WEST AFRICA CONJUNCTURE A Conjunctural Analysis of West Africa, 2024


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STUDY REPORT No.6

Accra Centre for Applied Research                                                   

 WEST AFRICA CONJUNCTURE

A Conjunctural Analysis of West Africa

Prepared by the staff team of ACAR

Kafui Kan Senaya

Esther Kharis K. Yiadom

March 16, 2024

All enquiries should be channeled to:

The Head of Research, #96 George Walker Bush Highway, North Dzorwulu, Accra. Ghana or

+233558193179 / kharis.stars@gmail.com

All rights reserved. No part of this report may be cited or reproduced without a written permission of ACAR.

ACAR

ACCRA CENTRE FOR APPLIED RESEARCH

WEST AFRICA CONJUNCTURE

A Conjunctural Analysis of West Africa, 2024

STUDY REPORT No.6

Accra Centre for Applied Research Study Report No. 6

WEST AFRICA CONJUNCTURE

A Conjunctural Analysis of West Africa

Prepared by the staff team of ACAR

Kafui Kan Senaya

Esther Kharis K. Yiadom

March 16, 2024

All enquiries should be channeled to: 

The Head of Research, #96 George Walker Bush Highway, North Dzorwulu, Accra. Ghana or 

+233558193179 / kharis.stars@gmail.com 

All rights reserved. No part of this report may be cited or reproduced without a written permission of ACAR.

Introduction

This essay offers a brief overview of West Africa’s geographical, social, political and economic landscape. It is based on investigation and evaluation completed between July 2023 and January 2024. This assessment of the current moment is revised, updated and expanded by the research team every six months.

The essay focuses on the cross-cutting issues confronting West African countries. The past year has been a difficult one for most West African countries with weighty debt crisis, poor economic performances and subsequently, erosion of standards of living. Civil unrests and political tensions have increased and so also general insecurity stemming from jihadist insurgency. Global Capitalism has been steadily escalating the exploitation of resources; particularly, labour employing tactics like the casualization of labour. The resultant effects have been increased poverty, weakening of social safety nets, rises in social unrest, armed conflict and ethnic warfare. Elections are also becoming conflict hotspots as a result of elite power struggles.

Geography

West Africa has a land area of approximately 6,114,862 km2 which includes Mauritania but excludes the island of Saint Helena. The West Africa’s territory is bordered in the south by the Gulf of Guinea, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and in the north by the Maghreb Union. It has to the east the Central African Economic Union States of Chad and Cameroon. The southern part of the region has a typical two maxima rainfall equatorial climate with humid and high temperatures of 28°C as well as a relatively narrow diurnal range. Tropical weather with dry spells is experienced in the Sahel with average daily temperatures typically above 35°C accompanied by a wider diurnal range. There is a single extended period of rainfall each year, lasting from May to October. The portion of the region bounding the Sahara Desert experiences average daytime temperatures of over 47°C with low temperature around 20°C at night. There is little or no rainfall in these areas.

The vegetation zones of the region range from equatorial rainforest to semi-deciduous forest, guinea and Sudan savanna, Sahel, and finally Sahara Desert. The Sahara covers two-thirds of the surface areas of Niger and Mali. The region is drained by five major rivers namely the Niger, Volta, Senegal, Gambia and the Mono. There are also numerous streams, lakes and lagoons and of course the Atlantic Ocean. In 2023, the population of West Africa is estimated at 443,437,966 giving a population density 72.52 per km2. Males constitute 49.7% of the population and females 50.3%. About 48.4% of the West African population is found in Nigeria alone.

Source: wikimedia commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/West_Africa_map.gif (with modification)

Natural Endowment and Extraction

The West African territory is endowed with numerous natural resources, including minerals, forests, arable lands, wildlife, several rivers and streams. The major mineral endowment includes gold, bauxite, diamonds, uranium, phosphate, lithium, iron, limestone, nickel, clinker, kaolin, lead, copper, cobalt, chromite, gypsum, and marble in addition to such precious stones like garnets, quartz, and carbonates. It is also rich in crude oil and natural gas deposits. The mineral wealth are owned and controlled by foreign interests from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, United Arab Emirate, India, Japan, Spain, Russia, Switzerland, and Australia.

