Geopolitical Cartoons: Mali, France, uranium? (2013)

In this week’s geopolitical cartoon we’re (briefly) leaving the 20th century to take a look at the 21st. More specifically, today’s cartoon is an going issue of which Z Geography has written about previously (see category tag, Mali). The cartoon below reflects a cynical, but perhaps correct, view of France’s intervention in Mali. While some observers celebrate France’s intervention in the beleaguered state to be move to support the Bamako government against separatists and Islamists, the cartoon suggests that France has more selfish motives. In the cartoon, a frustrated militant Tuareg Islamist (or so we assume based on the AK-47 and tagelmust) is attempting to cross from Mali to neighboring Niger but is prevented from doing so by the stomping booted leg of the French military. The goal is a stash of uranium in Niger, implying that French military intervention is meant to prevent violent Islamists from gaining access to radioactive material.

French intervention in Mali, 2013 (via red phoenix)

Based on some cursory research there may be truth to this view. According to analysis at Global Research published late January, France announced that it would deploy its Special Forces to guard the Areva uranium mines near the towns of Arlit and Imouraren, in northern Niger (article calls this “imperialist expansion”). The towns are about to 200 miles from the, probably, porous border with Mali. While I can’t really comment on France’s neocolonial tendencies (ok, I could but this isn’t the space), a brief geologic survey of Niger notes that in 2005 Niger was one of the largest producers of uranium in the world. Further, “Niger’s main uranium resources are all contained in the sediments of the Tim Mersoi sub-basin…of the Iullemmeden basin,” shown in the map below (and taken from that report). Given the proximity of the mines to the Malian border, the likely porousness of that border, and France’s decision to deploy additional military personnel there – it would appear that the French government is at least concerned about the mines. Indeed there are a number of companies operating in this area of Niger mining uranium, as the popup map on this geologic consulting site attests, including the China National Nuclear Corporation, a subsidiary of Ivanhoe Resources (Canada), and other British and South African companies.

Simplified geologic map of Niger

Simplified geologic map of Niger

Despite this, one wonders if the Islamists’ objectives were the uranium mines to begin with, the border has been porous and the Nigerien state just as weak now as it was a decade ago and this is unlikely to change in the future. One could argue that if the violent Islamists sought mined uranium from Niger they would have already been able to acquire it. Ultimately, this continued concern with uranium mines can’t help but to remind me of the Nigerien yellow cake argument put forth by the Bush presidency over a decade ago…

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