Brussels, Frankfurt (10/11 -12)
Words like ‘neocolonialism’ and ‘neo-imperialists’ are being tossed around by spokesmen of freshly-installed military regimes in Central and West Africa – but the language of their pronouncements is French, reflecting the centuries of invasion, cooperation, exploitation and alliance of France in the Sahel.
Commonly referred to as ‘Francophone Africa’, the jigsaw puzzle of countries have in quite recent times seen a dramatic shift of power, and one not in its favor. Traditional cozy relationships with decades-long dictatorships – ostensibly democracies but controlled and corrupt in a heads-I-win-and-tails-you-lose elite pageantry are under serious siege.
Look at hapless, raggedy-ass Francophone Africa, all of whose republics, independent since the 1960s, are still exploited merrily by the former colonial power, through comprador governments and military force.
Here’s Niger, the vast landlocked West African nation with prodigious quantities of uranium buried and ready to be mined; at ~$9,000/ton, uranium ore is spectacularly more precious even than gold ore (~$1,600/ton). The energy policy of the French Republic is heavily committed to nuclear power (because they are realists) so they are in urgent need of that tasty Nigerien ore.
And the average Nigerien? He or she sees next to nothing of the wealth, as it flows abroad: only 17% of the nation has access to electrical mains power; per capita GDP in Niger was last recorded at 545.46 US dollars in 2022. To drive home that point, the average Nigerien family takes home around US$ 45/month, in a land of massive natural riches. Now does it not make sense that the average educated inhabitant of this hemmed-in West African nation is dissatisfied with their compromised, crooked rulers, after six decades of independence?
When the era of direct colonial rule in the Francophone nations of Central and West Africa gave way to independence and a form of democratic rule, both of these noble concepts were compromised by a desperate economic plight and the smooth formation of a tight military-backed band of elite thieves.
Comprador regimes tightly linked to French companies and government agencies ensured that the wealth of the country would end up in their pockets – actually the bulging purses of beaming, obliging Swiss, French and British bankers.
Take Niger: how do you run a representative democracy when the literacy rate of the people – hungry and frequently ill, most of them – is just 17%? Infant mortality, dramatically improved since 1960, still sits at 10%. It is a sad and unfunny joke, in a landlocked country 80% of which extends across the hostile Sahara.
Eventually the military figured out they were getting screwed (along with everyone else not “connected” to the power elite). Boom – boom – boom! Seven military coups have walloped Francophone Africa since August 2020: Niger (July 2023), Burkina Faso (January and September 2022), Sudan (October 2021), Guinea (September 2021) and Mali (August 2020 and May 2021). Sacre bleu! Mon Dieu!
Average people were sick and tired of seeing their corrupt elites sucking wealth out of the country, while they shamefully lived in desperate conditions.
Look at the evil Mobuto Sese Seko, dictator of Zaire from 1965 ~ 1997: between $5~15 billion stolen and squirreled away in happy Swiss banks… luxurious Euro-properties, private jets, a collection of expensive cars… a $4 million vacation home at Cap Martin on the Mediterranean coast of France… an apartment on the upscale Avenue Foch in Paris, and on and on. While his country suffered 30% child mortality, surviving children grew up stunted and thin with rickets. “Foreign friends” did not care, because monster Mobutu was <pause for effect> an “anti-Communist”, butthole-buddies with Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.
The United States was the third largest donor of aid to Zaire (after Belgium and France), holding its nose and ignoring his detestable human rights crimes.
Fast-forward to 2023. The freshly-installed military-backed regimes in Francophone Africa now find themselves in the same quandary as the little boy who prayed and prayed for a volcano: he got one. Beset with fanatic Islamist insurgency, well-funded by the nasty oil-autocracies of the Arab crescent and fearful that they too might get the chop from another clique of their own military, they turn to … surprise! Russia and China, now obligingly making their presence known throughout Francophone Africa, ready to do business. The Wagner Group is laying out counter-insurgency strategy with Niger and neighboring nations; the People’s Republic of China is lathering money on hospitals, bridges, railroads and other infrastructure – without superior lectures on gender rights or democratic theater.
Neither Russia nor China is burdened with the poisonous heritage of colonial rule; neither were slavers or hand-choppers or oppressors of the natives. That is certainly in their favor. Europe may have “apologized” for the naughty behavior of elite brutes like German colonials, who are remembered for the Herero and Nama genocide, which occurred between 1904 and 1908 in German South West Africa (modern-day Namibia), along with massive forced labor and oppression. The fearsome Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya engendered retaliation with massive human rights abuses by the polite, civilized British colonial rulers.
Russia and China have their own sorry history of oppression, but not in Africa – and that is to their credit, as far as the fresh military regimes now in power are concerned.
“Who’s going to rape me next?” the continent asks cheerfully.