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‘A very unfortunate decision’: French President gets UNESCO peace prize

Published time: February 22, 2013 04:58

As French president Francois Hollande is set to receive UNESCO’s peace prize for ‘peace and stability’ in Africa, Abayomi Azikiwe, editor for Pan-African News Wire says it is an ill choice in the light of French involvement in conflict-torn Mali.

“Having assessed the dangers and the repercussions of the situation on Africa, and on Mali in particular, the jury appreciated the solidarity shown by France to the peoples of Africa,” the Jury of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize said in a statement on Thursday.

France started a military operation in Mali on January 11, 2013, with the aim of the mission being the prevention of extremists from taking control of the northern part of the African country.

However, Abayomi Azikiwe believes the mission is not humanitarian, but fueled by economic and political interests of France, as well as other NATO member states.

RT: Some critics are saying that Hollande is a strange choice for peace award, as he is currently engaged in a military conflict. Do you think he deserves the award?

Abayomi Azikiwe: I think it’s a very unfortunate decision on the part of UNESCO to award this Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize to Francois Hollande. The fact that he hasn’t been in office long, his political career since being in office as president of France has been marred by this intervention in Mali. Something that was done unilaterally; was totally unjustified. There have been reports of gross human rights violations that have taken place since the French intervention in Mali.

They’ve admitted, the Defense Ministry in Paris, that they’ve killed hundreds of people, and the operation overall is not turning out the way that France had initially planned. There’s been intense fighting in the city of Gao over the last two weeks. There were reports of one of the groups that has been targeted in northern Mali, the movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa has broken through the defense lines that were set up outside the city, and was inside the city, engaging both Malian and French military forces. There’s also been bombing in the mountainous areas in the north-east of Mali. These developments don’t bode well for someone who has been offered such a prestigious award for peace.

RT: But don’t those developments bode well then for the necessity of troops to be there in the first place?

AA: Not at all. We’ve found out that many of the allegations that were made in the regard to the developments in Mali turned out to be not accurate. For example, there were reports that the Ahmed Baba institute which exists in Timbuktu, and houses tens of thousands of ancient historical documents going back to the 13th century in Mali, had been burnt down by the Islamists, which turned out to be totally inaccurate. It was not burnt to the ground, the manuscripts were not destroyed - many of them were moved to another location. Also, reports that the Islamists would have overrun the country if France hadn’t intervened, that still is unsubstantiated.

The problem with intervention by France is that it is not the intervention that is going to gain the support of people inside of Mali and also people throughout the entire region, of West Africa as well as North Africa.

RT: Why then do we hear these voices in Mali, “Yes, we are happy that France is here”, “Yes, we want them here”, “Yes, they are bringing stability”?

AA: It depends on who you’re speaking with. There are many people there who have given interviews to the international media despite the news blackout that’s been imposed by France in the Malian government. Many people there are saying that there are violations to fundamental human and civil rights that are taking place inside the country that is actually are being fostered by the military and the government in Paris.

And of course, this is being fueled by the economic crisis that exists in France. They have the highest unemployment rate that they’ve had for many years that almost 11 per cent; they have a huge deficit which they’re trying to deal with. Hollande went to Greece just two days ago on a state visit, and he was met by a general strike. People in Greece are off the job because of the austerity that’s being imposed and throughout the entire southern and western European regions. So this intervention is not a humanitarian one, it’s based upon the economic and political interests of France, as well as other countries in NATO, and also including the US as well because the US is actually transporting troops to Mali.