Since 2020, there has been one coup d'état after another in West and Central Africa, from Guinea to Gabon, via Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger. Not to mention the "constitutional coups" that have also taken place in the Ivory Coast and Chad.
An increasingly unstable region
In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the corrupt and bloodthirsty regimes supported by France have been overthrown by (equally corrupt and bloodthirsty) military factions, to the cheers of crowds fed up with being starved to death by unscrupulous predators and their Western accomplices. But the demonstrators are deluding themselves: neither the coup plotters nor the candidates lining up to replace France in its traditional zone of influence (the Wagner group, China, etc.) are concerned about the fate of the population. On the contrary, these putsches are the expression of an accelerated destabilisation of the region and promise only ever greater misery.
The Sahel region, in which Niger occupies a central place, is characterised by growing instability, caused in particular by the acute economic distress of the populations, the deterioration of the security situation, the rapid increase in the population, the massive displacement of migrants (4.1 million displaced persons in 2022 alone) and the terrible degradation of the environment.
The Sahel region as a whole is experiencing a devastating upsurge in attacks by Islamic armed groups, which take advantage of porous and extensive borders. Over the last five years, in the central Sahel, the number of security incidents has increased sixfold and the number of deaths by almost eightfold. These terrorist groups regularly attack state institutions, target communities and block urban centres by cutting off roads and supply lines. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are among the ten countries most affected by terrorism.
According to the State Fragility Index, the Sahel countries are among the 25 most fragile states in the world. Most of these governments are unable to control their territory. In Burkina Faso, for example, armed Islamist groups control up to 40% of the territory. Despite the Wagner group's "support" for the Malian government, Islamic State (IS) has doubled its territory in that country in the space of a year.
An expression of growing chaos
After Mali and Burkina Faso, French imperialism was forced to evacuate Niger with arms and baggage, to the booing of demonstrators. Niger was considered a "safe country", relied on by various imperialist powers, in particular France and the United States, to protect their interests: "Niger, which neighbours Libya, has since become an important geopolitical location for its mineral wealth, including uranium and oil, and for the passage of migrants to Europe [...]. The Niger army seemed to be more attractive and more combative to the Americans, who installed two drone air bases in Niamey and Agadez, which has provided information to forces acting under ‘Operation Barkhane’ (a French-led anti-insurgency operation), but not to the Sahelian states themselves" (1).
But, contrary to what the bourgeois press may claim, this coup d'état (like those which recently preceded it in Mali and Burkina Faso) is not a simple reversal of alliances such as we saw during the Cold War, with the coup plotters now preferring to deal with Russia or China rather than Western countries. In reality, it is the expression of a sharp acceleration in the decomposition of bourgeois society, which is tending to sweep the weakest links in capitalism into absolute chaos.
Far from an imperialist reorientation in favour of a new "partner", we are instead seeing totally irresponsible bourgeois factions taking advantage of the destabilisation of governments and the fragility of states to "try their luck". They adopt any rhetoric that will enable them to gain power and are ready to ally themselves with whoever is in a position to support them at the time. In Niger, the putsch was carried out openly against the former colonial power, with the support of Mali, Burkina-Faso and the relative support of the Wagner group, Russia's weapon for stirring up chaos. But no one can rule out the possibility that the junta in power will back down and end up negotiating with France.
Every man for himself increases the chaos
Today, the major imperialist powers are concerned not with the fate of the people or the maintenance of "democratically elected" governments (what a huge joke!) but with the consequences of coups d'état for the defence of their own sordid interests. In Gabon, for example, the coup plotters pushed Ali Bongo, a great defender of French interests, out of office, without calling into question the enormous French influence in the country. This coup was therefore described by the Western press as an "adjustment" and did not arouse any "strong emotion" from the Quai d'Orsay (the French foreign affairs ministry). In Niger, on the other hand, the coup plotters were threatened with economic sanctions and military intervention.
But the reactions of the big imperialist sharks also took place in a context where every man for himself reigns. Paris immediately tried to organise a military intervention, but once again demonstrated its powerlessness. Macron tried to flex his muscles by claiming to be "intractable" and "inflexible" on the "return to legality", even though everything indicates that he does not have the means to do enforce his claims: "France is pushing ECOWAS to intervene, along with its ally in this affair, Nigeria. But it is also trying to get its European partners on board. The problem is that the Germans are not convinced of the benefits of intervention, and neither are the Italians, who have not forgotten France's tragic mistakes in Libya. As for the United States, it wants to hold on to its positions in Niger" (2) Meanwhile, "French diplomats and military officers bitterly point to the 'murky game in Niger' being played by Washington, which did not even use the term 'coup d'état' [...] an American general replied: 'From Niger we are fighting against the influence and pressure of Russia, via Wagner, and China. And against international terrorism in the Sahel’." (3)
The chaos in Niger is so extreme, and the inability of the West to act in concert so glaring, that it is forcing even the imperialist powers to review their positions on the ground so as not to lose too many feathers. This is true of Washington, which sees Niger as a central pawn in its fight against the influence of China and Russia in the region, but is not sure it can count on the putschists.
To put it plainly: "In Niger, the West is not in a position to support an invasion, even one led by regional states that are themselves in need of domestic legitimacy. These states would in any case be seen to be acting under the leadership of the West" (4) Above all, "the West" no doubt remembers its disastrous military intervention in Libya in 2011, one of the consequences of which was the spread of "jihadist terrorism" throughout the Sahel and the collapse of a state in a situation that is still inextricable.
All the imperialists present in the Sahel are therefore repositioning themselves to better defend their interests, even if it means accelerating chaos and accentuating imperialist turbulence.
Amina, 25 september2023
1 "Niger: toute la région plonge dans le chaos", Courrier International n° 1710 (10 August 2023).
2 Le Canard enchaîné (16 August 2023).
3 Le Canard enchaîné (23 August 2023).
4 "Niger : “Il est temps de rompre avec la pratique du paternalisme envers les Africains… ", Le Monde (20 August 2023).