The US and France are not happy with the changes that are taking place and will fight to maintain their control over Africa, using ECOWAS

Newspaper La Humanidad – First Information

Niger is shaping up to be the surprising front line of the new Cold War. Last week the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, ECOWAS) ordered the “activation” and “deployment” of “standby” military forces in the country, an action that threatens to unleash a major international war that could make Syria seem minor by comparison.

In this undertaking, ECOWAS has received the full support of the US and Europe, leading many to suspect that it is being used as an imperial vehicle to crack down on anti-colonial projects in West Africa.

On July 26, a group of Nigerien officers overthrew the corrupt government of Mohamed Bazoum. The move, which the junta portrays as a patriotic uprising against a Western puppet, is wildly popular in the country, with many of Niger’s neighbors saying that any attack will be seen as an attack on their entire sovereignty.

The US and France are also considering military action, while many in Niger are asking Russia for help. Consequently, the world waits to see if the region will be drawn into a war that promises to attract many of the world’s major powers.

But what is ECOWAS? And why do so many in Africa consider the organization a tool of Western neocolonialism?

“Part of a corrupt cabal”

Even before the dust settled in Niger, ECOWAS sprang into action, imposing a no-fly zone and harsh economic sanctions, including freezing Niger’s national assets and suspending all financial sanctions.

Nigeria cut off power to its northern neighbor.

The regional bloc also immediately came to Bazoum’s defense, issuing an ominous statement declaring that it would “take all necessary measures”, including “the use of force”, to restore constitutional order. ECOWAS also gave the new military government a deadline to withdraw or face the consequences. That deadline has passed and ECOWAS troops are preparing for action. Therefore, ECOWAS member states may be forced to send their troops to Niger.

However, many nations balk at the prospect.

The bloc still seems adamant that military action could come at any time. “We are determined to stop it, but ECOWAS is not going to tell the coup leaders when and where we are going to attack.

That is an operational decision that will be taken by the heads of state,” explained Abdel-Fatau Musah, the group’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.

Although it has not yet acted, the threat of an invasion is far from idle. Since 1990, ECOWAS has launched military interventions in seven West African countries, most recently in The Gambia in 2017.

This answer has disappointed many viewers.

El periodista Eugene Puryear, por ejemplo, describió el bloque como "parte de una camarilla corrupta que está directamente vinculada a las potencias imperiales occidentales para mantener pobres a los africanos". 

Those Western powers immediately lined up behind the ECOWAS position. “The US welcomes and commends the strong leadership of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in upholding the constitutional order in Niger, actions that respect the will of the people of Niger and align with the enshrined principles of ECOWAS and the African Union. of ‘zero tolerance for unconstitutional change,’” read a State Department press release.

Africa prepares for war. Following the coup in Niger and the removal of the French puppet from the presidential post, the West African organization ECOWAS, which is under full US and French control, announced that it would attack Niger.(@Megatron_ron) August 1, 2023

Deeming the coup “completely illegitimate,” the French government also said it “firmly and determinedly supports ECOWAS’ efforts to defeat this attempted coup.”

“The EU also joined ECOWAS’s first response to the matter,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, thus giving the green light to an intervention.

US Acting Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland has also strongly hinted that the US is considering invading Niger itself.

“It is not our wish to go there, but they [the new military junta] can push us to that point,” Nuland said of her recent trip to Niger, where, she said, she had an “extremely frank and sometimes quite difficult” conversation in a meeting with the new leadership.

One measure of how close ECOWAS is to the US is the continued support that Washington gives the organization. Throughout 2022, the State Department issued statements endorsing the ECOWAS position on Mali (another country where the military deposed an unpopular Western-backed government).

“The US commends the strong actions taken by ECOWAS in defense of democracy and stability in Mali,” the State Department wrote.

It has also issued similar memoranda reaffirming its unwavering support for ECOWAS actions against military coups in Guinea and Burkina Faso. This has led many critics to view ECOWAS as little more than a US pawn.

Although Washington has presented the situation as ECOWAS defending democracy against authoritarianism, the reality is more complex.

First, many of its member state governments have decidedly shaky democratic credentials.

President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, for example, violated the country’s term limit law and was controversially sworn in for a third term last year.

Protests against his seizure of power were suppressed, leaving dozens dead. Meanwhile, the government of Senegalese President Macky Sall has banned the main opposition party and jailed its leader.

Furthermore, ECOWAS’s response to blows is far from uniform.

After Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in Burkina Faso in 2022, ECOWAS refused to even impose sanctions, let alone consider an invasion. Instead, they simply asked Damiba to present a timetable for the “reasonable return to constitutional order.”

His indifference to events may be due to his staunchly pro-Western outlook and the fact that he had been trained by the US military and the State Department.

ECOWAS’s senior leadership is also deeply entwined with US power. As journalists Alex Rubinstein and Kit Klarenberg noted, the bloc’s president, Bola Tinbu, “spent years laundering millions for heroin traffickers in Chicago” and later became a key State Department source for analyzing West Africa.

