Mali Civil War: Why Can't France Let Africa Take Care of Its Own Business?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has called for aUnited Nations peacekeeping force to replace French forces battling Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in northern Mali. The French ambassador to the UN has reiterated the matter at the UN Security Council (UNSC), and expects the exchange of command from France to a UN force by April this year.

France is requesting the UN force knowing fully well that the UNSC, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union (AU) have already approved the deployment of an ECOWAS intervention force in Mali. In fact, the current French-led intervention, while commendable, is a usurpation of ECOWAS-AU mandate. The French intervened in Mali while ECOWAS was still finalizing its plan to assemble an initial force of 3,300 troops. Given the impromptu French invasion, ECOWAS was compelled to hastily mobilize an initial infantry force to complement French air raids in northern Mali. 

It comes as a surprise, then, to see the French lobbying for a UN force in Mali after their earlier efforts in support of deploying an ECOWAS force with global support. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from the matter is that the French are reacting to recent allegations of human rights abuses by a few Malian soldiers. However, if human rights violations are the concern, recent UN peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Haiti, etc. illustrate that not even UN peacekeepers have provided adequate protection for civilians.   

But the French argument is that a UN peacekeeping force will ensure more funding and resources, since the UN has more resources than ECOWAS and the AU. This might be true, but the AU has proactively sought funding to support what was deemed an African-led intervention force in Mali. The AU estimated the cost of a mission at around $460 million and recently obtained a pledge of $455 million at a donor conference of African countries and members of the international community. 

Therefore, if the French are concerned about the possible lack of resources facing the African intervention force, the sensible approach is to encourage the UN to provide resources for the ECOWAS mission. The mission has already been approved by the UNSC and is warranted under the UN Charter. Article 52 of the Charter endorses regional arrangements such as the ECOWAS mission for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The French intervened in Mali with a plan of leaving as soon as the Al-Qaeda linked extremists were pushed out of major towns in northern Mali, since the French intervention is not a peacekeeping mission. In fact, the French only became concerned about Mali because the rebels posed significant threats towards French business and national security interests in the region. An increasing number of French citizens had been kidnapped in that area, and unfortunately, some were murdered. The French were anxious to take action against the extremists, but never intended to stay committed to the long-term fight.

While the French battle against Islamic extremists in Mali is temporary, the Malians are involved in a drawn-out battle with a rag-tag group of extremists capable of random acts of terror similar to the suicide bombing in Gao on February 8. The current inability of the Malian military to defeat the extremists requires African intervention, and any such armed mission must be African-led.