Behind France’s intervention in CAR: Uranium supply security

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By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, Global Information System/Defense & Foreign Affairs

Operation Sangaris (a local exotic butterfly) — the French and MISCA (the French acronym for the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic) military intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR) — is escalating.

The French contingent will now be 1,600-troop strong, rather than the 1,200 agreed-upon at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The African Union’s (AU’s) MISCA force will grow to a total of 6,000 troops from Francophone African states, rather than the original estimate of 3,500 troops.

Anti-Balaka Christian militiamen outside Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, on Dec. 15. /Jerome Delay/AP
Anti-Balaka Christian militiamen outside Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, on Dec. 15. /Jerome Delay/AP

The hasty deployment of these forces only aggravates an already explosive situation in the country and region, and sparks new fighting where none existed before the international intervention had been announced. Most notably is the sudden resumption of fighting in Bangui, a city and region which had been completely quiet and secure literally until the day before the arrival of the new French forces.

The French-led Operation Sangaris had nothing to do with the oft-declared threat of “seeds of genocide” in the CAR. The French administration of President François Hollande is driven by the French desire for uranium ores.

Paris is focusing on the uranium deposits in the Bakouma sub-prefecture of the Mbomou prefecture, in south-eastern CAR. The Bakouma area phosphates are unique by their high uranium content: the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Further feasibility studies showed that there are 41-million pounds of U308 with an average grade of 0.27 percent in the Bakouma area. (This is almost 20 times higher than the resources in Trekkopje, Namibia.)

The primary sources of France’s uranium in southern Algeria and northern Mali and Niger are increasingly
threatened by jihadist terrorism and sabotage, the endemic kidnapping of engineers and technicians, the
scaring away of local miners and workers, as well as the destruction of facilities and support infrastructure.
Hence, Hollande’s Paris decided to fully control and develop the alternate resources in the CAR.

The failure of Operation Serval1 (the French-led military intervention in Mali) in early 2013 and the ensuing
escalation of jihadist operations added a sense of urgency to the French quest for the uranium resources
of the CAR.

By then, however, a revolutionary coalition led by Michel Djotodia had seized power in Bangui on March
24, 2013, and overthrew France’s stalwart puppet, President François Bozizé. Paris panicked.

Initially, Djotodia seemed to be an ally of Iran and Sudan. However, in Summer 2013, Djotodia emerged as his own
man, and definitely not a puppet of Paris. There begun a campaign led by France and the U.S. to smear
and delegitimize Djotodia on the basis that the coup he had led was an unacceptable form of rising to

Therefore, Paris and Washington argue, power must be returned to the CAR’s legal president, Bozizé.
However, Bozizé is an ex-general who also seized power in a military coup on March 15, 2003, when his
forces captured Bangui and overthrew then-President Ange-Felix Patasse, who was out of the country.

Soon afterwards, Bozizé declared himself a civilian president, won the March-May 2005 presidential election,
and then was re-elected in the January 2011 presidential election. The AU harshly criticized both the
2005 and 2011 presidential elections as being manipulated, rigged, and plagued with fraud.

Early December 2013, on the eve of the French-led intervention, saw a sudden marked escalation in the
fighting in Bangui. Until then, the entire Bangui area had been completely quiet and stable for a few

Anti-Djotodia forces launched a concentrated effort to turn incitement into fratricidal violence. The
main instruments were well-armed Christian vigilante militias — the Anti-Balaka — that arrived in Bangui
from neighboring states and pro-Bozizé regions. They immediately started attacking street markets, Muslim-
inhabited neighborhoods, and the city’s main mosque.

The Anti-Balaka (anti-machetes in local Sango dialects) vigilante groups first appeared in early October
2013 in pro-Bozizé bastions in north-western CAR in the direction of the border with Cameroon. The first
recorded attack took place in the mining village of Gaga, some 150 miles north-west of Bangui. The Anti-
Balaka militants attacked what they called a Seleka position near the main market, killing four ex-rebels.
They then started attacking Muslim civilians indiscriminately.

Several women who were in the predominantly Muslim market during the attack were raped and beaten by Anti-Balaka militants. The Anti-Balaka militias stressed their Christian character. They claim to have arisen from the predominantly Christian population in order to defend their communities from Muslim Seleka attacks as well as avenge transgressions. The Anti-Balaka quickly transformed into declaratory Christian vigilante groups that committed numerous murderous revenge attacks on Muslim communities even though they had nothing to do with ex-Seleka fighters.

The early December 2013, attacks by the Anti-Balaka militias in Bangui prompted widespread clashes
with government forces, both Muslim and Christian self-defense militias, as well as former Seleka fighters
who also rushed into town.

The fighting created an urgent imperative for the French-led intervention and the increase in the size of the French-led contingent. Significantly, the Anti-Balaka Christian militias drove their technicals and trucks into the CAR and Bangui using the same roads used by the French forces driving to Bangui from Gabon via Cameroon, and the Republic of Congo.

Given their superior weaponry, had the French military wanted to stop the Anti-Balaka and prevent them from reaching Bangui, they could have done so easily. Instead, the French forces at the Bangui airport attacked the ex-Seleka and other militias trying to fight and contain the marauding Anti-Balaka vigilantes.

And so, there began a completely needless and unwarranted wave of fratricidal violence which was, by
December 10, 2013, still escalating.

