The End of Neo-colonialism

Outmoded political categories are prone to linger beyond their relevance to ongoing reality. One of these is the concept of "neo-colonialism," a term coined in 1965 by Kwame Nkrumah, who became president of newly independent Ghana. For him, formulating a modern extension of the argument of Lenin, neo-colonialism was the last stage of "imperialism."

Inherent in this view is that the former colonial powers now use various methods to operate in other countries not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological, and cultural spheres. They use innumerable ways to obtain objectives formally achieved by outright colonialism.

Neo-colonialist theory was incorporated into the Non-Aligned Movement, (NAM) founded in 1961 by leaders of Egypt, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, India, and Ghana, and including the developing countries of the world. The movement was supposed to steer an independent course from either the Western or Soviet blocs in the Cold War, but its activity and policy pronouncements suggest otherwise.

The last summit of the NAM was held in Teheran in August 2012. It involved 120 members including Palestine along with 17 observer countries, accounting for about two-thirds of the membership of the United Nations. Iran is acting as chair of the movement from 2012 to 2015. Not surprisingly, the most recent pronouncement of the group on January 2, 2013 was to condemn "the ongoing, provocative, illegal actions by Israel."

The concept of neo-colonialism and the purpose of the NAM was to ensure "the national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity" of the non-aligned countries. The call to France for help by Dioncounda Trare, the 70 year-old interim president of Mali, is thus a turning point in international relations, and a renunciation of the charge of "neo-colonialism."

Some international political problems are complex and difficult to solve, or even to go so far as to furnish obvious positions on the issue. Others are more simple issues for policymakers. Mali, Algeria, and the rest of the world are now aware that the fundamental threat to existing societies, developed and non-developed, is not the intervention or ambitions of "colonial" powers but the advance of Islamist extremists, both al Qaeda and other terrorist groups associated with it.

The new era has dawned. Non-Western countries, facing the Islamist threat, now are anxious to seek direct Western participation on their behalf. France, which in December 2011 brought back all its military forces from Afghanistan, is now in the forefront of the international effort against Jihadism.

The French intervention starting on January 11, 2013 with airstrikes and deployment of troops (now amounting to 3,500) was not an invasion by a colonial power eager to obtain the area's oil, gold, and uranium, but a response to a desperate call to defeat the Islamists, primarily the group of "Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM), but also involving Ansar Dine and MUJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) ,which had captured the north of Mali and were advancing on the capitol, Bamako. It was France, the former colonial power in the area, that moved to restore the territorial integrity of the African country. France, which in the past has criticized Israeli actions against terrorism from Hamas and Hezbollah, now understands the fight against Islamic terrorism.

The French have apparently halted and even reversed the Islamist advance into central Mali. The French now control the airport and the surrounding area of the northern city of Gao, which had been occupied by Islamists since April 2012, as well as other areas. Those French troops are not mercenaries, but have a single mission, to defeat Islamist control and eradicate terrorism. They have acted because the army of Mali itself is not yet sufficiently effective for the task, and so far the promised contingent of troops from African countries has not acted. The African force under the banner of ECOWAS, (Economic Community of West African States) supposed to consist of 3,300 fighters, remains to arrive in force. It is noticeable that Algeria, forgetting bitter memories of the French colonialism for more than a century, allowed French planes to use its air space to attack the Islamic militants.

It is unclear whether French forces will continue to advance north, particularly to capture Kidal, the last important town in northern Mali to remain in Islamist hands. President François Hollande, far from being a neo-colonialist, has indicated that this task should be performed by Africans who will help to re-establish the unity of Mali. Also unclear is the exact extent of the assistance to be given by the United States, which is now collecting information, providing air tankers to refuel French warplanes, and considering deploying unarmed drones.

But two things are clear. One is that the American administration, while unwilling to become involved in the conflict in Mali, and the rest of the world are aware that Islamists threaten the security and even existence of other states in Africa, especially Algeria, which has been fighting terrorists for more than twenty years, and Mauritania, Nigeria, and Niger, a country with which the U.S. has a military pact. Moreover, an Islamist advance in Africa would constitute a danger to southern Europe, especially to France, which has more than six million Muslims some of whom have been radicalized.

The second new factor is the experience of Islamist control of territory. Africans have been made aware of the consequences of Islamist rule in Mali, with its imposition of Sharia law and prohibitions of free expression in all spheres, including music and dance. They are aware that most of the population in cities captured by the Islamists, such as the 50,000 in the historic town of Timbuktu, have chosen to flee rather than acquiesce to Islamist rule.

Events in Mali have made clear that a new era of cooperation between developed and developing nations is preferable to and has more to offer the world in peace, security, and tolerance than the perpetuation of the outdated rhetoric of "neo-colonialism."

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