The Unfolding Crisis In Niger And The Wider Sahel Region: Nuances And Nuisances Of Military Intervention; By Jaye Gaskia


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THERE has just been a military coup in Republic of Niger, the fourth Francophone country in the wider Sahel region, and of West Africa, to have witnessed a coup, and to now be effectively under military dictatorship.

If the trend with respect to Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso is to be taken into account, then it seems likely, that there may be more intra-military eruptions in the not too distant future for Niger as well.

First, the crisis is a manifestation of the collapse of governance, and the failure of ruling class leadership. These countries are not only the poorest countries, they are also the countries with the poorest people, and some of the most corrupt ruling classes. The result is a wide divide and gulf between the wealthy ruling class, and the poor working and other subaltern classes.

The reason is that the complex socio-economic, political, and cultural crises faced by these countries are not only of near existential character, they are also inherent to the neo-colonial character of these states, and the legacy of (French) colonialism. And because of this, the crisis is much more systemic, with the militaries of these countries not only complicit, but also victims of this particular brand of direct and more aggressive neo-colonialism and neo-colonial experience.

The militaries of these countries are an integral part of the architecture of these neo-colonial states, and as such, are also somewhat, the part of the states, most susceptible to pressure.

But if the militaries are integral to the neo-colonial situation, much like the political parties and the civil and public services; what is the implication of these for the nature and character of the military leadership – the officer cadre of the military? These officer cadres can be likened to, and in actual fact are a key part of the Francophone middle class, and ruling class. They may be driven by the urge to modernise the state and free the Sahelian countries from the more insidious and direct forms of French neo-colonial control, as well as the indignity associated with this form of neo-colonial control; but they are in no way, anti-imperialist (in the broad sense), let alone, anti-capitalist. The proof of these lies in the nature of the governments they have put together, the composition of their cabinets – each led and dominated by scions of neoliberalism, including technocrats and politicians tethered to and trained (it would be more correct to say, indoctrinated) the institutions of imperialism – the World Bank, IMF, IFC, etc; and wide-eyed products of the leading academies of imperialism in general, and French Imperialism in particular.

Neither these militaries, nor the existing political parties, have the desire, or the capacity and ability to transcend neoliberalism. As such, the salvation of these nations, and of the workers and working peoples cannot come from these institutional pillars as well.

The Nuances and The Nuisances:

What are the issues involved in, and at the basis of the current unfolding crises in the Sahel? And how should the left relate to and respond to these?

First, the crisis is a manifestation of the collapse of governance, and the failure of ruling class leadership. These countries are not only the poorest countries, they are also the countries with the poorest people, and some of the most corrupt ruling classes. The result is a wide divide and gulf between the wealthy ruling class, and the poor working and other subaltern classes.

Second, this crisis has opened up a deepening divide within these countries, and between these countries and French imperialism in particular, and imperialism in general.

Given that this support is not a charity, given that these mercenary groups are profit oriented military corporations established to make profit, and given that these Sahelian states are in no position to pay for this support, it stands to reason, these support and engagement of the mercenaries will have to be funded and paid for through other means – through being given access to exploitation and looting of mineral and other natural resources of these countries.

Third, this failure has, and continues to engender rising poverty, rising misery, rising inequality, rising alienation, and rising instability in these countries, and within and between various segments and classes of these societies. The result is this emergent and rapidly evolving state of almost permanent crisis and deepening instability.

Fourth, this collapse of governance and failure of leadership has also, and continues to engender a governance vacuum, that has attracted, and is being filled by organised criminal syndicates, and various forms of armed contestation of the monopoly of force of the weak states – resulting in the proliferation of various armed separatist, jihadist and insurgent groups, as well as the emboldening of armed banditry activities by more or less loose coalitions of bandits groups, among others.

Fifth, it is this complex context that the militaries are responding to, and trying to grapple with.

And in trying to grapple with these, particularly against the backdrop of smouldering anti-French grievances, and rising anti French anger, these militaries have turned to and are embracing military support from elsewhere, and primarily anti West sources, and in particular from Russia. The challenge, and problem with this turn to Russia, is that Russia for a combination of reasons, including the preoccupation of its own military elsewhere (with ongoing efforts to retain its hegemony in its own traditional sphere of influence, and the weakness of the Russian state (in economic terms – not enough to spare); is unable, or not in a position to give this support directly, and as such have had to give it indirectly, by outsourcing it to Russian enabled Mercenaries and mercenary groups, in particular the Wagner group.