As well, the myriad of clashes, largely sparked by localized causes and power struggles, have suddenly been packaged as Christian-versus-Muslim sectarian clashes, when the vast majority of them are not. By mid-December 2013, these clashes already inflicted some 600 fatalities and a couple of thousand wounded. Outside Bangui, the fratricidal fighting remained primarily bitter clashes between predominantly Christian and animist localized militias and armed groups in quest for consolidating localized power at the expense of both traditional new contenders.

Meanwhile, the majority of the ex-Seleka fighters — much maligned as being responsible for the carnage
— had actually departed the contested areas and had withdrawn into the bush until the French and MISCA
forces would have left the area.

Beyond Bangui, the French forces started advancing on the Bossangoa area some 180 miles north of Bangui. This is the bastion of the pro-Bozizé forces (arriving from Cameroon) and their Anti-Balaka allies. These newly-empowered forces loyal to the previous Bozizé administration are vying for power in the changing tapestry throughout the region through the use of arbitrary force. However, they insist they are fighting the pro-Djotodia ex-Seleka forces. And yet the main fighting in the Bossangoa area remains between pro-Bozizé militias arriving from Cameroon and both local tribal self-defense militias and a few ex-Seleka militias. These fratricidal fighting are conducted on the backs of the local population.

The ultimate objective of Paris is political, just like in Operation Serval and other French-led interventions
in Africa. The French and Francophone African forces pretend to create stability and ensure safe roads.

They do nothing as the majority of rebel forces abandon inhabited areas for the bush until such time the
foreign forces leave. The intervention does create some relief for the population.

However, the French-led forces neither address the deep-rooted indigenous causes for the fratricidal violence,
nor destroy the main forces threatening local stability. The French will stay and patrol for a few
months, and then abandon the area to the hapless — ill-trained and ill-equipped African forces — who will
prove incapable of meeting the challenges, and unwilling to try. The escalating jihadist and tribal secessionist
violence in Mali and Niger already attests to this. The CAR will not be different.

Ultimately, the fratricidal violence against civilians in the CAR is a mere excuse for Paris to intervene and
impose its political will over Bangui.

President Hollande has been very clear as to the real objective of the Paris in Operation Sangaris: to topple the Djotodia Administration and restore a French-dominated government. Hollande stated his objective explicitly. “We can’t leave in place a president who hasn’t been able to do anything, who lets things happen,” Hollande said on Djotodia’s fate.

As for the humanitarian concerns, had France, the US, and the rest of the international community, been genuinely committed to the alleviation of genocidal violence against civilians, there were worse carnages and genocides in Sudan’s Darfour and South Kordofan, as well as the multitude of vicious conflicts throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which they could have turned their attention.

Hollande’s Paris has repeatedly stressed that Operation Serval, Operation Sangaris and similar interventions
set a precedent for the future involvement of France in Francophone Africa and the rest of the continent.

Having gathered in Paris for a summit titled “Peace and Security in Africa”, African leaders are increasingly
apprehensive about the long-term reverberations and ramifications of the French ambitions in the aftermath of the crisis in the CAR. Flanked by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Hollande declared the beginning of a new era in Franco-African relations and French humanitarian interventionism.

Hollande explained that Franco-African relations “can no longer be what they could be in the past”. Therefore,
Hollande announced that France would support “the creation of a rapid reaction force controlled by
the African Union”. He declared that France would provide training for 20,000 African troops for five
years, as well as the commanders and professional echelons until such time Francophone African armies
have their own qualified cadres. The African leaders understood that Hollande means the creation of a
French-controlled rapid intervention force for future unilateral interventions and “regime changes” where
and when Paris deem French interests to be threatened.

The blatant cynical move by France in Operation Sangaris sends shivers throughout the entire sub-
Saharan Africa. The reawakening, exploitation, and exacerbation of indigenous crises and enmities in
order to create excuses for the French-led intervention know no borders. The conflicts and the fratricidal
violence they reawaken and engender spread among cross-border ethnic and tribal groupings over vast
areas. African governments are already too stretched thinly and are too economically-burdened to be
able to meet the new challenges. Urgently-needed development programs are postponed in order to restore
stability in areas long-pacified in reaction to the new waves of exacerbation originating in French

African leaders increasingly focus on regional development in the context of regional cooperation, thus
enabling even poor countries to implement major programs together while jointly reducing threats of
spreading cross-border violence and instability.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit is the most eloquent and visionary proponent of this vision.

President Kiir argues that the overall situation in Africa is unique and extremely complex. The myriad of crises
and fratricidal violence are rooted in Africa’s unique history, tapestry of tribes and nations, and unfulfilled
decolonialization process. Western attention to African crises is selective and frequently at variance with
Africa’s own priorities. Most foreign military interventions proved to be counterproductive and detrimental
to African interests. Therefore, it was imperative, he felt, for Africans to formulate African solutions for
Africa’s problems.

The fighting and instability throughout Africa are manifestations of deep-rooted, endemic and indigenous
problems. Just fighting the multitude of armed groups would not solve the root-causes of the fratricidal
violence. Eliminating armed gangs should take place in the context of launching long-term development,
self-empowerment, and good governance programs for the grassroots populace, thus addressing grievances
and integrating the zones of crisis into the stable states.

President Kiir believes that only comprehensive modernization of all aspects of society and economy by the
Africans themselves would guarantee the long-term stability and prosperity of Africa.

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