Many transformations have occurred in dozens of African countries, especially in West Africa, since six decades ago at the dawn of independence until now, but the continent and its elites have continued to revolve in the same vicious circle, especially in the last three decades. Although the first generation achieved independence and accomplished achievements of varying importance, it was not until the first two decades after independence had passed that many problems began to appear in these countries, covering the state of conflict between East and West and the resulting Cold War and intense ideological competition over the continent’s problems. Over time, with the waning of the Cold War, African crises appeared in the form of ethnic conflicts and civil wars in more than one place.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a state of stability began and the conflicts of the 1990s were overcome. However, this fragile stability did not last, and the events of the Arab Spring, which overthrew the Libyan president, Muammar Gaddafi, constituted an opportunity for the various nationalities whose card Gaddafi was playing in the region. Thus, instability began to appear strongly in the region. Mali, Chad and Niger, and violent extremist groups infiltrated the entire region, achieving an unprecedented spread with the French intervention in 2013. After years of international and French intervention in the region, with repeated losses in the Malian army, and with the spread of corruption in the regime of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, an African awakening began in Mali that is required to put an end to the French presence. For the first time in decades, this transformation was led by the elites. The coup of Asmi Goita, which took it upon itself to put an end to the French presence in his country, was strongly supported by the Malian people and its civil and military elites. After the Malian coup, coups followed in West and Central Africa.
This paper addresses the causes of the coups and what some are expressing with the new alertness of the elites and peoples, to address the opportunities and challenges in the context of the great competition between the major countries in the world, and then to examine the outcomes of the current African movement and where it stands in terms of achieving independence in the context of polarization between the great powers.
First: African transformations and coups and their causes
The current African transformations are not the result of a number of direct causes, but rather the result of many accumulations and multiple causes that can be summarized as follows:
Loss of hope: Hope in the ruling political regimes and their elites continues to fade, especially with the rise of new leaders of young civilian and military men who want to play new roles in political life. This rise was aided by the spread of corruption among the ruling class, the inability of governments to solve existing problems, and the accumulation of many problems that prevented citizens from accessing the most basic necessary services. Over time, these systems fell into a state of paralysis, obsolescence, and inability to respond to the pile of existing and upcoming challenges.
Postponing and re-postponing: Continuous postponement of serious reforms has become a characteristic of the ruling regimes in Africa, those reforms that may enable an effective and real response to innovate and implement field solutions to existing problems, with young people – whether they are in positions of leadership or in the activities of civil society and political parties – losing hope in the existing regimes, and their constant complaining about their behavior and approach based on ignoring large, intractable problems, while at the same time the ruling elites engage in extreme wealth accumulation.
The stagnation of the political space: Over time, the Francophone African elites became calcified and their discourse eroded, which exposed them to millions of people who lost confidence in them, and with time realized their tricks and misery that had been inherited for decades. Naturally, this state of stagnation generates people’s complaints about authoritarian presidential regimes that monopolize power and wealth and fail to provide the minimum level of development and thus hope for the people in the future.
The division of the political scene: The African civil and military elites alike were divided, and this division was reinforced by the collapse of the international system and the escalation of major power competition over the young continent with a consumer market and great wealth settled in the ground, which was one of the factors of alertness and awareness of the inevitability of action to seize control of the future.
In addition to other factors that formed the most important levers and the most prominent motives and direct causes of the coups in West Africa. If we review the reality of African countries, this region of the world has been known to continually fluctuate between decades of stability and years of turmoil. As a result of the vitality of the elites that existed, especially the liberal-oriented parties, which ruled with French cooperation and support for a period of time. Then came international transformations that made France lack wise leaders with a shrewd strategic vision, which was one of the repercussions of the Arab Spring on the African Sahel region. Once Libya disintegrated, loopholes opened and large gaps in the stability of the region widened. With the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno, and the failure of the French intervention in Mali, the region entered into successive crises that opened the way for Russian intervention. With this intense international competition, we can notice how America turned a blind eye to the entry of many players into the African arena, and even left room for Russia to compete and even expel the French from a field that was until recently the strategic field of Paris, which made the countries of the continent fall into the hands of Wagner one by one. After another, until the repercussions reached the fortified castles in Niger and elsewhere, and who knows, perhaps the African dominoes with French loyalty will continue to fall, and these changes may even reach countries that were far from the reach of these changes.
Second: Transformations and the role of elites in investing in new independence
The ongoing transformations in West Africa have raised many questions about the role of the elites in these transformations and the possibility of investing them in achieving greater cultural and civilizational independence from the Francophone system inherited from French colonialism, which polluted the modern national state and its independence project by imposing a cultural and linguistic pattern that is distinct from African history and civilization. The realization of the national self did not allow African national languages to develop and take an acceptable place in the fabric of national culture. The major languages that were prevalent on the continent and in which their heritage was recorded for more than a thousand years were also fought, such as the Arabic language, for example, and the same applies to the languages of the Fulani, Songhai, and Banambra…etc.
