There seems to be a new political wind blowing across the Sahel, and the congealed ideologies within this wind of change is generally felt across the African continent. If the recent spate of coups and counter coups popping up along the region is anything to go by, indications are that the African continent is seemingly yearning for a reset. A reset from the colonial cum imperialistic relationship that was supposed to be symbiotic with the West but turned out to be one of exploitation and blood sucking exercise. While many would see this wind of change as sudden or dramatic, it is worth noting that this has been in gestation for some time. Interestingly, it is not surprising that what many might attribute to Africa’s equivalence of the Arab Spring is gaining traction in particularly the French speaking colonial vassal states. We have seen military coups in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and most recently Niger becoming the political fashion statement. But why? What are the common denominators for these countries?
According to sources, Mali’s mining potential lies in gold, diamond, manganese, and iron ore. It is estimated that Mali has approximately 20 million tonnes of proven resources associated with gold, a proven existence of diamond in about 20 kimberlite pipes in the mining area of Kenieba, an estimated 1 billion, 360 tons of iron in the Kita and Narena sectors. The Ministry of Mines in Mali estimates that the country has 800 tons of gold deposits, 2 million tons of iron ore, 5 thousand tons of uranium and 10 million tons of limestone. But what comes to your mind when Mali is mentioned? POVERTY.
According to Azzomining.com, Niger has the 5th largest uranium reserves in the world, in addition to coal, gold, iron ore, tin, phosphates, petroleum, salt, molybdenum and gypsum. It also has a good amount of oil reserves. Sadly, Niger is also synonymous with poverty, drought, and famine, to name but a few resource hazards. It is unbelievable that with such an abundance of resources, and with agriculture accounting for 40% of its GDP and occupation for 80% of the population, the majority of the government’s budget comes from “FOREIGN AID”. In a country that is a by word for poverty, the presence of several mining companies operating in the country seems to defy logic. They include but not limited to Artemis Resources Ltd (Australia), Paladin Energy Ltd (Australia), Oklo Uranium Ltd (Australia), URU Metals Ltd (S. Africa), Homeland Uranium Inc (Canada), Bayswater Uranium Corp (Canada), Orezone Gold Corp (Canada, Nuclear International Uranium Corp (China). When you factor in the greed, there is little wonder why such a supposedly poor country like Niger has become a cesspool for foreign interests. Is it any surprise that these mining activities seem to go hand in hand with civil unrests, extremism, jihads, civil wars, and many more form the DNA of these countries. Name one African country that is blessed with natural influence with a stable government. Name one such country that is not afflicted by internecine wars?
The country is rich in mineral resources including gold, zinc, copper, manganese, phosphate, and limestone. It also has substantial reserves of diamond, bauxite, nickel, and vanadium which remain largely “unexploited”. Cotton, sorghum, millet, and maize make up its agricultural sector for 30% of its GDP. Burkina Faso is the 4th largest gold producer of gold on the African continent, and data indicates that its gold reserves are some of the most explored in Africa, attracting investments from the usual suspects such as Canada, Australia, and the UK. Like Niger and Mali, Burkina Faso conjures images of poverty.
Guinea boasts of bauxite, iron ore, gold, and diamond as key resources, in addition to commercially viable quantities of graphite, manganese, nickel, and uranium. In 2021, it exported jut over $4.3 billion of bauxite, $5.8 billion of gold. Guinea has half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, the world’s largest and second exporter after Australia. Two new iron ore projects at Simandou and mount Nimba have been eye marked for exploration in the next 5 years. With guinea surpassing Australia as China’s primary source of high-grade bauxite, is it any wonder that Mamady Doumbouya is on every Christmas list? With over 20 China backed, French owned and Russian led companies operating in Guinea, is it any wonder that the country, like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have become cauldrons and playgrounds for foreign and diplomatic gymnastics? It is really disheartening that Africa’s rich resources have become potentials to attract wars and chaos.
So, what are the common denominators here?
Even though these countries, like many others in Africa are blessed with “natural affluence”, they are the poorest, least developed, and most afflicted with “resource curse”. With their abundant natural resources, it is not surprising that they have become a microcosm of foreign competition, with a minimum of 20 companies operating at any given time in each country. Competition stretches from France, Canada, China, Russia, UK, America and down to Australia. Is it surprising therefore, that in their unquenchable thirst for access to these resources, and their insatiable ability to influence the governments of these countries become prerequisites for their operations? Is it any surprise therefore, that pervasive corruption and political instability have become the prescribed formula for a slice of the pie in these regions? With the amount of revenue surrounding such resources, is it surprising that corruption and political instability have become the blueprint in these countries? As a common denominator, and except for Guinea, they are grappling with internal interregna.
In the past, weapons were made to fight wars. These days, wars are created to sell weapons. Is it obviously plausible that the co-existence of rebels, insurgents, extremists, rival military factions in these countries are solely created, supported, armed, and sponsored by these competitors? Is it surprising that private armies like Sandline and Wagner Group, a de facto private army of Vladimir Putin are rented to the host governments to provide protection and warfare in the fight against “insurgents” etc? So, it looks like they create the chaos and provide the “perceived solution”, while the resources are insidiously shipped out of these countries. They call it home economics.
