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How long ago October seems. Back then François Hollande promised that his country would provide “logistical support” in Mali, but no French combat troops would be sent to the West African nation. Since then we have received news of Malian civilians killed in a French air strikes, while French soldiers continue to advance on key towns.
Now, on the back of the Mali conflict, America is aggressively expanding its military presence in North West Africa. The New York Times reports that the United States is to set up a drone base in Niger. Though the immediate justification for this move is that it will support French operations in Mali, US officials quoted in the NYT suggest that the base will be maintained on a more permanent basis. For anybody who followed the mass slaughter of civilians in Pakistan, this is, to say the least, a worrying development.
The broader picture is that sub-Saharan Africa is rapidly reemerging as a region of strategic and geopolitical competition. On the one hand many countries are drifting into China’s sphere of influence, through diplomacy and foreign investment. Meanwhile, the spread of industrialisation means that we are seeing an intensification of competition for mineral resources – reflected by rocketing prices. Finally various African economies are emerging as important fields for foreign investment. Expect the invisible hand to be followed by the iron fist.
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