Recent coup d’états across West Africa, particularly in the Sahel region show the intensifying political, economic, and military crises in the region. The most recent of these political upheavals happened in Niger marking the 10th military coup in the Sahel region since 20081.
Centuries of imperialist subjugation and the aggressive imposition of neoliberal economic policies has driven the region into chaos and plunged countries deeper into poverty, hunger, environmental destruction, and displacement.
At the same time, these recent developments are also galvanizing the people to take action and pour into the streets in their thousands to manifest strong protest against their former colonial masters and their reactionary cohorts.
For instance, Burkina Faso’s current interim leader and youngest serving president in the world (aged 34) Ibrahim Traoré described the conflict in his country “as the violent, barbaric manifestation of imperialism, neo-colonialism and slavery continues to impose on us.” While the specific circumstances and reasons for each coup may vary, these countries have a common denominator – all have been subject to foreign military intervention either via US or France’s military operations.
Unsurprisingly, the US and the European Union (EU) quickly condemned these actions as they have historically supported these governments, not to mention their vast stake in the region’s resources.
These African governments have historically maintained ties with the West, particularly with its first colonial master, France and its second colonizer the US. The US alone has at least 29 known military bases in the African continent located in 15 different countries including at least 6 outposts in Niger, and one each in Gabon, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. France on the other hand have military bases in at least 10 countries in the region hosting 1,500 French soldiers in Niger, 1,000 in Chad, 900 in the Ivory Coast, 350 in Senegal, and 400 in Gabon along with tactical support from drones and warplanes according to reports.
The value of the Sahel region from the perspective of Western imperialism cannot be overstated. The region is rich in uranium and gold – an industry currently controlled by French conglomerates. Niger, for example, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium producing 3% of world uranium output in 2022. Currently, uranium production in Niger occurs mainly through a French majority-owned company called Orano which owns 63.4% of SOMAIR, Niger’s national mining corporation. Burkina Faso and Mali on the other hand represent the fourth and third largest gold producers in Africa respectively, along with significant deposits of copper and other rare earth minerals.
Nigerien coup leader Abdourahamane Tchiani has faced condemnations and threats from African governments that maintain ties with European-linked institutions such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the EU, and the African Union.
But the military governments of three African states in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which all deposed their Western-backed leaders in recent years, have agreed to assist each other, individually or collectively, in case of external aggression or internal threats to their sovereignty. This mutual defense pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States binds the three countries to assist each other militarily – in the event of an attack on any one of the signatories.
Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties.Alliance of Sahel States
But despite the negative portrayal from the West, citizens have taken to the streets to cheer the overthrow of West-supported governments. In Niger, stadiums have been filled by supporters of the military government after its July 26 coup. In 2021, there was also jubilation on the streets of Conakry after the Guinean military removed Alpha Conde.
Across the African continent, anti-government protests have been sweeping nations, marking a notable surge in spontaneous people’s movements against Western-allied governments. Various social, political, and economic grievances are driving these demonstrations. Electoral justice, the increased cost of living, and a narrowing democratic space headlined the various mass actions.
The recent formation of the Alliance of Sahel States (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger) and their assertion of independence also lends evidence to the growing consolidation of sentiments against imperialist intervention in the region. Philippe Toyo Noudjenoume, President of the West Africa Peoples’ Organization, says this sentiment is especially strong in the Sahel region but common throughout French-speaking Africa.
Amid a constantly changing geopolitical landscape in the continent, one thing is for sure: US imperialism and its allies in the West require a subjugated Africa in order to sustain itself amid a period of strategic decline.
1 Burkina Faso (2014, 2015, 2022), Mali (2012, 2020, 2021), Gambia (2014), and Guinea (2021)