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The Fight for Africa: The Next NATO vs. Russia Proxy War?
The military coup in Niger is the latest in a string of government overthrows in West Africa that the U.S. and EU are blaming on "Russian influence," as they continue to lose control in the resource-rich Sahel region. But with the West threatening sanctions, while Russia forgives $23 Billion in debt and pledges $90 Million to development projects in Africa... is it any wonder why residents in the streets are waving Russian flags?
The fight for Africa has been ongoing for many years, but it’s reaching a pivotal point as key nations break away from Western influence, so let’s talk about it…
The West African country of Niger has been in the headlines, after top military officials announced a government coup last week. They cited “poor economic and social governance,” and specifically said they were ready to fight back against any foreign interference in their country.
By foreign interference, they mean, from the West, or more specifically the United States and France.
Even though Niger gained independence from France in 1960, it has remained under the influence of its former colonial power ever since. And of course, the U.S. has gotten involved in the name of fighting terrorism and promoting democracy in the African nation.
They applied the same Western blueprint we’ve seen time and time again… which is: if you have the leaders we want, who act in our interest, and if you give us access to your natural resources and let our military have free reign in your country, then we will give you foreign aid.
As a result, Niger, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, was receiving around $2 Billion Dollars per year in foreign aid, according to the World Bank. But that is no longer the case, as France and the European Union responded to the coup in Niger by cutting off aid to the country. The U.S. threatened to do the same.
Speaking of natural resources… Niger is one of the world’s largest producers of uranium. Not only has France's state-controlled nuclear fuel producer invested heavily in the African nation, with France relying on Niger for 15% of its uranium imports—but in 2021, Niger was the EU's top uranium supplier, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia.
That presents a major problem, given the fact that the EU is trying to eliminate its dependence on Russia altogether.
Speaking of Russia… the West is especially NOT happy with the fact that when thousands of residents took the streets across Niger this weekend, in support of the military coup, some were seen holding Russian flags and chanting “Long Live Putin,” while denouncing France and Macron.
One protester in the central city of Zinder told the BBC, “I'm pro-Russian and I don't like France. Since childhood, I've been opposed to France. They've exploited all the riches of my country such as uranium, petrol and gold.”
Niger isn’t the first country in Africa that the West has accused of falling under Russian influence. In fact, it’s actually the last Western stronghold in the Sahel region, which the United Nations refers to as the “land of opportunities,” due to its potential for renewable energy. Located on some of the largest aquifers on the continent, access to the Sahel is vital to achieving what the UN calls its “2030 Agenda for sustainable development.”
That was, until the countries that sit along the vital region started to fight back. In fact, the latest government overthrow in Niger is actually the 9th coup we’ve seen in West and Central Africa in just the last three years. That includes Mali in 2020; Mali again, along Chad and Guinea in 2021; and Burkina Faso with two government overthrows in 2022 alone.
The common trend among the uprisings appears to be a fight back against the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS. While the organization brands itself as promoting trade with Western countries like the U.S. and the EU, in order to bring economic stability to West Africa, it has long been accused of corruption and double standards. It also attempts to cut countries off if they overthrow their Western-approved leaders, which is exactly what we’ve seeing happen now.
In the most recent case, ECOWAS announced it is suspending all commercial, financial and energy transactions with Niger. It also said the country’s military has one week to give up power, and even threatened the “use of force” if they don’t comply.
But the military leaders in Niger are not backing down, and they have the support of the military governments in Burkina Faso and Mali, who are warning that any use of force against Niger will be considered a “declaration of war” against their own nations and could “destabilize the entire region.” They also said they refuse to impose ECOWAS sanctions against Niger, calling the measures “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane.”
Meanwhile, countries like the U.S. and France have justified their presence in West Africa, by claiming they are there to fight terrorism. And it’s running rampant, especially in the Sahel region, where the DC-based think tank the Wilson Center reported in May that the Sahel accounts for 43% of global terrorism-related deaths.
But while the West warns of instability, the overwhelming message from the countries that have overthrown their ECOWAS-approved governments has been that the presence of American and French troops, and UN peacekeepers has only made the situation worse. And they’re nowhere closer to eliminating the extremists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
That’s why, in some cases, countries like the Central African Republic, have turned to the Wagner Group, in hopes that the Russian-funded private military company can provide a level of security that the West has not.
Because while the U.S. and the EU are threatening sanctions against the countries that don’t comply – telling them that if they don’t obey the commands of the West, then their people will be forced to suffer – Russia is taking the opposite approach.
In the last year, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has embarked on multiple trips to Africa where the message has been clear: Russia wants to work with the continent, as equal partners, on Africa’s terms.
At last week’s Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, Russian President Putin revealed that Moscow has forgiven $23 BILLION in debt historically owed by African nations, and plans to allocate another $90 MILLION for development projects on the continent.
So, the people of Africa have one side that is threatening them with sanctions and wants them to be enslaved to foreign aid. And then they have another side that preaches the importance of the prosperity of Africa, on Africa’s terms.
When you look at the messaging, it’s not hard to see why people in Africa would be taking to the streets, waving Russian flags. It’s also not hard to see why ECOWAS was so concerned when what has been branded by France as the “era of Coups” kicked off in 2020. They warned that the movements would be “contagious,” and they were right.
We are watching the West start to lose its grip on the continent it once exploited, with the threat of sanctions no longer carrying the weight they once did because a country like Russia, which knows those threats all too well, is offering a helping hand. It’s something the West won’t forget, especially as it sets the stage for another possible proxy war between NATO and Russia in the years to come—and that’s something everyone should be talking about.