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Mali mission is more modern colonialism than altruism

By Scott Taylor      

There are political and domestic economic reasons for Canada to get its hands dirty in an ongoing UN mission.

A Canadian Griffon aircrew member deployed in Mali flies back to the Canadians' Camp Castor base from Kidal, Mali, on Sept. 13. Department of National Defence photograph by Cpl. Ken Beliwicz
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OTTAWA—A Canadian Press news story last week about Canada’s United Nations peacekeeping mission to Mali said an internal UN report noted that the violence level in that war-torn West African nation has actually increased since Canadian troops first deployed in June.

Probably even the most self-delusional of Canada’s defence pundits would have realized that the comparative handful of troops and equipment that we have committed—four Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, four Griffon utility helicopters, and approximately 250 mostly Air Force personnel—weren’t going to tip the balance in Mali as soon as they arrived on the ground.

This current flare-up of violence in Mali ignited in 2012. The UN stood up the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in 2013. There are a total of 56 nations contributing nearly 15,500 personnel to this peacekeeping mission, which is considered to be the most dangerous of all current UN operations.

Canada’s military role in cooling down this complex conflict—with its core issues of dispute dating back centuries—is simply to provide medical evacuations for the UN force. This means that no one should expect our contribution to affect either the tactical or strategic outlook in Mali.

What Canada’s one-year commitment to Mali does achieve is a high-profile, relatively low-risk demonstration of the Trudeau Liberal government’s promise to return our nation to the good old days of peacekeeping in blue helmets, under the UN flag.

On a more practical note, it could be said that Canada has a vested interest in protecting the Canadian mining assets in Mali. A bit of quick research reveals that there are a dozen or more Canadian companies involved in extracting Malian gold, the largest of which is a firm called Iamgold.

The revenue from Mali’s gold production represents roughly eight per cent of that impoverished state’s economy. The Malian government is partnered with international mining companies, and it receives approximately 18 per cent of the gross revenue. When you factor in the infrastructure and labour costs disbursed in Mali and the actual extraction of this valuable commodity, about 40 per cent of all revenue remains in the country.

That means that 60 per cent of Mali’s gold returns, or 4.8 per cent of that nation’s gross domestic product, flow out as profit to international mining companies and their investors. In the case of Iamgold, its two shared mine holdings produce roughly half of all Mali’s gold annually.

Coincidently, investors in Iamgold include Canadian public pension funds. This means that Canadians will benefit from maintaining the status quo in Mali, so long as Canada secures these lucrative mining interests.

However, the idea that Canada is sucking profits out of a struggling country in Africa is certainly not how this mission is being billed.

On the contrary, Canadians are being led to believe that this is part of some altruistic effort to bring peace and stability to a poor African nation that could use a helping hand.

On the domestic front, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals can point to the 250 blue helmets shining under the Malian sun and proclaim their 2015 election promise of a return to peacekeeping to have been fulfilled (just in time to enter the 2019 election campaign).

Sending troops to Africa with the purpose of securing mining profits from the exploitation of the nation’s natural resource (and to shore up Canadian government coffers in the form of public pension funds) sounds so much more like modern colonialism.

Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

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