“They have many chains to bind us”: state formation, foreign policy and the colonial pact in Mali, c.1958-2020
This thesis explores the formation and evolution of the Malian state since independence through its interaction with the French post-colonial settlement. It draws on more than 10,000 pages of diplomatic archival documents from six states and 10 elite interviews to chart the evolution of the Malian state and Mali’s relationship with the former metropole and other foreign powers. It argues that this process has developed within a mutually constituted and dynamic post-colonial relationship rooted in economic, military and political ties. In particular, it develops the concept of the colonial pact, a more precise and less-pejorative formulation of the idea of la Françafrique, as a lens through which to analyse this relationship. It seeks to explain why this pact has remained so durable in Mali through an analysis of how it has shaped the development of the post-colonial state itself. I contend that the relative strength of the colonial pact and the relative weakness of the Malian state are related. Because the key pillars of the colonial pact (economic, military and political) intrude on the sovereign prerogatives of the state, this state weakness is not an anomaly but a feature of the Francophone post-colonial system. This thesis challenges common understandings of the origins of the colonial pact and the Malian state by emphasising the importance of contingency and adaptation. Through an analysis of the breakup of the Federation of Mali in 1960, it outlines why Mali left the first iteration of the colonial pact and demonstrates Mali’s position as an exceptional case. It then explores the tense relationship between Mali’s socialist leadership (1960-1968) and France, before charting Mali’s gradual return to the economic, military and political chains of the colonial pact. This process began with Mali’s partial return to the CFA zone in 1967 and was completed in 2013 with the final return of French troops to Mali, after an absence of 51 years. The thesis concludes with an analysis of how the colonial pact has endured and evolved in parallel to the Malian post-colonial state, shaping the state into an extraverted form that is structurally dependent on the pact for its continued survival. This makes it possible to see recent French activity in Mali since 2013 as reflective of long-term systemic interests in maintaining preferential economic, military and political arrangements. The gap between these interests and stated goals, particularly the ambiguous goal of fighting terrorism, reflects a profoundly damaging and dysfunctional relationship between the former coloniser and colonised, with neither able to substantively reform without recognising their complicity in creating and maintaining the status quo. Until Mali and France recognise that they are chained together it appears likely that the colonial pact will endure.