Many activists in Africa are optimistic about the possibility of transforming the current coups on the continent – whose leaders preferred to rely on the Eastern bloc, represented by China and Russia – into real transformations that reformulate the country’s policies and establish a review of the cultural foundations that have been stable for decades in favor of subordination to France. However, this great dream stands in vain. It faces many obstacles. Colonial policies worked to consolidate the ethnic division among the components of the same people in these countries in an unprecedented way, which made trust almost non-existent between the factions and activists in these components.
These elites are still hostage to French culture and the foundations of their thinking, and therefore the current African anger is mixed with populist rhetoric with wishes, longings and ambitions, more than the components of its movement holding the tip of the thin thread leading towards getting rid of dependency and dependence on the former colonialist who mined the ground of national coexistence. He sowed the seeds of division and lasting disagreement.
Although the pressure of the protest voice was blaming France for all the negative consequences of Africa, many African scholars living with its transformations believe that African elites need self-criticism that establishes an accurate diagnosis of African problems, an essential part of which is subjective, and that Africans, as elites and parties, have a role in how things have reached. Also, the peoples and the living forces within them bear another aspect of what requires the African self to acknowledge failure and shortcomings according to the approach: “Say, ‘It is from yourselves.’”
Many leaders of the African elite from the margins suggest seizing this opportunity to bring about a profound change in terms of the cultural and intellectual structure, liberation from Francophone theses, and getting rid of everything related to the former colonialist.
Mali, the first African country to revolt against France, took important steps in this direction by getting rid of the French language. But the confusing step came when the government adopted the demarcation of ten local languages, and gave them the status of an official language. This would be satisfactory to many members of the ethnic groups that speak these languages, but it is an impractical measure. Because it is necessary for the Malian people to have one national language to unite upon, even if it is foreign, but it has qualifications that qualify it as being the language of science and true global communication. This is only possible for the English language alone, as replacing French and accelerating the pace of transition to it would constitute a practical solution and serve development in the long term. As for adopting ten official languages at the same time, it may constitute a step that will inevitably facilitate the return of French to dominance in the future, in the medium term.
Yes, there was a discussion among the elites about the choice of the Arabic language as a living and traditional language, but the enemies of Arabic are many in Mali and the Arabs are not currently at the level of global or even regional leadership until a country emerges that supports this transformation. Because the countries qualified for this are distracted by their crises and conflicts, local, regional and international.
Without a doubt, the French colonies have great opportunities to be liberated from the dominance of France and its culture. If we find living elites and leaders with principles to get rid of the path that led these countries to their current path of backwardness.
Third: Opportunities and challenges of independence in the context of international competitiveness
The most important question: What opportunities are the African coup plotters trying to seize by working to change their international alliances from West to East, and from France towards Russia and China? Are they anticipating opportunities through the temptation of development and advancement, or is it a game of international powers that France has been the only one in for decades, and the moment has come for its strings to be picked up by Russia and China, which entered the continent decades ago, and were waiting for their opportunity to enter the line of engineering power in these countries to further serve their interests? While the African soldiers did not realize that they were stuck in the French-European trap, and now other traps began to operate, their brilliance caught their eyes and they rushed to it without discerning the signs of the transition, nor studying its opportunities and challenges. What is clear is that there are new players who are tempted to rebel and completely abandon the former ally who insists on the continuation of his previous policies that have continued unchanged since independence.
If efforts are combined between the elites and the new military rulers in the countries of these transformations, they must formulate a matrix of projects to present and work to achieve with the new power willing to partner or review previous agreements with the old powers, in a way that ensures the fulfillment of a set of major national demands that are mainly related to important economic and development aspects. A strategy for countries in the region.
We can take an example of these major demands. Natural resources such as gas, uranium, or mining industries constitute in these countries a primary source of these raw materials, and the need exists for the agenda to be clear. It focuses on more democratization, improving governance conditions, and continuing production, but on the condition of actually starting to localize technology, reducing the continued depletion of raw materials and leaving only the waste to the inhabitants of the continent while the depleted people, Westerners and others, profit, and the depleted peoples and countries sink into crises of poverty and illiteracy. This unfair partnership formula is what led us to the same situation, and therefore the rules of the game must be changed towards a partnership formula: “We win and you win.”
The new regimes in Africa must pay attention now to setting the rules for major partnerships with international powers. African wealth is a precious commodity sought by all major powers. This requires African elites to pay attention to this moment as a moment of multi-dimensional transformations that requires absorbing past experiences and failures, and building paths and policies for the future. It takes lessons from the past, avoids its mistakes, and sets clear rules for international relations and development partnerships aiming for true economic independence achieved by accumulation over a short to medium period of time, away from the continued state of plundering of raw materials based on the rules of partnership that existed with French companies. Without a doubt, leading this transformation in the national policies of African countries requires great capabilities, especially in the investment sector, to formulate major national options in the field of managing the economy, development, and international partnership with a new mind and will.
The new African regimes have the opportunity to review the international relations policies of these countries. This review is to transform international competition into opportunities and diversity of options, instead of dealing with it as a burden that they carry on their backs, which are burdened with legacies and burdens inherited from the occupation.
