13.09.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Africa puts the French neo-colonialists in their place

Africa puts the French neo-colonialists in their place

The recent military coup in Gabon – the latest example of a domino effect in which neo-colonial regimes have collapsed one after another in Africa – has resulted in yet another headache for France. As media around the world have noted, in yet another serious blow to French interests, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo was deposed by a military junta shortly after he was declared the winner of the general election, despite the fact that the vote was widely condemned within the country as being fraudulent, fixed, and not representing the will of the people.

Readers will remember that in the past three years, military officers have overthrown the presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Chad, and, more recently Niger and now Gabon. These six African states all have one thing in common. They are all former colonies of France, which have seen a sharp increase in anti-French sentiment, and in which the former colonial power has been accused of using its military presence in the region, particularly in the Sahel, to destabilize the political situation.

It is now absolutely clear that the French military presence in Africa is slowly but steadily on the wane. During the whole time that these countries have had a French military presence in their territory, the local population have lived in poverty, enjoying no financial benefits from Paris’ use, or rather plundering, of their country’s rich natural resources. France’s strong ties to the former presidents of the West African nations (whom it placed in power to serve as its puppets) enabled it to loot the rich natural resources of these countries to serve its own interests alone.

Let us take a brief look a the timeline of recent coups in Francophone Africa. Mali has experienced two coups, one in August 2020 and another nine months later. In the first of these coups, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was forced out of power by the military, which blamed him for the deteriorating security situation in the country. Similar accusations were directed against France and its military contingent, the purpose of whose presence in Mali was unclear.

In September 2021 Guinea’s Special Forces Group, an elite army division, overthrew President Alpha Condé. Earlier, in April 2021 the military in Chad took control of the government after President Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield while visiting troops who were fighting militants. In January 2022 the military in Burkina Faso overthrew President Roch Kaboré, accusing both him and the French government of doing little to fight terrorism and plundering the country’s natural wealth for the sole benefit of Paris. In late July this year Niger’s military overthrew President Mohammed Bazoum, accusing him of forging closer ties with France at a time when the security situation in the country was deteriorating.

And now, in Gabon, military officers led by General Brice Nguema have seized power. The police placed the deposed President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba under house arrest, and Nguema was sworn in as head of state, ending the Bongo family’s 56-year (!) monopoly on power in the country. Following the coup, the streets of the capital Libreville were filled with crowds demonstrating in support of the military’s actions, which they saw serving the interests of the people as a whole, rather than a clique of corrupt politicians. About a third of Gabon’s population of 2.3 million live on the breadline

In a televised address, General Nguema said the military would act “swiftly but surely” to bring back civilian rule, but it would avoid elections that would make “the same mistakes” as in the past, by returning the same people and politicians to power. “Moving as quickly as possible doesn’t mean organizing elections in a rush where we’ll end up with the same mistakes,” he said.

Ali Ben Bongo was elected president in 2009, following the death of his father, who had ruled the country since 1967. The opposition in Gabon accuse the ruling dynasty of having made little attempt to share the country’s wealth from oil and mineral resources fairly. According to an investigation published in 2020 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists, the Bongo family owns expensive cars and real estate in France and the United States, in many cases paid for in cash – money which obviously comes out of the pockets of the Gabonese people. The generals leaders ordered the arrest of one of Bongo’s sons, Noureddine Bongo Valentine, along with several members of Bongo’s cabinet, on a variety of criminal charges ranging from embezzlement of state property to drug trafficking.

As reported by the state television channel Gabon 24, sacks of cash, wrapped in plastic, were confiscated from the homes of a number of civil servants. The television company showed footage of a raid on the house of former head of the cabinet. In the footage, the new military leader, standing next to Bongo Valentin, told the channel that the money was part of Bongo’s election fund. According to the new military leadership, this money, stolen from the people, was used to fund the rigged election campaign which was designed to return pro-French politicians.

The news from Gabon is presented by media, both in France and globally, as yet another headache for France, following a series of military coups in other countries in the region, in all of which Paris had military ties approved by former presidents. France has hundreds of troops stationed in Gabon on a permanent basis, many of them at a military base in the capital, Libreville. Paris also has a wide range of economic interests connected with Gabon’s mining and oil sectors.