The major foreign multinational companies in the gold mining industry are Barrick Gold, AngloGold Ashanti, Aureus Mining, IAM Gold, and Nord Gold SE. These companies control between 80% to 98% of the gold mining sector in Ghana, Mali, La Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. In the case of the high-grade manganese ore, iron ore, and zinc mines of Burkina Faso and Liberia, they are owned by Timis Mining Corporation of Australia. Also, ArcelorMittal and China-Union Investment Company,  which is the largest steelmaker in the world, control the iron ore mining industry. Until the close of 2023, the French multinational corporation ORANO was the primary player in the uranium ore reserves market of Niger owning some 63.4% of the uranium mines in Airlit, Tamou, Tagora, Akouta, Teguidda, and Azelik. In a similar vein, the upstream oil and gas extractions have been largely taken over by transnational energy corporations from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Norway leaving the various crude oil endowed nations in West Africa with a stake of some 13%.

Agriculture and Food Security

West Africa faces various degrees of food insecurity issues. Seven out of the region’s sixteen countries have been severely hit by food deficit. These countries are Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mauritania, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Since the end of COVID-19, the issue of food insecurity has extended into coastal countries such as Liberia. In similar vein, challenges of famine in conflict areas of Burkina Faso and Mali had arisen to further aggravate food insecurity in West Africa. Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Liberia, and Niger are also known to be increasingly vulnerable to issues of climate change and environmental hazards. According to the latest “Cadre Harmonisé” (CH) analyses, some “16.5 million children under 5 were set to face acute malnutrition in 2023” with another “4.8 million children” projected to “suffer from the debilitating severe form (SAM)”.

Several factors have combined to contribute to the deteriorating food security in West Africa. The most important ones are food availability in the critical quantities required, access to food, affordability and conflict/population displacement. The contending issues affecting food availability range from soil management, misapplication of synthetic fertilizers, abandonment of traditional methods of soil protection and management. Technology barriers aside, too much or too little water concentrated over short periods further act as main constraint to food production in West Africa especially when there is a near absence of irrigated production. Despite the regional storage strategy developed by ECOWAS to address production, markets and price volatility, crop production continues to be seasonal in many ecological zones further constraining household food security.

Accessibility to food continues to be the bane of many communities in West Africa owing to impassable transportation and distribution networks and the absence of modal transfers and interchanges. These networks remain a challenge to downstream distribution and consumption of food throughout West Africa. The resultant effect is that the West African population with irregular access to safe and nutritious food has been projected to rise to 48 million in 2023. Remunerative pricing issues and income levels gravely influence the issue of food affordability throughout West Africa. All over, prices for food and agricultural products are highly unstable if not unpredictable, be it Benin or Senegal, Ghana or Niger.

Owing to non-complementary development of the supply chain, farm gate prices are low and are most often below cost. Finally, the persistence of armed conflicts and their attendant population displacements remain the key drivers of acute food insecurity in West Africa particularly, in the Liptako-Gourma Region and the Lake Chad Basin.

Infrastructure

The region’s economic infrastructure is fragile due to non-integration of national and transboundary links in the road, railway, air, and maritime sectors. Consequently, farmers and firms produce and trade in highly localized non-networked markets. There is also proliferation of trade barriers for custom goods along national corridors and at international borders which tend to disrupt region-wide supply chains and movement of peoples. Other challenges include non-tradability of national currencies and high reliance on family and informal sources of financing of investments. The low levels of integration of non-bank and financial institutions further frustrate internal mobilization of large domestic financial resources and financing for investment and trade including payments and settlements schemes. In most countries, this void is left to the traditional actors to take the lead in such schemes and markets.

Despite abundant endowment of renewable energy resources (water, wind, solar), large uranium and fossil fuel[1] deposits (crude oil & natural gas), West Africa continues to have one of the lowest rates of electricity penetration[2] and access due to inadequate or insufficient power generation, transmission and distribution.  Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire continue to account for more than 80% of electricity generation and consumption. This narrow energy security diversification base has led to some of the countries to rely heavily on ‘expensive diesel or heavy fuel’ to generate their needs. As a consequence, frequent power shortages are endemic. Although West Africa has clean energy sources, its regional energy market is still highly fragmented, undeveloped, with very little integration of national grids and other utilities’ systems.


[1] West Africa accounts for one-third of the reserves of Africa

[2] Penetration rates vary from less than 20% in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Niger, Burkina Faso (21%) to 45% in Nigeria, and 50% in Senegal and over 86% in Ghana.

Organisation of the Society

Fundamentally, the various States of West Africa are dependent peripheral neo-colonial states with governing political elites and their local comprador class being the hegemons representing and furthering the main interests of foreign capital. As class societies, the comprador bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie, and the precariat are the three major socioeconomic classes.

