This week the world rewound more than a century – with the announcement that the European Union is to send troops to Central Africa.
This development has ominous resonance with how imperial rivalry historically played out in Africa and which eventually led to world war.
Much of Africa’s modern problems of poverty and conflict are the ongoing legacy of European predation on that continent.
Now, with renewed swagger, the Europeans are returning in force, under the guise of humanitarianism. In truth, as we shall see, this guise is not new; the same condescending words and latent racism of earlier times are simply being recycled in the modern era.
On the latest mission, EU countries earmarked to send military personnel to Africa include Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic and Poland. They will join some 1,600 French troops already patrolling the Central African Republic (CAR).
The official mission of the European military is to act as “peacekeepers” in the CAR where more than 1,000 people have been killed in nearly two months of clashes between Christians and Muslims.
This week, the United Nations reiterated warnings that the African country was on “the brink of genocide” stemming from the sectarian violence. Some one million people – a quarter of the CAR population – have been recently displaced and are facing a humanitarian crisis.
So, given the dire situation, shouldn’t we welcome the EU move to send troops, as well as $500 million in financial aid from international donors?
No, because the violence, instability and poverty in the CAR is a result of decades of neo-colonial meddling in that country since it gained independence from France in 1960. More recently, the sectarian clashes in the CAR only erupted after France dispatched its troops to the country on December 2. It is French military intervention – despite belatedly acquiring UN Security Council authorization – that has precipitated and exacerbated the bloodshed and suffering.
Even the mild-mannered UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay this week acknowledged that the French military had triggered violence by unilaterally disarming the Muslim Seleka rebels, thus giving a free hand to the Christian Anti-Balaka militia.
Most of the victims over the past six weeks in the CAR capital, Bangui, and in the surrounding countryside, have been Muslims.
The real motive for the French invasion of Central Africa had nothing to do with protecting human rights and everything to do with protecting commercial interests in its former colony – in particular a major new uranium mining operation set to begin full production next year at a cost of $200 million.
The French government had been talking up fears of “genocide” in the CAR weeks before its intervention at the start of December. The violence is thus a self-fulfilling prophecy that appears to give France a justification “after the fact”.
From the outset, France has been lobbying for the EU to join its military operation. The obvious, but of course undeclared, reason is that the financial burden for the military mission would shift from Paris to the EU taxpayers, while France still stands to gain primarily from the intervention, it being the former colonial power.
The new EU troop contingencies are reportedly being assigned to secure the airport in Bangui and other civic centers, which “will free up French soldiers.”
Free up French soldiers to do what exactly? Most likely, they will be able to reinforce security duties at the French mining operations and other French commercial interests.
More than 100 years ago at the Berlin Conference, held in 1884, the European powers carved out new colonial territories in Africa. Among the powers then were France, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. It started out as a “gentleman’s agreement” with lofty rhetoric about humanitarian concerns and carrying out a “civilizing mission” in the Dark Continent.
European ambitions, however, soon descended into a vicious “scramble for Africa” in which competing powers slaughtered and enslaved millions of Africans to gain advantage over one another.
Belgian King Leopold II in particular oversaw the genocide of at least 10 million native people in the so-called Congo Free State between 1885 and 1908. Leopold’s 23-year reign of terror, in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, looted that country of precious rubber and minerals.
In addition to mass murder and starvation by Belgian troops, the Congolese people were further brutalized by a policy of amputation of limbs if they failed to meet their quota of rubber collection.
Millions who survived the slaughter and starvation were left without arms and legs by their European masters.
This week, the EU approved the return of Belgian troops to Central Africa. It may be contended that much has changed over the past century, wherein European states are no longer in the practice of colonial violence and exploitation. Surely, it may be pled, these powers are today intervening in Africa for genuine humanitarian purposes?
But if the earlier justifying rhetoric was false back in the heyday of the Scramble for Africa, it can be false today also. And as we have seen already, the present unfolding violence in Central Africa is a result of unlawful French meddling for ulterior, commercial national interests. The same old European game of deceptive platitudes covering brute motives is being played out again – this time with a veneer of international consensus and taxpayer subsidy.
Similar to the period of the early 1900s, the world capitalist system is mired in stagnation, as it is today. The old European powers sought to boost their flagging economies with new African territory and resources. The same motive reasoning can be discerned in the current crisis of capitalism and its grab on Africa.
European states are returning to Africa to salvage their own economic woes. This will eventually lead to competitive conflict between European powers and others including the United States, Russia and in particular China. The latter has invested some $100 billion across Africa over the past three years in order to gain access to raw materials – through legitimate partnerships it must be added.
Another disturbing pattern worth noting between the past and present is that the European Scramble for Africa in the 1900s was a contributing factor in the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Imperialist rivalry in Africa then rebounded in an all-out industrialized war.
In this centenary year of the Great War – in which up to 20 million people died – the Europeans powers are re-treading the same terrible path towards conflict. Once again, Africa heralds a bad omen for a super-charged capitalist conflict in the making.
[DS added the videos.]
UN Security Council Briefed on Central African Republic
Caleb Maupin on Jan 23, 2014
Witnesses: Widespread looting in C.A.R as new president inaugurated
PressTV Videos on Jan 23, 2014
Witnesses in the Central African Republic’s capital have reported extensive looting and violence against Muslims.
Reports say shops and properties belonging to Muslims have been targeted around the capital. Meanwhile, Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of the capital, Bangui, has just been sworn in to lead a transitional government. The CAR spiraled into chaos following a coup by Muslims in March 2013. However, deadly violence gripped the country when Christian militias launched coordinated attacks on the mostly Muslim Seleka group last month. The violence has left over a thousand people dead so far. France invaded its former colony in December under the pretext of ending the violence.