Meanwhile, tensions are reaching a peak in Niger, with large-scale anti-French rallies as relations between the country’s new military government and its former colonial master deteriorate. A new body, the Patriotic Front for the Sovereignty of Niger, which was established following the coup, led public demands for the military to take a tough stance against France. In central Niamey, the M62 group is organizing protests calling for the withdrawal of the French contingent. “We do not want these people (i.e. the French troops) here, and we are ready to die to get them out,” said one demonstrator. France has about 1,500 troops in Niger, many stationed at an airbase near the capital.

Following the coup, civil organizations in Niger called for a mass march to the French base, with a sit-in until the troops leave the country. According to a letter seen by news organizations the new rulers have launched a political fight with Paris, stripping the French ambassador of diplomatic immunity and ordering the police to expel him.  The new authorities gave the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, 48 hours to leave Niger, where, acting entirely in France’s interests, he had previously ruled the roost and exercised political power in conjunction with the previous corrupt regime.

The letter, addressed to the French Foreign Ministry, states that the ambassador “no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as a member of the embassy’s diplomatic staff.” Unsurprisingly, Paris, which had exercised power in Niger and other African states for many decades, objected to the demand, and the Élysée Palace rejected it and insisted that the military rulers have no right to issue such an order. In other words, Emmanuel Macron and his hangers-on, who are unable to see beyond their noses, are trying to ignore the new realities and are seeking to hold on to power in this African country.

Relations with France have deteriorated sharply since the July coup, as Paris continues to support ousted President Mohammed Bazoum and refuses to recognize Niger’s new rulers. The French President had little option but to put a brave face on things and insist that he was in daily contact with his former ally Bazoum. “I speak to President Bazoum every day. We support him. We do not recognize the leaders of this coup. What ever measures we take will be agreed with President Bazoum,” said the French president. The question is, what can the unfortunate Macron, whose policy in Africa is falling apart at the seams, actually do?

Niger’s military government, which came to power on July 26, fairly accused Macron of adopting divisive rhetoric in his comments about Bazoum and of seeking to perpetuate France’s neocolonial relationship with its former colony. The new leaders further accuse France of fomenting instability in the country. They also accuse Paris of using its military presence in Niger, under the cover of fighting “militants”, in a bid to gain access to the country’s richest uranium and oil reserves.

On August 3 the new military government denounced all the military agreements that Bazoum had signed with France. French military spokesman Col. Pierre Gaudillière immediately warned that “the French Armed Forces are ready to respond to any increase in tensions which may harm French diplomatic and military facilities in Niger.” That raises the question of who it was that invited the French troops stationed in Niger to the country in the first place, and who set up the military facilities by agreement with the French puppet Bazoum.

Algeria, Niger’s influential northern neighbor, has held talks with West African leaders in a bid to avoid any military intervention in Niger, and has proposed a six-month transition period. In view of the threat of a military intervention in Niger, Mali and Burkina-Baso rushed to lend their support, assuring Niger that any military operation would be treated as a “declaration of war” on them as well. All three states recently spoke out angrily against France for its fomenting of instability in the region, a position that found support in other African countries. According to a statement made by a government spokesperson in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s government has approved a bill authorizing the dispatch of troops to Niger. The new leaders of Niger insist that they have no objections to the further democratic development of the country, but consider that a three-year transition period is necessary in order to restore constitutional order.

Bola Tinubu, the Nigerian President and current Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has recommended Nigeria’s new leaders to limit the transition period before democratic elections are held to just nine months. Significantly, this is the first time that an official from ECOWAS has publicly discussed a possible transition period with Niger’s new military leaders. Naturally, France and the United States have demanded that Bazoum be returned to power immediately.

The recent events in Africa clearly show that those living in France’s former colonies have no intention of accepting Paris’s neo-colonial interference in their countries. In today’s world the focus of international relations has changed, the idea of a multipolar world is gaining currency, and BRICS is a powerful force which is able to support nations in Africa and elsewhere in their struggle against the outmoded neo-colonial policies of the West. Politicians in the West need to be reminded that this is the 21st century, and not the 20th, and it is high time to relegate the anachronistic neo-colonial policies of the West to the dust heap of history. Unfortunately, our friends in the West have failed to notice that wind has changed and still want to exploit and profit from the wealth of other nations. But that is not going to happen!


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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