Though, workers in the formal and informal sectors of the West African economy make up the majority of the working class, its militant and radical industrial workers segment was decapitated in the 1980s. Consequently, the West African proletariat is small and undeveloped owing to unbridled privatization pursued as part of the neoliberal policies by West African governments in the 1980s. As a result, the proletariat as a class is weakened and no longer able to assert its agenda in the political arena. Nonetheless, its main organs, which include trade unions and political instruments (such as the socialist and communist parties), continue to be effective vehicles for waging the class struggle. Currently, the working class has low levels of social consciousness as a result of the undue influence of religion, western capitalist propaganda and lifestyle, and insufficient access to popular educational methods.

The precariat is a distinct social class because of its inherent precarity which is defined as a state of being uncertain or having the likelihood of worsening. As an emerging social class, the “Precariat” is characterized by precarious employment, housing insecurity, and a general lack of confidence in the future. Members of this social class are found and work in the unorganized sectors of the economy in West Africa. The majority of their members have higher professional and academic educational qualifications but despite this, they frequently encounter inconsistent job flow, sporadic unemployment, status frustration, and financial insecurity. They consist of independent contractors, consultants, business owners who work for themselves, craftspeople, traders, and other part-timers. Due to the lack of opportunities and flexible nature of the work performed by this social class, the level of social consciousness among its members is very low because they have a propensity to see jobs or the production process as peripheral to the very material existence of life and its reproduction. So, they tend to suffer from class loyalty and general indifference to social events; the precariat class, in general, is difficult to mobilize.

West Africa, like any other class society, is experiencing inter-class and intra-class tensions and conflicts. In countries such as Senegal, there is inflamed political and social tensions and heightened unrest. Several recent intercommunal violence has also been recorded in Nigeria mostly involving farmers and pastoralists.

Conflicts & Insecurity

Conflicts in West Africa are reflections of abuse of constitutionalism, corruption, impunity, and neocolonialism. They are also a conscious attempt by non-state armed actors to establish theocratic state in the Sahara-Sahel Region of West Africa. The genesis of the current conflict and insecurity in West Africa could be traced to the NATO intervention of Libya in 2011 and the subsequent civil war which led to dismemberment of that country. The aftermath of that conflict led to several enclaves or ‘no-go’ areas ruled by tribesmen/armed fighters and the inflow of small arms & light weapons into the Sahara-Sahel regions only to be followed by incursion of armed fighters.

It was therefore not surprising that by 2012, the Tuareg insurgency emerged in the region led by the National Movement for the Liberation of AZAWAD (MNLA). This insurgency was actually an alliance led by MNLA with the full participation of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Unity and JIHAD in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine which quickly occupied northern Mali and declared an independent state of AZAWAD. This alliance did not last long owing to the bellicosity of AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine to establish a caliphate and impose sharia laws. MNLA faced with no choice entered into a peace deal with the Government of Mali in 2015 alongside other Tuareg groups fighting for autonomy.

AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine, after the expulsion, moved its operations to central Mali after capturing Konna from where it spread to Burkina Faso. In 2017, these al-Qaeda affiliated groups merged to form JNIM (Jama’at Nasral-Islam wal Muslimin) and moved into Liptako-Gourma Region. Since then, the centres of extreme violence, humanitarian disaster and insecurity are concentrated in the Liptako-Gourma, Ménako, Boucle du Mouhoun and Lake Chad zones of West Africa. These regions have become hotbeds of complex social and economic crises owing to prevalence of communal tensions, growing competition over dwindling resources induced by lack of economic opportunities, demographic pressure and climatic variability.

Prevalence of Small Arms and Light Weapons

In the last three decades, thriving regional markets for assault rifles, machine guns, automatic rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades have emerged in Kidal, Gao, Mopti, and Timbuktu as a result of Mali serving as the primary destination for the region’s arms trafficking. Additionally, indigenous gunsmiths in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria have increased their illegal production of firearms, which added to the criminal availability and spread of small arms in the region.

Criminal networks and the presence of foreign terrorist organizations in the Sahel have aided in the development of these markets and regional armament production. These organizations take advantage of the porous borders and vast, non-contiguous political and economic spaces of West Africa to smuggle small arms and light weapons across national boundaries. Another contributory factor is the presence of robust light weapon and small arms industries in Mali and Nigeria spawning low-intensity wars in the Niger delta, the Casamance region of Senegal, and Biafra in southeast Nigeria.

