French mistakes fuel formation of African coup belt
Recently, researcher Folahanmi Aina published an article in Al Jazeera, dissecting the renewed crisis in Africa’s Sahel region, which contains the world’s poorest, most politically unstable and most conflict-prone countries. From Mali to Niger, anti-French sentiment in the streets helped legitimize the coupers and extended Russia’s influence.
On August 3, 2023 local time, in Niamey, Niger, protesters held the Niger flag during a demonstration. With the July 26 military coup in Niger, the region has become a veritable “coup belt” across Africa, with many Sahel countries now ruled by unelected military rulers. In recent years, from “Boko Haram” (Boko Haram, a terrorist organization headquartered in northeast Nigeria, which is also active in Chad, Niger, northern Cameroon and Mali), “Islamic State West Africa Province” (ISWAP, whose activities include northeast Nigeria and the southern part of the Lake Chad Basin, northern Nigeria along the border with Niger and Cameroon, whose activities gradually extend south into southern Nigeria) to JNIM (a Mali-based terrorist group active in much of West Africa, including Burkinafa Somalia and parts of Niger), the Sahel region has become the main venue for violent armed groups. The region now accounts for 43 percent of global terrorism deaths, according to the Global Terrorism Index published by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace. From Niger and Mali to Burkina Faso and Chad, countries across the Sahel region suffer from widespread corruption, extreme poverty, and widespread unemployment, while Western partners and international institutions are seen as incapable of bringing stability and security to the region. This has turned local populations against their allied Western governments, fueling public support for coups and boosting militant groups’ recruitment capabilities.
But apart from chronic insecurity and economic instability, there is one factor that has largely helped the junta hold power across the region: rising anti-French sentiment.
In the Sahel, the memory of French colonialism remains entrenched: brutal military campaigns, forced labour, widespread repression, cultural erasure, apartheid and forced displacement.
Combined with suspicions rooted in its colonial past, France’s recent misfortunes, disappointments and outright failures in Africa have led to growing wariness among Sahel populations about the former colonial state and what it has done in the region. Coup elements in many countries took advantage of this growing hostility and sought to present themselves as anti-colonial heroes against neo-colonial France and its corrupt pawns in local governments. That is why, in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and most recently Niger, crowds welcome military rule with anti-French slogans.
The story dates back to 2012, when the Mali government invited France to help it address a rapidly deteriorating security crisis in the restive north of the country, where Tuareg rebels and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, which aims to Overthrew the Algerian government, operating in the Maghreb and the Sahel) allied fighters have taken over large swathes of territory. France sent thousands of soldiers, with the help of neighboring Chad, to drive the fighters out of the capital, Bamako.
In 2014, with the support of the Mali government, France expanded its counterterrorism operations in the region. France deployed 5,100 troops in five countries in the Sahel region, which became Operation Barkane (headquartered permanently in the capital of Chad, which was led in cooperation with the five countries and aimed “to become the French Pillar of counter-terrorism in the Sahel”), and the largest and most expensive overseas operation in modern French history.
Despite high economic and human costs, Operation Balkany failed to achieve the expected results. The problems of Mali and the wider region are not over. Instead, armed groups began to grow in power and sphere of influence. Attacks on civilians have become routine, and the security situation in countries across the Sahel region is deteriorating. As a result, local residents began blaming France for long-term problems and growing suspicious of the former colonial state’s intentions in the region.
In 2020, months of street protests over deteriorating security and alleged corruption led to a military coup that toppled the pro-French government. Relations between Mali and Paris deteriorated rapidly, and Mali’s new rulers turned to Wagner Group Russian mercenaries to resolve the ongoing security crisis.
Relations between Mali’s “interim” government and France have reached a breaking point after two years of growing tensions after a coup that refused to hold elections as promised. On January 31, 2022, Mali expelled the French ambassador. At this time, as many as 1,000 Russian mercenaries have been stationed in Mali. Days later, thousands of anti-French protesters took to the streets, waving Russian flags and burning a cardboard image of French President Emmanuel Macron to celebrate the deportation.
That same year, France announced its decision to withdraw troops from Mali and transfer some of them to neighboring Niger as part of a new African strategy.
It is now known that this did little to improve France’s standing in the region. A coup d’état took place in Niger very soon. With public opinion resolutely against France, the coup d’état wasted no time blaming France for many of the country’s problems, accusing France of “undermining national stability.”
(Video screenshot) On August 19, 2023 local time, in Niamey, Niger, General Abdourahamane Tiani read a statement on national television, proposing to complete the political transition in no more than three years. France’s rapid loss of influence and respect in the Sahel, and the widespread perception that France is now nothing more than a neo-colonial villain, is largely due to its misguided approach to the region’s deepening security crisis. Instead of trying to identify and address the root causes of the conflict by strengthening state institutions and encouraging good governance, Paris has tried to address the security of Sahel states through military force alone. Rather than achieving decisive victories on the ground, this military-focused approach fueled the conflict and quickly turned public opinion against France.
France has repeatedly made mistakes in the Sahel region. Apart from the coup attempts in Mali, Niger and other regions, the biggest beneficiary is Russia. Moscow has long wanted to improve relations with Africa and remove Western control of the continent. And France’s recent blunder there gave it its long-awaited chance.
Now, Russia is fighting militant groups through Wagner, building relationships with the military government and trying to establish its own dominance in this highly strategic region.
There is no doubt that France is already at a disadvantage in the Sahel, but it is still possible to pull it back if it plays its remaining cards correctly. The author believes that in order to return to the Sahel region, Paris first needs to win the hearts and minds of the local people.