Given that this support is not a charity, given that these mercenary groups are profit oriented military corporations established to make profit, and given that these Sahelian states are in no position to pay for this support, it stands to reason, these support and engagement of the mercenaries will have to be funded and paid for through other means – through being given access to exploitation and looting of mineral and other natural resources of these countries.

Military Intervention, whether internal (military coups), or external (mercenary groups, forces from other countries); cannot, and are incapable of addressing the core challenges and issues. At best they will achieve an equilibrium of instability (low intensity permanent instability); and at worst, which is the most likely outcome, they will only deepen the crises, make it more complex, and perpetrate and perpetuate rapid decline in the conditions of living of the people, and the quality of life of the people.

We can look a little bit further North, to interrogate, and understand this trend – to Libya as well as to Sudan. We know that paramilitary forces emerging from a disintegrating state, or paramilitary forces set up and propped up by the existing state, have been resourced and financed through plunder of natural resources.

Sixth, among some sections of the left, this evolving scenario is prompting the at best myopic, and at worst ill-thought through susceptibility to the allure of revamped military vanguardism –  the hope and belief that these militaries, and the military coups, and the emergent military leaders can provide the basis for the consolidation of a Left Political Vanguard that can lead the struggle of the peoples of Africa for National Liberation (at the very least – modernise the capitalist state and transform it into a developmental and possibly welfare state); or even, at some point, eventually, also the Social Emancipation of the Working Peoples and Toiling Masses of the Continent. But this hope has no basis either in the current reality, or in history. It is at best a forlorn hope for something that is craved.  At worst it is a manifestation of opportunism – the persistent desire to seek shortcuts towards popular victory, through hitch riding on the back of emergent potent phenomena and personalities of the moment, regardless of social orientation or class interest.

To Conclude – What Is To Be Done?

Emerging from the foregoing, we can identify and itemise the following;

A. Imperialism of all hues – French, Western, Russian, Eastern, is a big issue and factor. A consistent position of Anti Imperialism that includes all of these imperialisms is not only necessary, it is also key to enabling the Organise Conscious Self Activity of the Masses; and will be central to achieving not only National Liberation, but also Social Emancipation of our countries and our workers and working peoples.

The current situation in particular provides a rare opportunity for us to build active solidarity of Movements of struggle across borders, enabling emergence of a Pan African Popular, Mass Political Movement; while also building international solidarity, and actively promoting Internationalism – the necessary condition for Socialist Transformation to take place, and for the global triumph of Socialism.

B. Military Intervention, whether internal (military coups), or external (mercenary groups, forces from other countries); cannot, and are incapable of addressing the core challenges and issues. At best they will achieve an equilibrium of instability (low intensity permanent instability); and at worst, which is the most likely outcome, they will only deepen the crises, make it more complex, and perpetrate and perpetuate rapid decline in the conditions of living of the people, and the quality of life of the people.

C. Military coups, in the current context only engender dictatorships that ultimately rule in the name of the people, but also ruthlessly suppress any dissent or agitation by the people. Already in Burkina Faso, a Radio station has been shut down for criticising the new military leadership of Niger; just as in Mali, a prominent blogger has already been arrested and detained for doing the same thing.

D. The current militaries are different in character and nature from the militaries of the second half of the last century. Those militaries existed within the context of ideologically divided world – the capitalist west; the Soviet Bloc; and the Non- Aligned Movement. It was possible for left oriented officers to crystalise within these militaries, and to stage left leaning coups. But even at that, the cost to the wider movement has always been quite enormous, and even of existential dimension. Left military governments, like the one party states were as ruthless as the capitalist states in repressing popular dissent, and even more ruthless in repressing internal dissent from within the movement. Military Vanguardism was bad, and ultimately a failure then, and it will amount to a disaster now.

E. Our task in the current situation is to oppose all imperialisms and all military adventures (internal and external); while reaching out directly to the mass of the workers and working peoples, articulating their grievances, supporting their struggles, and organising within and among them to build and strengthen their organisations of struggle and resistance, to the point where they achieve, and are able to exercise Autonomous Capacity to Act in their own behalf, and in their own interest.

Our task is to orient the masses towards crystalsing their grievances into a popular, mass and autonomous political movement, capable of not only making demands on the state, but also of challenging the ruling class for state power, and eventually of taking, and wielding power.

F. The current situation in particular provides a rare opportunity for us to build active solidarity of Movements of struggle across borders, enabling emergence of a Pan African Popular, Mass Political Movement; while also building international solidarity, and actively promoting Internationalism – the necessary condition for Socialist Transformation to take place, and for the global triumph of Socialism.


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