The French military intervention in Mali has provoked a number of debates. The first one is about the fact that France had militarily returned to one of its former colonies. Some people claim that France is using the Islamist threat in Africa as a pretext to restore its economic and political influence on the continent. Others affirm that France has a duty to restore stability in the region because, as a former colonial power, it is the first to be blamed for the ongoing instability.
It is true that, as a former colonial power, France has taken a great risk with this intervention. Besides, who can guarantee that such an operation will eradicate the radical Islamist currents and stop terrorism? If military operations were the best options, today Somalia or Afghanistan would be the safest places on earth.
One of the essential paradoxes that France has to deal with is that Western powers are considered to be supporters of the old regimes in Africa which are known as authoritarian and corrupt. Nevertheless, the radical groups that are fighting against the old rulers of African countries are just as authoritarian. Maybe France can justify its intervention by saying that it supports the “less evil” actors. It appears that for now France and the other European countries want to play a key role in the African operations while the United States prefers to keep a low profile even though it is providing diplomatic and even logistical support.
One can't understand what is going on in Africa only by looking at the African countries; one needs a bigger, global perspective as well. It is a fact that every region with an al-Qaeda presence becomes a legitimate target for the West. No one questions the necessity or the scope of an international military intervention when this is about dealing with al-Qaeda terrorists.
Al-Qaeda's main rhetoric is to categorically reject the international system imposed by Western powers. However, its activities in different parts of the globe are used as a pretext by the same Western powers to send their troops all over the world. One has to then question the al-Qaeda leaders' main objective. We can't know for sure if this terrorist organization really wants Western military forces to come to Africa, but we have to admit that this is exactly what al-Qaeda achieved with its actions.
Maybe there are indeed countries that just want to use the existence of Islamist terrorism as an excuse to re-establish their old areas of influence in Africa. From this perspective, it would be wiser to think about the countries that want to be influential in the continent and not look at the events only as an al-Qaeda problem.
We know that the radical groups in Africa are against the Europeans and Americans but this doesn't mean that they are against all foreigners. For example, we've never heard of an attack against Chinese investments or residents in African countries. There is no need to restate the importance of Africa for the Chinese. Besides, we have to keep in mind that the real global power struggle is happening in the Pacific region.
In brief, the fight against al-Qaeda in Africa is only one of the fronts of the struggle between great powers. The developments in Africa prove that there is a serious effort to limit Chinese influence there and this continent has been chosen as the new chessboard of a global power struggle.
Meanwhile, a number of researches suggests that al-Qaeda, or its affiliates, are financially supported by some rich Arab countries that are also close friends of the US. If these countries really support an organization which attacks American interests, they won't be able to remain America's friends for much longer. The kings or princes who secretly finance terrorist organizations shouldn't be surprised if the waves of the Arab Spring hit their shores soon.