The French presence in Africa

Image: Nothing Ahead


Neocolonial plunder has been the main reason behind a series of popular uprisings in the Sahel.

Since the Nigerian military, under the command of General Abdourahamane Tchiani, took power last July 26th, there has been an exponential increase in tensions between Niamey and its former colonial masters in Paris. And it got to the point where France is now seriously considering invading the West African country.

The exploitation of the “former” French colonies continued unabated for more than half a century, even after they were granted apparent independence. And Paris has been the main beneficiary of this asymmetrical relationship. Combined with French inability to deal with the varied terrorist insurgencies in the region, this legitimate neo-colonial looting has been the main reason behind a series of popular uprisings in the Sahel.

Paris now faces a strategic dilemma. If you let Niger move forward towards real independence, France will no longer be able to continue exploiting the country's natural resources. This means that, given the fact that several of its former colonies serve as a source of massive extraction of wealth, and given the recent problems facing Paris, such resources are more important than ever.

On the other hand, recent geopolitical changes in the region have left France largely powerless there. After the defeat of its nearly decade-long intervention in Chad last year, Paris has been able to maintain military bases in Ivory Coast, Senegal and Gabon. But none of them can be used effectively as a launching pad for an invasion, due to the reduced military personnel stationed there.

However, even if France found enough troops to launch an invasion, none of the three countries border Niger. Gabon would be the least logical option, as Cameroon and Nigeria stand between it and Niger, leaving only bases in Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire as viable possibilities. But this is where French problems of basic geography end and the real geopolitical problems begin. That is, to make effective use of its forces in both countries, trying to reach Niger, France needs to go through Mali and Burkina Faso, which have already declared that any military action against Niamey will amount to aggression against them. Thus, if France wants to attack Niger, it will also need to attack two more African countries.

A possible alternative for Paris would be the use of its neocolonial influence in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). This, however, will leave its members at risk of further anti-Western revolts, as this belligerent power pole has become deeply unpopular in the region. Some ECOWAS members, such as Nigeria, could be the best geographic option, but given that Paris has little or no influence in Abuja, this is extremely unlikely. Not to mention the fact that Nigeria has more than enough trouble for herself, and the last thing it needs is to serve as a stage for a neocolonial invasion. Logically, this leaves Chad as the only option, which can also be a long shot.

To make matters worse for France, Algeria joined the chorus of Niger's allies. France's archrival, which spearheaded the independence of many of its 'former' colonies in the 1960s, is effectively an African power, heavily armed and highly motivated never again to allow Paris or any other Western (neo)colonial power to establish a firm position in the region. This still leaves Chad as the only viable option for an invasion, as the country has been the instrumental launch pad for virtually all recent French military operations in Africa, including the illegal invasion of Libya. However, reaching Chad at these heights is easier said than done, and this keeps most geopolitical issues unresolved.

Furthermore, all other geographical considerations remain. Whatever, for example: Niger's capital Niamey is located in the southwest corner of the country, close to the border with Burkina Faso. Thus, even in the unlikely event that none of its neighbors intervene in the potential conflict, Niger still has a comfortable window of possibilities to resist invasion. This could end in disaster for France as another military defeat in the area would inevitably lead to the complete collapse of the neocolonial system it left in place from the 1960s onwards.

On the other hand, if Paris doesn't intervene heavily now, this could unfold anyway, albeit at a slower pace. Either way, the dilemma inevitably results in a geopolitical dead end, as leaving things as they are may also encourage others to revolt against Western neocolonialism in other parts of Africa, and possibly beyond.

As for France's NATO allies, they have been rather quiet and unassertive, which even includes the United States (quite unusual for its usually belligerent foreign policy). Washington has a military base in the central part of the country, Niger Air Base 201, managed by the US AFRICOM (African Command), but its operational capacity is limited to the action of drones, with the troops deployed there largely composed of a framework of crew, which provide basic security. Faced with the recent cooling off of US-France relations, it is highly unlikely the Pentagon will give the go-ahead for any kind of US involvement in a possible French invasion, even though it is in Washington's interest to keep Western neocolonialism in Africa alive for as long as possible.

*Drago Bosnic is a Croatian geopolitical and military analyst.

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on the portal InfoBRICS.

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