ECOWAS’s previous president, Mahamadou Issoufou, was also a “staunch ally of the West”, in the words of The Economist magazine, although many in Africa might use less neutral language to describe him. In this sense, it could be applicable to compare ECOWAS with other regional organizations dominated by the US, such as the Organization of American States (OAS).

While the OAS is formally independent, it has consistently aligned itself with Washington and attacked enemy countries like Venezuela and Cuba.

A US Army rifleman with a Ghanaian soldier during a training exercise near Camp Thies, Senegal, in 2014.

A USAID (a US government organization) document noted that the OAS was a crucial tool to “advance US interests in the Western Hemisphere by countering the influence of anti-US countries.” like Cuba and Venezuela

economic dominance

ECOWAS traces its own African integration project to 1945 and the creation of the CFA franc, a movement that brought France’s African colonies into a single monetary union. The currency, still in use by 14 African countries today, was artificially pegged to the French franc and then to the euro, meaning that importing and exporting to France (and later the eurozone) was dirt cheap, but importing and exporting to the rest of the world it was prohibitively expensive.

Thus, even after formal independence, the CFA franc trapped African countries into economic submission to Paris.

As a consequence, many African governments remain powerless to enact serious political and economic change, since they lack control over their own monetary policy.

Economically, this has been a boon to France, which enjoys a huge resource base from which to extract raw materials at artificially cheap prices, and also a captive export market.

It has also meant that France has maintained a good degree of control over its former colonies.

“Without Africa,” said former French President François Mitterrand, “France will have no history in the 21st century.” But this unfair economic system has also benefited African elites, who can import French and European luxuries at the abnormal exchange rate.

And it has also allowed them to divert African money to European banks, and the French authorities are happy to turn a blind eye to the practice.

France still holds half the gold reserves of the CFA franc countries. The result has been stagnation and underdevelopment in French-speaking Africa.

Niger’s real GDP per capita today is significantly lower than at the time of its formal independence from France in 1960. France remains by far its largest trading partner, and Niger’s economy revolves around exports. of uranium to Paris, where it is used to supply the country with cheap nuclear power.

However, ordinary Nigeriens see little to no benefit from this deal. As Oxfam said in 2013:

“In France, one in three light bulbs lights up thanks to uranium from Niger. In Niger, almost 90% of the population does not have access to electricity. This situation cannot continue.”

Thus, to a large extent, the prosperity of France is based on the suffering of Africa and vice versa.

This explains the widespread anti-colonial sentiment in West Africa.

The July military coup was sparked by public demonstrations against the Bazoum government’s decision to welcome French troops into the country, even after their presence in Mali precipitated a coup last year.

Niger’s new junta suspended gold and uranium exports to France.

“Down with France, foreign bases out” was the rallying cry of the protesters who took to the streets of the capital, Niamey, and other cities across the country.

Bazoum, however, has remained staunchly loyal to France. In an interview with The Financial Times in May, he defended Paris, saying that “France is an easy target for the populist discourse of certain opinions, especially on social media among African youth.” Thus, without Bazoum, Niger could go from being the West’s number one ally in the region to becoming an adversary.

The coup in Niger has made blatantly clear what a dutiful lapdog ECOWAS is to former colonial overlord France.

The regional alliance of West African states could also change names now as the enforcer for Paris. Moving in unison with the West, ECOWAS imposed sanctions on those affected by poverty. (@african_stream) August 8, 2023

Regional integration, regional war?

ECOWAS imposes strict Western-approved economic measures on its member states, forcing them to obey neoliberal economic laws that make it difficult to escape the cycle of debt and underdevelopment and helped make peaceful, democratic change more difficult to achieve and, ironically, spurred a wave of military insurrections throughout the region.

The coup in Niger follows similar actions in Mali in 2020 and 2021, Burkina Faso (two in 2022) and Guinea (2021). All have positioned themselves as progressive, patriotic, and anti-imperialist uprisings against an economic order created by the West.

All four nations are currently suspended from ECOWAS. A large number of states have rejected the Western/ECOWAS position. “The authorities of the Republic of Guinea disassociate themselves from the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS,” the Guinean government wrote, describing them as “illegitimate and inhumane” and “urging ECOWAS to think better again.”

The governments of Mali and Burkina Faso went much further.

In a joint statement, those nations welcomed Bazoum’s ouster, describing the event as Niger “taking its destiny into its own hands and being accountable to history for complete sovereignty.”

Together, they denounced “regional organizations” [ie ECOWAS] for imposing sanctions that “increase the suffering of populations and endanger the spirit of Pan-Africanism”.

Perhaps most importantly, however, they bluntly stated that they would come to Niger’s aid militarily if ECOWAS invaded.

“Any military intervention against Niger would mean a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” they wrote.

Algeria, which shares a long border with Niger, has also warned that it will not sit idly by if the West or its puppets attack Niger.

President Putin meets with Burkina Faso’s President Ibrahim Traore as part of the 2023 second Russia-Africa summit in Moscow.