Once upon a time, some guys came to Africa, told us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible in our hand, and they had our gold, diamond, and rubies. The formula is seemingly simplistic. First, you create the chaos as distraction. These days, weapons are exchanged for access to African resources. Sounds like a typical Mafiosi protection racket. With countries mostly competing for the mineral resources, the United States, along with foreign powers, vies for access to these resources and for the ability to influence the countries’ governments. Those leaders have become modern day autocrats with no sense of accountability. Any surprises for guessing why Africa has now become the theatre of the “great power competition”?
It is glaringly evident that ECOWAS leaders feel the threat, enough to issue a stern warning to General Tchiani of Niger to restore democracy or face military intervention. As usual, Western governments have queued up to condemn the coup and suspend financial aid and military collaboration with Niger. French President Emmanuel Macron said that he would not “tolerate any attack against France and its interests and will respond immediately and intractably” to any provocation (sierraleonetelegraph.com-31 July 2023). Did you hear that, “FRENCH INTERESTS? ECOWAS leaders said that “in the event the authorities demands are not met within one week, we will take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force” (sierraleonetelegraph.com-31 July 2023). So, where was ECOWAS when similar events took place in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Mali?
In the last two decades, the West had sublet the responsibility of dealing with Africa’s troubles to regional bodies including The African Union and ECOWAS. Is it that ECOWAS has gone into gear and threatened to use force to restore civilian rule because the interests of its paymasters have been threatened? Or is it because the same ECOWAS leaders feel threatened that if this trend of coup orgies is not arrested, some of them might have to deal with this new craze in their own backyards? Is that why Ngor Maada Bio suddenly realised that “Dis Kompound Ya so, some people dem bad? According to a statement published by the police, “senior military officers were among several people arrested and detained by the police, suspected of plotting to use a planned public protest next week “to launch violent attacks on state institutions and citizens” (thesierraleonetelegraph-01, August,2023).
So, how did we get here?
While the European Union and America focussed on the Arab Spring following 9/11, China insidiously made its way into Africa as America’s principal global competitor. Unlike America, China practices the “Angola-Model”, a resource-backed loan model; an infrastructure -for -minerals concession. Russia may not have the same economic clout but providing private military contractors/ companies and increased military presence gives it the potential to affect US national security interests, while France pretends to provide counter-terrorism support to its colonial subjects. Lest we forget, history shows that France’s continued presence has perpetuated political instability and domestic turmoil, notably in the Sahel. Since Sekou Touré’s death in 1984, Guinea has had 3 coups and only 4 presidents, with Alpha Conde as the first democratically elected president. Tells you all you need to know about French entente cordiale.
Interestingly, with chaos going hand in hand with the exploitation of the mineral resources in these regions, the increasing requests for assistance from Moscow to combat al Qaeda and the Islamic state, has given Russia a monopoly on providing services, training, and arms in exchange for mining rights and access to domestic markets at very low rates. Subsequently, the manufactured chaos provides good insulation for most African leaders who bastardise their version of democracy, dyed in corruption with impunity. Is this why Africa and especially the francophone countries are experiencing a renaissance? Are these countries suddenly ready to cut their umbilical cords to their colonial masters? Mali just removed the French language as the official language. What is interesting is that the average age of the new military kids on the block is under 50. Is there a Thomas Sankara -esque flavour being served here?
Why the sudden re-emergence of coup d’états?
Many see democracy as the preferred option for governance, thanks to its inherent mantra as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. I neither glorify, nor promote, or prefer military governance. “Military intelligence” is a contradiction in terms, but has democracy benefitted Africa? In large swathes of Africa, democracy is only good in theory. In practice, it stinks. There is an unspoken question being raised by these recent coups; that if democracy is for the people, by the people and of the people, why are the people not benefitting from the natural affluence of their respective democratic countries? Democracy goes with accountability and Democracy without accountability will always remain a fleeting illusion.
Donald Trump was once the most powerful organism on the face of the earth. He is being called to account for his attempt to assault democracy. There is no democracy if people cannot be held to account for their actions or inactions in public life. We shout to the rooftops about democracy but lack the safeguards of accountability to protect democracy. Democracy is so vulnerable that even its founders didn’t envision a President like Donald Trump. If what is going on in the Sahel is representative of the death of democracy, will it be because of a slow extinction of apathy, indifference, and disillusionment? Has democracy in Africa been an exercise of waste, self-exhaustion and now suicide? Or is this a question of politics becoming too important to take seriously?
Irrespective of what you think, there is a new wind blowing against the modus operandi. Is Africa looking for a reset? Colonel Assimi Goïta (Mali- aged 40), Mamady Doumbouya (Guinea- aged 43), Capt. Ibrahim Traoré (Burkina Faso-aged 34), Abdourahamane Tchiani (Niger-aged 62). With ECOWAS threatening military action, is the sub region longing for a Ukraine scenario. Will ECOWAS take its solemn duty to restore democracy to Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, after Niger?
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.