Africa awakens

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By EDUARDO J. VIOR*

Acting together, the countries of the “continent of the future” are taking advantage of the global struggle for energy and mineral resources to assert their leadership

The coup that overthrew Niger's pro-Western president on Wednesday, July 26, puts an end to French rule in yet another country in the Sahel. Within two years, there were coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, which expelled French troops and clamored for Russia's support. At the same time, in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, the Summit between Russia and the African Union was taking place, confirming the speed with which Africa is moving away from the West. Acting together, the countries of the “continent of the future” are taking advantage of the global struggle for energy and mineral resources to assert their leadership.

On Thursday night, several hundred protesters gathered at the Place de la Concertation, in the heart of Niamey, capital of Niger, to celebrate “their” victory, that of the army in power, and to cheer Russia and the Wagner Company. The previous morning, a group of uniformed soldiers had announced, on national television, the overthrow of the elected president in 2021, Mohamed Bazoum.

Senior Colonel Amadou Abdramane, Chief of Staff and spokesman for the coup leaders, then announced the closure of borders and the establishment of a curfew. Furthermore, in a statement released Thursday at noon, this commander reported that the country's Armed Forces had joined the revolt, aiming to "preserve the physical integrity of the president" and avoid "bloodshed" between possible different military factions.

For his part, on Friday, July 28, General Abdourahman Tchiani, head of the presidential guard, who is holding President Mohamed Bazoum in his residence, appeared on public television, in his capacity as president of the National Security Council (CNSP), to account for the reasons for their actions.

However, the situation of President Mohamed Bazoum, who has not yet resigned, remains confused and uncertain. A delegation from the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, traveled to Niamey on Thursday to exercise mediation, but, on the part of the coup plotters, there appears to be little willingness to seek a understanding.

The coup was immediately condemned in the West. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the partnership with Niger would depend on the continuation of “democratic governance”. For its part, Russia called for the conflict to be resolved peacefully.

During his two and a half years in office, Mohamed Bazoum reinforced Niger's strategic alliance with Western countries. A transit country for emigrants to the Mediterranean, its collaboration to contain them was praised by European leaders. Currently, the country hosts several camps for migrants returned from neighboring and anarchic Libya. He was also a trusted military partner, sheltering 1.500 French troops expelled from Mali in 2022, as well as a US base in drones valued at 100 million dollars. Indeed, the coups in neighboring Mali (2021) and Burkina Faso (2022) brought military junta to power that turned to Russia and expelled Western troops. Hence, the loss of Niger is a catastrophe for NATO's former dominance in the Sahel.

Like its neighbors, Niger, with 26 million people and one of the poorest countries in the world, faces the jihadist threat created by the CIA. In the Diffa region, on the eastern border with Chad, incursions and attacks by the Islamic State of West Africa (EIAO) are frequent, while in the west the threat comes from the Islamic State of the Sahel (ISIS). The inability or even unwillingness of Western forces to defeat terrorism, in addition to the lack of equipment and training of local soldiers, who die by the hundreds, are at the root of the political instability in which the entire region lives. Now patience is over, and the efficiency of Wagner Private Military Company (CMP) Russian sparks more confidence.

Niger is a major exporter of uranium ore for the French nuclear industry. The African republic ranks eighth in world production of the mineral, slightly less than Russia. France produces 70% of its electricity through nuclear power plants, which means it has the world's highest proportion of nuclear power in the electricity production bill. This is done through 56 reactors that, at the same time, allow it to be the largest exporter of electricity in the world. Because of cheap nuclear energy production, French industry ends up taking a considerable competitive advantage. Such successes were only possible because the nation controls Niger's uranium production.

In 1957, shortly before the African country gained its independence, geologists discovered rich deposits of uranium there. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger has the world's fifth largest reserves of uranium under exploration. At the same time, as much of its territory is part of the Sahara desert, the country is constantly struggling with desertification and droughts. In addition, since the Anglo-French intervention overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, this North African country has become hostage to the mafias of all kinds of trafficking — including human trafficking (even slaves) —, with Islamic terrorism spreading across the Sahara and the Sahel (the vast semi-desert strip stretching from Mauritania to Sudan), thanks to the highly suspected inability of France and its western allies to combat it.

For 60 years, France has conducted a neocolonial policy that controls its former colonies through the African franc (many former French possessions use the so-called CFA franc, formerly backed by the French franc, and now the euro), by French as a lingua franca and by its expeditionary forces. This allowed him to significantly reduce the cost of operating the uranium deposits in Niger. Even though this country produces only 5% of the world's uranium, its share of French imports of the mineral fluctuates between 30% and 45%, depending on the year. Without this supply, Paris would be in a dangerous emergency. In other words, without Niger, France's energy sovereignty is seriously threatened.

It is no coincidence that the coup took place on the same occasion as the Russia-Africa summit, held on the 27th and 28th of this month in St. Petersburg. 49 delegations from 53 African countries participated in the conference. Already before the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced that a global declaration and an Action Plan of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum would be signed, effective until 2026.

Speaking to the Russian broadcasting service abroad (RT ‒ Russia Today), Madaraka Nyerere, son of the legendary anti-colonial activist and Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere, argued that the only realistic way for Africa to develop is to unite, and the way to such cooperation is through the incorporation of more African nations into the BRICS+. African countries did not come to St Petersburg individually, but as members of an already established organization, the African Union.

Across the continent, there are intense disputes between China and Russia on the one hand and the collective West on the other. The recent coup in Niger is just part of that process. Africans have had bad experiences with European colonialism and neocolonialism, and are now seeking to free themselves from all external dependency. They then take advantage of the world conflict to gain space, and act in concert to increase their bargaining power.

Africa is coming together, dusting off Western neo-colonialism, developing its connectivity, acting together in international forums and claiming a place in the new world governance. Meanwhile, Latin America has been unable to adopt common positions on many relevant issues. It did not even consider participating together in the next BRICS Summit to be held in South Africa. Not even Argentina, specially invited by Brazil, will participate in the meeting. While Africa wakes up roaring, Latin America sleeps.

*Eduardo J. Vior, sociologist and journalist, he is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on Telam Agency


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