Picture: ANA File – Military coups contradict democratic principles and are not recommended, but the situation in Niger has very specific contours. The latest developments in Africa highlight the urgency of building a popular pan-African agenda, the writer says.
The imperialist agenda continues to be felt in Africa through the interference of global powers. Not only Western nations, but also, and increasingly, non-Western nations and transnational companies often impose harmful trade agreements and advocate neoliberal policies that harm local economies and encourage dependence on global capitalism. These economic pressures undermine the autonomy of African nations and perpetuate a cycle of dependence on foreign aid.
The rise of populist, autocratic and undemocratic governments across the African continent is a dismaying trend. Some of these regimes were born from collaboration with Western powers and global capitalism or emerged under their influence and, despite claiming to give power to local capitalist classes, history has already proven that these elites are closely linked to the global capitalists they serve. It is clear that this situation not only exacerbates inequality, but also acts as a brake on true progress and economic self-determination of African nations.
Developments in West Africa/the Sahel
The decline of democratic aspirations in the Sahel is closely linked to the long-standing influence of the French-African system. Geopolitical interests and disputes between the “West” and Russia complicate everything, leading to destabilising events such as coups d’état, for example, what recently occurred in Niger, whose president, Mohamed Bazoum, was deposed.
Although military coups clearly contradict democratic principles and are not recommended, the situation in Niger has very specific contours. This is a military action apparently supported by the general population, eager to end a harmful relationship between the country and France and, therefore, which appears to have legitimate motivations. This connection between Niger and France, especially with regard to the exploration of mineral resources and, more specifically, uranium, proves to be the main concern.
The manifest support of a large segment of the population reveals a widespread dissatisfaction with the presence of France, whose presence is justified solely by the need for natural resources, in particular, uranium, to guarantee its own energy stability.
There are those who suggest that a war is imminent in the region, triggered by events in Niger. In fact, France and some nations of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), its allies, expressed interest in military intervention in the country, under the pretext of restoring democratic order and reinstalling Mohamed Bazoum in power.
On the other hand, the current martial government in Niger and other governments of countries that have recently suffered similar military coups against leaders with French sympathies, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, have shown themselves willing not only to intervene, but also to help the Niger to defend its territorial integrity, opposing any attempt at armed interference by foreigners.
In a statement issued by its Secretary General, the Algerian Workers’ Party condemns threats of foreign military intervention in Niger, asserting: “We are well aware of the interests that underlie the desire of US imperialism and the European Union to intervene militarily in Niger.
“They use constitutional legitimacy, just as they used democracy and human rights as justification for criminal military interventions in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and so on. For US and EU imperialism, it matters solely and exclusively continue to plunder Niger’s wealth, while the population finds itself deprived of the most basic living conditions and immersed in the most abject poverty. It is also important to impose the maintenance of a multinational military presence in Niger.”
No less interesting are the theses of a possible intervention by the Wagner Group, a private military company supported by the Russian state in defence of the coup regime and against French influence, although such scenarios are now less likely, given the death of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The eventual outbreak of conflict in the region with the involvement of more than a dozen countries raises serious concerns. If this happens, this development could very well favour Western imperialism, as history clearly shows us that resource exploitation on the African continent tends to prosper in times of war.
The youth uprising
Apparently supporting post-coup regimes, the youth uprising in this region reflects a generation that is no longer willing to accept the status quo, but instead seeks to challenge corrupt regimes and demand that their leaders take responsibility. Social networks and digital communication platforms were preponderant in mobilising and galvanising young activists inside and outside borders, instilling in them the spirit of solidarity and collective action.
Uniting to make their voice louder, the youth of the Sahel are calling for inclusive governance, transparent institutions and an end to corruption, as well as preventing France from interfering in internal affairs and plundering the Sahel’s mineral resources. your country. Young people even organised prolonged protest actions in front of the French embassy in Niamey, Niger, which culminated in the “occupation” and destruction of the facilities.
The youth uprising in West Africa and the Sahel clearly testifies to the power of collective action and the belief that the future of the region lies in the hands of its youth population. Despite being ongoing, the fight already marks a decisive moment in the history of the region that charts the path towards a more democratic, inclusive and fair society.
But the concern remains. If they are not well oriented from an ideological point of view, these young people could very well be fertile ground for far-right movements and groups or even those with jihadist tendencies. It is urgent that social movements and other progressive groups act to cultivate political awareness in these young people to, in this way, motivate them to adopt a progressive agenda.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine
Recently, Africa has become a battleground for dangerous diplomatic manoeuvres with economic repercussions arising from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Africa’s dependence on wheat and crude imports from Ukraine and Russia has generated a considerable increase in the prices of these essential goods. Sanctions on Black Sea ports have disrupted export channels, caused supply shortages and sharp price rises in African markets. This economic pressure is a fundamental aspect of the current conflict and clearly highlights its repercussions on a global scale.
Representatives of Russia and Ukraine actively try to influence, each in their own favour, public opinion and governance in Africa. Despite their efforts, both countries have been successful in different measures. Ukraine’s involvement with the African Union has not yielded great results, while Russia has made exhaustive diplomatic efforts, as attested by the recent visit of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation and the Russia-Africa summit attended by many African states in São Paulo. Petersburg last week, and which some saw as implicit African support for Putin’s war. There are those who believe that the summit was “a remarkable diplomatic success” for Russia.
