Power from Africa
There are many voices in the European media, which say France is intervening in Mali for the sake of its energy supply. That is not surprising since 80% of France’s electricity is from nuclear power, and the region of West Africa is rich with uranium deposits.
Neighbouring Niger, which is the world’s fifth-largest uranium producer, accounts for 33% of France’s uranium supply, but that is set to rise. The French energy company Areva, which is mostly state-owned, is opening a new exploration site in Imouraren, about 300 kilometres from the Malian border. Areva has been calling for military protection of the uranium mines for a long time, but their requests have been rejected on the basis that elite soldiers could not be used permanently to safeguard economic interests.
Apart from the defence of the existing mines, France is interested in competing for the stocks of other resources. In March 2012, the Malian government under Amadou Toumani Touré had started to grant exploration rights in the country. The Authority for the Promotion of Oil Research in Mali (AUREP) was set up to divide the land into 29 regions, of which 20 are now available to foreign companies. Both international and Malian resource companies have been prospecting.
“This is why the interests of the United States are very similar to the French ones,” says Mehdi Taje from Strategic Security Centre for the Sahel and Sahara. They want to “secure the energy resources of the Sahel and deter rival powers such as China, Russia, India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil.” The main competitors are the Chinese, who have already received the permission to exploit oil in Niger 18 months ago.
“For the French, the time of the conquest of territories is already completed,” explains Taje. “France wants to strengthen its presence gently, but still strong enough to scare the Chinese.” In any case, it has to act carefully to avoid accusations of hegemony and neo-colonialism.
Read more at Mali: Why France is fighting for West Africa