French troops protecting Niger mine: Fight for security in Africa or..?
Niger’s President Issoufou asked his counterpart Hollande for military help after the recent hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant and over the growing threat of militant attacks since France launched its Operation Serval in neighboring Mali.
French company Areva plays a major part in mining in Niger, the world's fifth-largest producer of uranium. The company gets much of its uranium from the two mines it operates in the country, at Arlit and Imouraren.
Arlit was attacked by militants three years ago and four hostages – three French nationals among them – are still being held.Asked if he could confirm that French Special Forces are now guarding the uranium mine, President Issoufou told channel TV5: "Absolutely I can confirm.”
Niger’s uranium mines are a major source of raw material for French nuclear power plants, so observers wonder if energy resources are a factor in the West’s increased interest in the African continent.
For more on that, RT talks to the director of studies at the Institute of democracy and cooperation in Paris, John Laughland.
RT: So is this all about protecting France's economic interests?
John Laughland: That explains part of it. There’s no secret that Niger is a big exporter of Uranium. There’ve been discoveries of gas and oil in Mali itself. So, yes, the energy factor explains a lot in international politics. But I think there are other factors as well. I think the two main factors in this are France has a desire to strengthen her role on the international stage, in particular vis-à-vis her European partners and also American strategic plans for Africa.
It’s important to know, that America, which strongly supports France in this Malian intervention, and who has sent Joe Biden, the vice-president, to Paris even as I am speaking to you now. America has plans for establishing a military presence and a military control over the whole of the African continent. The structure in question is known as AFRICOM and one has to speculate, that America might be interested (together with Britain and France) in establishing some kind of permanent military presence in a continent, where, as I am sure many of your viewers know, China has been establishing an economic presence now very successfully for a large number of years.
General view of installations at Somair mineral treatment plant near the uranium opencast mine in Arlit. (AFP Photo / Pierre Verdy)
JL: We are indeed observing, as you say in your question, a pattern that was established really during the Libya campaign in 2011, when, as your viewers all remember, France took the lead, Britain joined in very quickly and America came in as it were on their coattails. Some people speculated, they used the phrase that America was leading from behind, that America had decided to put forward its European allies to do (as it were) its dirty work. Is it just the ground resources? Yes! It’s obvious, that securing of energy resources is one of the key factors behind many (if not most) geo-political developments today. And this fact frankly is admitted, for instance by NATO, which declares the securing of energy resources, to be one of its legitimate policy goals in its own official documents.
But as I say, I think we have to also look at this as an intervention, which is being undertaken for internal French and internal European policy reasons. France militarily until 2011, when it invaded, when it attacked (together with Britain and America and indeed the whole of NATO) Libya to ever throw Gaddafi, France had not have a great military presence. And I think there must have been people in Paris, who were wondering why the only militarily active country in Europe was the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom undertook a large number of military operations…
RT:Niger's President has claimed his country's looking to re-negotiate mining deals with France while also searching for new partners, including possibly China. If indeed you are right and America and European powers are trying to get solid boot on the ground there in Niger and Mali, what does China think about all this?
JL: There’s a scramble for Africa, isn’t there? China has been (as it were) peacefully colonizing Africa for a number of years. There are large economic interests, China’s interests all over the African continent, many of them connected with energy. And if the President of Niger says these kinds of things, it’s obviously a sort of brinkmanship – he is obviously trying to beat up the price between two rivals.
Of course, the issue of energy sources is key and may even be the decisive factor. But, as I say, there are also even broader strategic issues, including the desire, which I believe to be the case on the part of America, to have permanent military bases in Africa. It will be like Iraq. You know – there’s a terrorist threat, or an alleged terrorist threat, a military operation – and that leads to permanent bases. And this has been the pattern of interventions, of American interventions and the western interventions generally now for decades.
RT: France is ultimately leading the campaign in Mali and Niger. But as many know, France's economy continues to stumble. Do you really think that Paris can afford an aggressive foreign policy at this point?
JL: No. I don’t think Paris can afford anything at the moment. The labor ministry famously said ten days ago, that the country was bankrupt. But I don’t think that European politicians in that sense are rational. That’s partly why I am a little sceptical about these very rational explanations for these interventions, such as the desire to control resources. I am very often more struck by the short-term nature of decision making.
And I think, as I say, that there could well be some rivalry (I am sure there is) between Britain and France on this. The idea is to beat up France’s military profile on the European stage and of course also to strengthen President Hollande’s own standing within France itself.