The reluctance of African countries to condemn the Russian invasion at the United Nations has been partly attributed to historical affinity. The legacy of the Soviet Union’s support, both logistically and politically, especially in the era of Southern African liberation struggles against colonisation and apartheid in South Africa, is still very much alive in some African nations. This historical link continues to influence the continent’s position in the face of international conflicts. Another argument that Russia uses in its “favour” is that, unlike some Western powers (members of Nato) , it has not (yet?) colonised or explored the African continent.
Africa is at the centre of the diplomatic ramifications and economic consequences of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It is essential to recognise that the Soviet Union’s support for Africa is already in the past and that, in the meantime, the geopolitical landscape has evolved considerably. The alliance between Ukraine and Nato, which aligns it with Europe and the United States, has changed the dynamics of Afro-Russian relations. African nations may need to re-evaluate their historical affiliations and make informed decisions based on current geopolitical realities.
Western powers face China’s presence in Africa
The assertion that China is the new imperialist power in Africa, surpassing the historical involvement of Europe and the United States, must be subject to critical assessment. Although China has, in fact, actively penetrated the African Continent to do business, co-operate and provide attractive credits, the comparison of its presence with that of France, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and the United States is extremely simplistic.
To begin with, China’s economic involvement in Africa is a mere grain of sand when compared to the long-standing influence of Western powers. The numbers demonstrate how, throughout history, colonising countries have exploited African resources for their own benefit through land usurpation and large-scale extractivism.
Furthermore, Western powers imposed strict conditions on credits and economic aid in Africa, often perpetuating a cycle of dependence and control. China’s credits, on the other hand, despite being widely criticised for their high costs, do not imply the same level of conditions and political interference as those from the West.
Furthermore, by insisting on their disputes over influence and military support in Africa, Russia, France and the United States only reveal that they are still heavily involved in the continent’s affairs. The Russian paramilitary company, Wagner Group, and American military bases and drones are good examples of these nations’ persistent military interests in Africa.
China’s approach is characterised by a focus on economic and commercial development and not on meddling in local politics. This strategy allows it to prioritise economic co-operation and infrastructure projects, such as the OBOR Initiative, the construction of airports, points and other large projects.
Although its presence in Africa deserves attention and must be closely monitored, saying that China is a new imperialist power goes against what is happening, which is complex. It is important to recognise that Western powers still have significant influence over Africa, in many cases with even more devastating consequences. By recognising these nuances, we can have more informed debates about the political-economic dynamics that will shape the future of the African Continent.
“Islamic” insurgency and fundamentalism
The Islamic insurgency, whose original stronghold was in West Africa, has expanded its presence to Southern Africa, leaving northern Mozambique under fire since 2017. The motivations vary, but two common threads can be identified: resource conflicts and socio-economic exclusion of citizens from political-economic opportunities.
In Mozambique, the root of the problem appears to be the frustration and marginalisation of youth who are denied access to meaningful political-economic participation. The resulting desperation leads young people to adhere to extremist ideologies and resort to violence to achieve recognition and change.
The most common response to the exacerbation of these conflicts became foreign intervention, especially by Western forces, namely French. In the case of Mozambique, the presence of Russian troops from SADC (Southern African Development Community) and Rwanda only exacerbates the complexity of the situation.
Foreign forces often take the lead in the fight against jihadists and terrorism. While it can help resolve immediate security threats, the deployment of foreign troops also raises fears that it will bring with it foreign interests to influence local affairs. Replacing local armies with external forces could inadvertently exacerbate existing tensions and create dependence on aid and military support from abroad.
To understand what underlies these insurgencies, we must take a comprehensive approach to socioeconomic development, youth empowerment and political integration. Providing opportunities for economic inclusion and meaningful participation in governance is one way to reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies and thus lessen the scope for violence and conflict.
The urgency of building a popular pan-African agenda
Among these challenges, the continent requires a popular pan-Africanist project that unites social movements and progressive intellectuals. Such a project would aim to resist imperialist and neoliberal projects and oppose undemocratic governments that are unfavourable to the poor.
Workers with different interests must collaborate and forge alliances for sustainable development and the protection of sovereignty. A popular and progressive Pan-Africanist agenda must be created that seeks unity, solidarity and economic self-determination for all Africans. That addresses historical injustices, economic disparities and political challenges, always with the vision of a united and prosperous Africa. To achieve this, it is necessary to eradicate poverty and inequality, guarantee a fair distribution of resources (especially land and productive assets), quality education, healthcare and housing, among other fundamental elements.
As for politics, the agenda advocates responsible leadership and citizen participation beyond the ballot box. It promotes regional integration and true freedom of movement. Regarding the environment, priority must be given to sustainable agriculture, environmentally friendly industrialisation and people’s own means of production.
It is essential to empower young people through education and job creation. Resolving external debt and promoting economic sovereignty are priorities for gaining control over resources and policies. Global solidarity with intellectuals and progressive movements highlights the interconnectedness of African liberation with struggles for global justice.
At its core, a grassroots Pan-Africanist agenda must be inextricably rooted in anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, all from a robust feminist perspective.
Boaventura Monjane is a Mozambican journalist and activist, with a doctorate from the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra (Portugal); currently carrying out post-doctoral research at the Institute for Studies on Poverty, Land and Agrarian Issues at the University of Western Cape (South Africa); he is a member of the Board of Directors of Focus on the Global South and a Solidarity Officer for West Africa and Haiti at Grassroots International.
The author’s vision does not necessarily express the editorial line of the Brasil de Fato newspaper. Editing: Rodrigo Chagas