France has this week begun sending its troops into the poverty-stricken Central African Republic amid lurid claims that the country is descending into genocidal chaos.
There are already 400 French military personnel in the former colony, and France says it is planning to send a total of 1,000 troops to join an African Union force to “restore order”.
But what is going on is a classic French neo-colonial grab for power under the cynical guise of “responsibility to protect” human rights.
The real agenda is the French government is dispatching its troops to secure its commercial interests, and in particular lucrative uranium mining resources.
No one is disputing that the Central African Republic (CAR) is suffering from poverty, hunger, displacement and an upsurge in violence. The pertinent question is: who is behind it and why?
Out of a total population of 4.6 million, some 10 per cent of the people are reportedly displaced, fleeing from inter-communal violence, with a quarter of the nation having no access to food.
However, French claims that the country is “on the verge of genocide” appears to be grossly exaggerated and designed to create a foreboding atmosphere of crisis.
France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, said last week: “The CAR is collapsing and it could [sic] lead to mass atrocities, with each community trying to slaughter the other.”
Earlier, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French media, “It’s total disorder… we need to act quickly.”
France has now gone ahead with sending troops to the Central African Republic before the UN Security Council has voted on a mandate for a peacekeeping force. In other words, France is railroading its agenda -an agenda that has little to do with “restoring order”.
This precocious military intervention by France replicates the scenario exactly one year ago, when the French government was pushing the UN to sanction a peacekeeping operation in Mali, another former African colony.
In that case, Paris was also making similar sensationalist claims of chaos and humanitarian crisis, and again dispatched its troops to that country, thus pre-empting the UN Security Council then.
In Mali, the French were claiming that secessionist rebels in the north of the country were posing a global threat to security because of alleged links to the al-Qaeda terror network.
In the case of the Central African Republic, the French are now claiming that they are protecting civilians from internecine violence.
France is also accusing the mainly Muslim rebel movement, known as Seleka, of carrying out slaughter on the majority Christian population.
The Seleka rebels ousted the French-backed president of the CAR, Francois Bozizé, earlier this year in March. The newly self-declared president, Michel Djotodia, is the first Muslim leader of that African country.
Djotodia has firmly rejected claims that the interim government is waging a sectarian conflict, and he has recently denied French assertions that the country is on the brink of genocide.
“There’s no genocide, there is not even an inter-religious war. All of this is made up to manipulate the opinion of the international community,” he said.
In contrast to French categorical warnings, it is hard to know the exact security situation in remote parts of the CAR. Even the UN has admitted that the casualty figures from the conflict in recent weeks are not verifiable.
Best estimates put the number of victims in the dozens, not hundreds or thousands. And it is not clear which groups are responsible for the sudden chaos.
Also, it seems that the recent surge in violence was initiated in September by shadowy militia known as “anti-balaka” who are linked to forces loyal to the ousted president Bozizé.
These groups began attacking mainly Muslim communities in northern parts of the CAR, which have in turn resulted in reprisal killings allegedly by Muslim rebel groups against Christians.
Until recently, both religious communities lived harmoniously, with sectarian violence unheard of.
What is known is that the French-backed Bozizé regime was notoriously corrupt. He is now exiled in France from where he is agitating a counter-coup, presumably with covert help from the French government.
Bozizé himself came to power in 2003 through a coup against an elected president, Ange-Felix Patasse. It was the intervention of French commandos that installed Bozizé.
Indeed, since the CAR’s supposed political independence from France in 1960, French troops stationed in the country have regularly worked covertly to stage coups and counter-coups to suit the political and economic needs of Paris.
It is this ongoing interference by France that is a major factor in the chronic instability of the CAR.
The ouster of the French puppet president Bozizé was no doubt a serious blow to French strategic interests. Despite its abject underdevelopment, the Central African state is a treasure trove of natural resources.
It is rich in agricultural land, virgin forests, hydropower, untapped oil and gas reserves, and gold, copper, and other minerals.
Of utmost importance is the recent discovery of uranium deposits – the primary fuel for nuclear energy. It is reckoned that the CAR has uranium reserves equal to Niger, another French colony, where France has long-established mining operations.
Niger is one of the top five global sources of uranium and supplies France with one-third of its total import of this fuel.
In 2010, the French nuclear company, Areva, opened a new mining operation in CAR, located at Bakouma. The $200 million Bakouma plant is scheduled to reach full uranium production next year.
Given that France produces 80 per cent of its total electricity from nuclear power and is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to its low cost of production – thanks to cheap and abundant African sources of uranium – that factor seems much more plausible than French claims about protecting human rights in the Central African Republic.
What France is pulling off in the CAR is nothing more than a naked neo-colonial plunder of African resources.
Cloaked with hysterical claims of genocide and protecting civilians, the real story is a much more cynical one: French protection of its economic exploitation of Africa.