For this reason, Paris needs to reflect and face up to the problems left over from colonialism. Paris also needs to admit its recent mistakes, learn from its military and political failures, and, above all, begin to see the Sahel states as equal, independent security partners rather than former leaders who need French guidance. colony. This includes acknowledging Nigeria’s strength as a major Sahel economy and working with Nigeria on an equal footing to achieve its political, economic and security goals across the region. This partnership will also help bridge the trust gap between English-speaking and French-speaking West Africa.
To recapture the Sahel, France must also be willing and ready to engage in a polemic with Russia. Alongside its efforts to cleanse its image, France should launch an evidence-based campaign.
If France does not take these steps and forge new, stronger partnerships with Sahel states, it will remain largely a non-starter, other than to facilitate coup attempts in the region, the authors say It has no other use than legality.
The inevitable “de-growth”
How sustainable is economic development? In the context of frequent extreme climates, discussions on “de-growth” have become popular again. Last week, the Conversation website published a discussion article on “de-growth” by Wim Naudé, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Economics, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Mike Joy, Senior Researcher, Institute of Governance and Policy, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, from the perspectives of ecology and economics respectively their respective views.
Both views are representative. Wim Naudé is against “de-growth” and thinks that “de-growth” of rich countries is a flawed idea. Mike Joy supports “de-growth”, and believes that from an ecological point of view, “de-growth” is an inevitable choice to deal with the environmental crisis.
“Degrowth” is an idea and movement against the current development model centered on economic growth. The term was first coined by the Austrian-French social philosopher André Gorz in 1972. As a movement, degrowth has gained attention in academia and social movements since the early 2000s. The modern “de-growth” movement argues that other solutions to the ecological crisis, such as green growth and the Sustainable Development Goals, are futile. This is because these approaches are rooted in a growth-obsessed democratic capitalism. As such, the movement calls for a “radical political project” to replace capitalism and “de-grow” the West. South countries are excluded.
Wim Naudé criticized “de-growth” for ignoring the necessity and effectiveness of economic growth for improving human welfare and solving social problems. He believes that although the economic mainstream has always dismissed “de-growth”, the “de-growth” movement has indeed put forward very effective criticisms of economic growth and the “green growth” paradigm that underpins the current mainstream approach to solving the ecological crisis. No effective solution was provided.
He argues that the “de-growth” proposal does not solve the ecological crisis or the flaws of democratic capitalism. “De-growth” is not only ineffective, it may be worse for the environment. Due to economic interdependence, a recession in developed countries would hit developing countries hard. This could disproportionately hurt the poorest — and worsen global inequality. The pandemic has highlighted this interdependence, with poverty growing faster in the South than in the North. The fallout from the pandemic has shown how difficult it is to decouple the South from the North.
For decades, the West has been experiencing a recession (“The Great Stagnation”). This experiment led to many social and political ills. The “de-growth” movement is itself a reaction to “de-growth”. Because of these shortcomings, “de-growth” is not politically feasible. Given that Western democracies are unlikely to choose “de-growth” voluntarily, the “de-growth” movement may lead the West down a dangerous path of rejecting democracy and returning to authoritarian collectives.
In addition, he believes that “de-growth” is also doomed to be ineffective. Most of its key proposals are likely to stimulate economic growth and consumption, rather than dampen it. For example, the de-growth movement calls for plenty of energy, basic income subsidies and a four-day workweek. All of these could have a rebound effect — they actually stimulate economic growth and economic realisation.
But in Mike Joy’s view, “de-growth” is a rational strategy proposed from the perspective of ecology, which can avoid ecological collapse and social unrest caused by human beings’ excessive consumption of earth resources. The authors argue that many economists who criticize the “de-growth” movement fail to recognize this tipping point of Earth’s biophysical limits.
Many “de-growth” scholars (and critics) see features of capitalism as the cause of this ecological overshoot. As problematic as capitalism may be, many civilizations have damaged ecosystems to the point of collapse long before it became our dominant economic model.
The author argues that, from an ecologist’s point of view, “de-growth” is inevitable on the current trajectory of human development.
Ecology tells us that many species can exceed the carrying capacity of their environment if they temporarily receive abnormally high levels of resources. When these resources return to more stable levels, ecological overload declines. This often results in mass starvation and death as the population adjusts.
Access to fossil fuels has enabled humans to temporarily transcend biophysical limits. This puts population and human demands on the biosphere beyond what it can safely absorb. Unless these biosphere demands are systematically reduced, we will experience the same “adjustments” as other species.
One of the advantages humans have over other species is that we understand the dynamics of ecological overload and can plan how to adjust, the authors say. This is what the “de-growth” movement is trying to do.
New Zealand public concern about climate change is considerable. But this is only one of many environmental crises, which include soil erosion, groundwater pollution, deforestation, the rise of invasive species, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and resource depletion. According to the authors, they are all symptoms of environmental overload. But the climate crisis is seen only as a problem to be solved, not a symptom of environmental overload. The problem is often formulated as finding a way to maintain the current way of life in the rich world, rather than reducing environmental overload.
This ecological perspective underscores the scale and urgency of the major changes taking place in Earth systems today. The author concludes by writing:
“Reducing human demand on the biosphere is a top priority. Ecological economics, emphasizing a steady-state economy, is perhaps the most accurate economic framework available, with concrete recommendations for identifying priority actions. We urge Scholars examine it.”
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