Pan-Africanism, the anti-imperialist project that tries to create a brotherhood of nations in Africa to develop independently, has experienced a renaissance in West Africa of late. Burkina Faso and Mali, Niger’s neighbors to the west, are in the advanced stages of merging into a federation. “The process is underway,” said Ibrahim Traoré, Burkina Faso’s charismatic military leader, revealing that his armies are now so integrated that “it really is the same army.” He also strongly hinted that he wanted Niger to join the federation:

We cannot exclude the idea of ​​another state joining us… If there are other states that are interested (we will certainly approach Guinea) and if others are interested, we have to join. It is what young people demand”.

ECOWAS has come out strongly against the idea, but Traoré remained defiant.

“We are going to fight, but Africa must unite. The more united we are, the more effective we are,” she said.

Traoré has presented himself as a radical leader in the style of Thomas Sankara, the Marxist revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso between 1983 and 1987.

Wearing a red beret like Sankara did, Traoré asks questions like

“Why is Africa rich in resources and still the poorest region in the world?”

and describes many of his fellow African leaders as “puppets in the hands of the imperialists.”

He likes to quote Cuban leader Che Guevara and has allied his nation with Nicaragua and Venezuela.

People gather for a ceremony in front of the building where Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987 in Burkina Faso, on April 6, 2022.

colonial outpost

Nigeriens, whether they support the coup or not, are fed up with being treated like a colonial outpost.

Bazoum, who rose to power in a controversial and disputed 2021 election, saw his approval ratings plummet after it was announced that Niger would host thousands of French troops who had previously been expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso.

The presence of these soldiers precipitated coups in both countries and immediately sparked angry demonstrations in Niger.

Bazoum, whom the “BBC” described as a “key Western ally”, did not listen and welcomed the troops.

Today Niger is home to nearly 1,500 French soldiers, as well as many more from the German, Italian and US armed forces.

The new military government has instructed France to withdraw its troops.

Niger is the cornerstone of the US military operation in Africa, hosting around 1,100 people at six bases.

In 2019, the US opened Air Base 201, a massive $110 million airfield that it uses to conduct drone operations throughout the Sahel region.

The stated reason for the foreign troops is to help the region deal with Islamist terrorism.

But the threat of Islamist terrorism only arose from NATO’s 2011 destruction of Libya (another country with which Niger shares a border).

The attack by the military alliance turned Libya from a nation with one of the highest living standards in Africa into a failed state run by jihadists, replete with open-air slave markets.

The coup therefore enjoys broad support within the country. A poll published by The Economist earlier this week found that 73% of Nigeriens want the military junta to remain in power and just 27% want Bazoum back.

Tens of thousands packed the Seyni Kountché stadium in Niamey to express their desire for independence and denounce threats of American or French intervention.

“If the ECOWAS forces decide to attack our country, before reaching the presidential palace, they will have to walk over our bodies, shed our blood. We will [give life] with pride because we have no other country; we only have Niger. Since July 26 our country has decided to take charge of its independence and sovereignty,” said protester Ibrahim Bana.

The role of Russia

While Russia is portrayed in the West as a nefarious, authoritarian regime that interferes in other nations, much of Africa views Moscow positively.

The Soviet Union generally supported African independence struggles, and the Russian Federation has not invaded any African nation.

Almost all African states attended the Russia-Africa Summit in July, while only four African leaders participated in an official meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year.

The same Economist poll asked Nigeriens which foreign power they trusted the most. 60% chose Russia. Only around 1 in 10 chose the US, even fewer chose France and none chose Britain.

Russian flags are now a common sight in Niamey and many are hoping for some kind of help from Moscow.

However, ousted President Bazoum took to the pages of The Washington Post to appeal to the US for help, warning that “the entire central Sahel region could fall under Russian influence through the Wagner Group.”

In fact, Wagner has been invited by several African governments, including Mali, which see the Russian mercenary force as a counterweight to Western troops.

Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently spoke approvingly of the coup, though Moscow has been much more reluctant to take sides.

Map of African countries that have signed military agreements with Russia. The Cradle (@TheCradleMedia) August 3, 2023

The big worry for many is that the fighting in Niger will spark a broader war between West African nations that will no doubt turn to Europe and the US for help.

If this happens, the military governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger will no doubt ask Russia for help, turning the situation into something akin to the Syrian civil war but on a larger scale.

In the aftermath of NATO’s war against Russia in the Ukraine, France cut off energy imports from Russia, making Niger’s uranium for its aging nuclear power plants more crucial.

However, any attempts at regime change in Niger to restart uranium supplies will anger Algeria, with which it recently signed a natural gas import deal.

Thus, the French position is riddled with contradictions and complications.

As Western power wanes, a multipolar world begins to emerge.

As part of that birth, the people of West Africa dream of a different future.

Time will tell if the military coups turn out to be a liberating force or actions that do nothing to help the oppressed peoples of the region.

However, one thing is clear: the US and France are not happy with the changes that are taking place and will fight to maintain their control over Africa.

To this end, ECOWAS has proven to be an important tool at their disposal. However, with so many conflicting interests and so many forces unwilling to compromise, the situation in Niger threatens to escalate into an international war that will draw world attention to one of the world’s most ignored regions.





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Image taken from: AFP

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