Illicit trade in light weapons and small arms contributes to fuelling conflict in the sub-region 

Image source: Citinewsroom

Foreign Military Presence

West Africa, like the rest of Africa, is at the centre of geopolitical rivalry and competition between the major powers. There are several foreign military bases (FMB) in West Africa owned and controlled by the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and other West European nations. Their presence started as a consequence of the NATO’s intervention in Libya. It would be recalled that the end of the conflict led to the incursion of Islamic State fighters into the Sahara-Sahel Region which was later followed by establishment of terrorist cells throughout the region. To counteract them, France, in 2013, sent its expeditionary forces into Mali under Operation Serval.  The objective of that operation was to rout out the various cells before they took a presence. Operation Serval was not successful and became superseded by Operation Barkhane. The latter was superseded by the UN Peacekeeping Forces under MINUSMA.

The United States also followed up by setting up military bases in Niger. Currently, the US has 7,000 military personnel on rotational deployment in three potential African theatres of war. Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso constitute one of these theatres. The other two are in Central-Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, respectively. Out of the 34 Foreign Military Bases (FMBs) that US has in Africa, 5 are located within the territorial spaces of Niger, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria in West Africa. Foreign military bases (FMBs) are now hosted by eight out of the sixteen West African countries and they are located in Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Senegal, Benin and Liberia. These FMBs are mostly used for intelligence collection, covert commando raids, and drone attacks.

France, on her part, has FMBs in four countries at the end of 2023 in West Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. The French military formations, the FFCI (Les forces Françaises en Côte d’Ivoire) and the EFS (Les eléments Français au Senegal), are housed on bases in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, respectively where they are engaged in counterterrorism, intelligence gathering, and surveillance operations against Islamic extremist groups. In addition, France has land and air bases in Mauritania and Burkina Faso to support its army, conduct surveillance and terrorism operations.

The French Expeditionary Forces pulled out in October 2022 bringing Operation Barkhane to an end. With the pull-out of French Forces, a military and security vacuum were created in the theatre of operations.  To stymie insurgency in those areas, the Malian military junta turned to the Russian Wagner Group to assist its security forces to defend and protect the territorial integrity of Mali. French and UN Peacekeeping Forces (MINUSMA) were also withdrawn by the close of 2023 and plans are well afoot for the US to remove its military bases and AFRICOM forces from Niger in 2024. It is worthy of note that the eventual withdrawal of French and UN Peacekeeping Forces (MINUSMA) from West Africa was precipitated by the recent strength of the popular forces which mobilised the population to resist and confront the imperialist forces.

France & US Interference

French meddling in Francophone West Africa is a matter of state policy and its objective is to keep all of her colonial assets within its area of influence. Such meddling takes the form of France controlling and carrying out regional monetary policy, confiscation of national financial reserves, retaining the first right of preference over any raw mineral reserves found within the territorial States and ensuring all public procurement serves the French’ national interest and businesses in terms of precedence. Mali had cause to complain to the UN Security Council over such France’s meddling which was overtly done to undermine its unity. Even while France vehemently refuted the allegations, it is well known that her true goal is to undermine Mali’s sovereignty and uphold the status quo in the Sahel region.

It has become commonplace for US foreign policy to meddle in general elections across the region. The objective of this foreign policy is to meet the US’s expanding population’s energy needs and as a subsequence has led to the weaponization of foreign aid and technical assistance.

The Wagner Group

The Wagner Group is a Russian private military auxiliary force consisting of ex-servicemen with extensive combat experiences who offer their services for money. As a quasi-state armed group, it has several presences in Africa notably Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Sudan and it is oftentimes used by the Russian Government to executes its geopolitical objectives. The Wagner Group has some 1,000 mercenaries deployed in Central Mali where they are currently fighting insurgency groups. For the meantime, there are no Russian boots on the ground.

In Conclusion

Foreign ownership and control of West Africa’s productive forces remain pervasive. Capitalists and their imperial institutions in Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Canada continue to own and control the means of production. The region’s technology barrier remains largely crude, with very limited mechanical automation and a technological, scientific, and information-driven foundation. Unskilled or non-technical labour dominates the human resources churned out yearly especially with the educational system disconnected from the needs of business and industry. The result is a low level of development of the region’s production forces. Hence, West Africa is still a producer of primary commodities that are exchanged for manufactured goods with the rest of the world.

While the current nature of the region’s productive forces poses a significant challenge to further growth and development, the corresponding production relations continue to be a stumbling block, leaving West Africa’s society paradoxically paralyzed and heavily exploited. However, we are aware what the primary contradiction is at the moment. Of course, it is imperialism, as represented by the comprador bourgeoise and their allies. The main aspect of the contradiction we face as a region is the conflict between imperialists and the people and yet the class struggle within the region is hampered by a crisis of class identity supported by cultural nuances and traditional traditions. The time has come to intensify the class struggle and fight against the low levels of social consciousness.


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