholar.  Bruce hits it on the head with his point by point analysis of Western intervention in Mali.  The reality is that there really is no strategic value of Mali to the United States and Europe.  The only relevance that the country has to Western powers is in the context of post-war consolidations of power in the aftermath of the Gaddafi regime.  The Sahel could potentially become a belt of terrorism stretching across Africa where nation states are weak and terrorists can live in relative safety, just as both Gaddafi and the late Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens suspected might happen. -Jack

Behind Mali’s conflict: myths, realities & unknowns

Since the French military intervention in Mali, known as Operation Serval, began last week, the internet has been buzzing with talk about its motives. Is France really only trying to contain a terrorist threat, as it claims? Or do major world powers have other, more sinister interests at stake? At its root, what is the conflict in Mali about?

This discourse, generated largely by journalists, analysts and activists unfamiliar with Mali, has been far too speculative for my tastes. Let’s consider what we do and don’t know about the causes and effects of international interest in Mali.

1. Mineral rights

Many sources say that the main reason France, and Western countries more broadly, are getting involved in Mali is that these major world powers covet the country’s mineral resources. The website globalresearch.ca expresses this view bluntly: “the goal of this new war is no other than stripping yet another country of its natural resources by securing the access of international corporations to do it.” Mali’s subsoil has been reported to contain abundant precious metals, oil and gas. But the truth of Mali’s “mineral riches” is rather murky.

Where oil and gas are concerned, talk of Mali’s “oil wealth” is premature: while Mali has potential reserves, it has zero proven reserves, and despite its government allocating 700,000 square kilometers for drilling since 2005, no wells have been drilled yet (see Jeune Afrique). No major multinational energy companies have even bought drilling rights in Mali: the only companies who have are Italy’s ENI, Algeria’s SONATRACH, Canada’s Selier Energy, and a few other minor players with high risk tolerance. Even before the present conflict began a year ago, the Malian Sahara’s remoteness and chronic insecurity made it a no-go zone for most investors. Military intervention will not change that for the better.

As for uranium in Mali, the only current mining operation of which I’m aware is in Falea, close to the country’s southwestern border with Guinea, carried out by the Canadian company Rockland. This operation has had its own social and environmental problems, but it’s nowhere near the conflict zone. Despite rumors of uranium in northern Mali, no evidence has been made public, so we cannot take it as a given that the area is “uranium rich.”

Mali is among Africa’s top gold producers, exporting between 36 and 60 metric tons annually over the last decade; gold is a key source of revenue for the Malian government. Mining operations are carried out in southern and western Mali by a handful of multinational companies (Randgold, AngloGold Ashanti, and Iamgold among others).