Africa is now sufficient to market its raw materials; Because the big players know these wealth and their strategic value to industries, and Africa and its systems have dealt with it in good faith or ignorance of the nature of what it has, but now it has reached a level that enables it to identify the actual price in the global market for what it has, and it has learned how to evaluate production cost studies and estimate the situation regarding it, as it has learned the protocols governing the work of international companies. African regimes must invest this great awareness for the benefit of their countries. For example, France buys a kilogram of uranium for about $65, while its average price on the international market reaches $140 per kilogram. This is truly unfair to Niger, as a large percentage of its people, about 80%, do not have access to electricity, and the French companies working in this field have not established sanitary infrastructure to address the effects of the destruction of uranium exploitation remaining in Niger for thousands of years to come.
Fourth: Second Independence: Bets for a promising future
West African countries have witnessed waves of liberalization in previous times, but the most important of them is what is happening now and simultaneously, and many are preoccupied with the main issue of this transformation, which is the issue of “military coups.” But what is more important than that is the transformation of the elites and their quest for independence from France and its culture, and freedom from its economic and development bets and partnerships. However, for its success and formation, this transformation requires conscious action from the African elites, especially in major areas, perhaps the most prominent of which are:
Building the African option in democracy and good governance: No matter how preoccupied the African elites are now with the direct events of the coups and the positions of the international community, regionally and globally, regarding these events, rational people in Africa must not be prisoners of the moment and its pressure. They must also take lessons from their experience with French colonialism so that the same previous mistakes are not repeated, but in the twenty-first century, after sixty years of independence, and the main guarantee for this is attention to the necessity of building a true democratic choice through institutions and tools that enable the elimination of authoritarian regimes, and the establishment of accountable systems with great flexibility that enable modifying the deviation of internal public policies, in addition to carefully monitoring its performance, which allows ensuring the existence of a strong political system that is protected by popularity and based on national achievement, and the resulting real credibility that remains one of the basic guarantees of the new independence. However, if the military regimes tend to build long transitional stages, allow the continuation of the tools of the previous government bureaucracy, and adopt only the philosophy of new, non-democratic allies such as China and Russia, then Africa will once again suffer under the weight of miserable authoritarian regimes, and the exploitation of forces much less merciful than the previous colonialists. Then there will be no construction in any of the areas that serve a new real independence, even if it is relatively better than what happened previously. Here, there is no doubt that these countries will, with time, discover a new wrong path that may not have a popular cohesion movement to correct it, which means wasting more of the time of the African peoples and their elites in building a new era of democracy and good governance, which remains a necessary condition for any improvement in any of the other areas in the modern state.
Therefore, it is necessary to engage immediately in reforming public policies, such as health, education, and combating corruption, in a serious and effective way, and to carry out real national reconciliations to build an incubating environment for this transformation and protect it as a real reform transformation that reviews the state system that has been in place and corrects its chronic imbalance since independence, and searches for better models in governance and management to create a real transformation that ensures that the new transformations are the beginning of a real renaissance.
Building a real industrial and productive economy and localizing industrial and technological expertise: African governments in the past relied on an idea that was understood in its early time at the dawn of independence, which was to export raw materials to global markets without great scrutiny of their global price and without thinking about the repercussions of this work on the national environment, and the future of localization. Industry, possession and accumulation of capabilities, and later it became clear that the losses of these countries are large, and that successive regimes are negligent in many aspects related to the process of producing and marketing raw materials for many precious metals such as uranium, gold, zinc and iron. Opportunities are now more favorable than ever before to review this situation and build a strong economy. It is necessary to move towards building manufacturing capabilities, and for agreements with international companies to include conditions for achieving a qualitative leap in this aspect.
All this is done while diversifying the national economy and transforming it into a multi-tributary economy instead of relying on limited areas, and being dependent on the rentier economy linked to aid and loans from international donor institutions, developing the agricultural and mining sectors, and working to develop the services sector in these countries, especially since they are countries that have a population density capable of providing them with opportunities. Significant in this context.
Rebuilding the army and security on strong and cohesive foundations: African countries that have been ravaged by military coups need to understand the necessity of building a strong military institution capable of confronting the disintegration of the state and addressing the problems of the military institution’s structural structure, through new mechanisms that ensure the building of a strong institution that crosses nationalities and narrow ethnic affiliations in order to control the country and extract it from the status of a failed state that lacks control and control over its territory; To stop infiltrations by terrorist groups, smuggling and illegal immigration.
Building a trained, knowledgeable and qualified diplomacy to avoid the fallacies of the past: African countries need to raise the efficiency of their diplomatic apparatus, especially at the level of negotiating teams, and manage specialized negotiating files such as commercial and marketing aspects and benefit from this aspect. The title of African diplomatic priorities in the present and future must be the economy, promoting local development and addressing infrastructure imbalances in these countries, and an attempt to employ current alliances to serve this goal.
In summary, we can conclude that African elites are called upon to transform the current movement, which takes the title: “West African coups,” into a qualitative transformation that achieves the remaining elements of independence and establishes a major shift in the cause of these countries’ independence from the former colonizer.
About the author
Muhammad Al-Hafiz Al-Ghabid
Mauritanian journalist and researcher.
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