Precisely when international press was running articles warning on the crisis that will hit France in 2013, thus deepening the terrible perception of Europe’s lack of significance and reaction in the present world, the French president announced the intervention of French troops in Mali. A former French colony, the Republic of Mali is the theatre of the new international offensive of radical Islamism, connected – above all – to the Al –Qaeda network. Regrouped to the north of this huge country (in terms of covered area) after Ghaddafi’s fall in Libya, last summer the jihadists launched a systematic military advance to the South last summer, in order to probably take control of the capital city Bamako and turn the country into a terrorist stronghold, similar to Afghanistan before 9.11.2001.
To the surprise of many observers of the French political stage, where the new president was seen as associated with the end of the two-decade old political line ‘Francafrique’ that signified the intervention in former African colonies, last Friday he ordered the country’s military to get involved in stopping the drive of Islamist radical forces towards Southern Mali. With very few exceptions, F. Hollande was supported in his decision by the entire political establishment, and the big actors of the West – USA, England, Germany – promised logistical or humanitarian support in order for this military intervention to soon achieve its purpose and to determine the stabilisation of this African state.A stabilising military intervention in this country, where a massive inflow of Libyan jihadists joined forces last summer with a quasi-permanent Tuareg rebellion, has been permanently evoked, and the UN Security Council even authorised last October such an evolution through the intermediary of an African force organised by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States, a West-African regional organisation). The French president must have certainly thought that any delay in launching the military intervention would have had negative consequences for France and its role in Africa, as well as for Europe as a whole. On one hand, Hollande demonstrated that France is committed to its duty to support the stability of states from this African region – where some 30,000 French expatriates in countries neighbouring Mali – especially now, just weeks after he turned down a request for military support addressed by the president of the Central African Republic, threatened by a political rebellion at home. This time, however, rather than threats to a political regime, there is the imminent danger that a state with such size falls under the control of radical Islamism. Or, this will certainly have consequences for Europe, from the fact that France obtains its uranium from neighbouring Niger to influencing with radical Islamist ideas the massive African immigration living in French cities or other European states. On the other hand, Hollande made the necessary demonstration that France is ready to take the risks implied by such a decision, imperative to itself and Europe. Even though he announced that the intervention of French troops is limited and temporary, with the purpose to keep at bay the jihadist offensive and prepare the optimal conditions for dispatching a West-African force under the umbrella of ECOWAS (about 3000 troops), it is already clear that such goals cannot be achieved overnight. Especially as it will also be necessary to reinforce the Malian military forces by sending there a strong military mission – probably a combine force assembled by several states of the EU – which implies other weeks or months of planning, organising and implementing it.In fact, the urgent character of the military intervention in Mali was obvious. This is how a Canadian newspaper describes the succession of urgent appeals to immediate action, issued last week: last Tuesday, in “Canada, the head of the African Union suggested that NATO countries should participate in an intervention to stabilize Mali./…/”; Thursday :”/…/ the interim President of Mali implored the French to come to the assistance of his country/…/ the UN Security Council, in an emergency session /…/ expressed its ‘grave concern’ about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Mali”.Among the few voices that avoided total consensus in French politics was Dominique de Villepin, the Foreign Affairs minister of former president J. Chirac, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq invasion in 2003. Invoking real facts – the fact that the Malian political system displays the signs of major instability, with the successive challenging of both premier and president last year and the collapse of the army’s combativeness – he warned that “the conditions for a successful military intervention are not met, its purposes are unclear – stopping the Islamist offensive?; reconquering the North?; destroying the jihadist network of Maghreb (AQMI)? – too vast for the committed forces and this would turn into a long war with negative impact across the region and inside France. The answer given by a French reader to this demonstration shows there is massive support – demonstrated by the many comments that appeared in the French media these days – for the decision made by F. Hollande. He wrote: “Villepin mistakes Mali for Iraq. If I share his opinion about Iraq, because there was no piece of evidence supporting the existence of weapons of mass destruction, Mali – on the other hand – is the evident proof of the jihadist advance on Bamako, and I believe that the intervention of France was necessary to break the jihadist arc that spreads from the Atlantic to Somalia (worth noticing, concomitantly with the main operation, French troops also attempted to free French hostages in Somalia, but failed). Here is the reaction of another reader to the justification of the presidential decision: “A long-lasting implantation of Islamists in the Sahel with Mali as support base simply puts Europe and France in front of a programmed terrorist destabilisation.”But, beyond the exact timing of the French action, the boldness of the decision made by President Hollande and its strong impact at home and abroad, there are other goals clearly described by a German newspaper (‘Suddeutsche Zeitung’) Monday: “But it is not without risk. /…/ France is not strong enough militarily. Hollande is dependant on help. First and foremost, a functioning international force made up of African units must be created. But France also needs military assistance from its allies in Europe.”France’s allies must stand besides France today with their deeds.