On July 26 of 2023, a military coup unseated the president of the West African nation of Niger; details of this situation and its wider implications are the subject of a Freedomist monthly, subscription-only article, set to go to press as this article is being written. While coups d’état are not unusual in post-1960 Africa, what made this one unusual was that it was the sixth since 2020, and was only the latest in a string of some twelve coups in the region, beginning in 2008. Another unique feature in Niger is the open public praise of Russia, complete with homemade Russian flags.
And this is aside from the absolutely remarkable statements from both the US State Department and the Pentagon’s AFRICOM command that they have no idea and no way to track what happens to the Third World military officers (some of whom earn Master’s degrees in US and British military universities) that they train.
These coups are not complex events to understand – not that the various “think tanks” advising policy makers around the world seem to understand them. At all. In fact, the tone-deaf mewlings of people overly impressed by the letters after their own names begs inquiry as to whether or not they are using word-salad AI Chatbots to write their papers.
Additionally, the non-military sphere is heating up as well, as the BRICS Group has just extended invitations for membership to six states: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. This is no small thing…again, however, not that the US, British of Western European foreign policy, military and financial power structures seem to care.
And this is also separate from the catastrophically embarrassing failures of the same nation’s attempts at training Second- and Third World military forces to something approaching a Western military standard. From the nation of Georgia in 2008, to the collapse of the Iraqi Army in 2014, that of the Afghan National Army in 2021 and the abysmal performance of the “retrained” Ukrainian Army in 2022-23, Western – meaning, United States and NATO countries – military training programs have consistently failed (and failed miserably) to train up effective forces. Given that the current US Secretary of Defense, retired General Lloyd Austin, testified before Congress (YouTube link) on the spectacular $500 million failure to train more than a handful of “friendly” anti-regime forces in Syria, it would seem obvious that rather penetrating questions should have been asked, on numerous occasions.
But, I digress…Back to the original question: Why is it so hard to understand what is happening in world affairs?
There are only three realistic possibilities: incompetence, delusion and/or corruption.
Incompetence at this level, while alarming to the uninitiated, is depressingly common in areas of higher education. Classroom theories about lofty and obtuse notions of “democracy”, finance, resource management and social equity fail instantly and completely when confronted with the stark realities of the real world – as education widens in the population base, the “common folk” begin to learn just how badly they are being screwed…and eventually, they will stop taking it, rise up, and either stand on their own, or at least look for a new partner that isn’t insultingly paternalistic and slimy.
That, in a nutshell, is what just happened in Niger, as the population is fed up with France acting as the glowering, judgmental schoolmaster, desperately trying to hold on to a zombified economic dominion over its former “colonies.” Russia – while certainly no saint – has no real colonial history in Africa, and is remembered by many as a reasonably friendly power from the Cold War era.
Turning to the possibility of delusion, that is also an easy, if depressing, possibility to grasp. The sad fact is that Western institutions of education have spent at least forty-odd years hammering at the nail of “democracy”, as if it were a panacea to all of the world’s ills. This is done despite the bald facts that “democracy” is extremely fickle, and fails abjectly when forcibly introduced into a populace who has little, if any, history or inclination to properly use what is a notoriously clunky system, a system that encourages discrimination at virtually every level if not carefully carried out. Countries and peoples that have political systems imposed on them with little education or even training quickly spiral into internal unrest, if not civil war. This is the historical record, from Sri Lanka to Iraq, to Niger; where exceptions appear, those simply ‘prove the rule.’
Corruption, too, is a distinct possibility. The Western “establishment” deeply fears an Africa whose national peoples – even though their “nations” are, for the most part, wholly artificial constructs with boarders drawn by distant colonial powers with delusions of adequacy – might someday agree to set aside their differences, overthrow their corrupt “leaders”, and tell the West that their free lunch is over…and lest you, the Reader, dismiss this as an empty threat, you would be wise to remember that cheap African minerals are why you were able to afford the computer, tablet and/or smartphone you are reading this article on.
In contrast to the incoherent bleatings of people with more letters after their names than actual experience, critical thinking and/or “plain common sense,” the issue at hand is not that the United States, France and other Western powers are somehow deliberately scheming to topple governments with whom they are already friendly (because they stage-managed the elections that put those governments in power), using officers trained in their own advanced schools of military education, in order to install governments antithetical to those Western states’ views and desires while aligning themselves with said Western states’ semi- (if not full-on) hostile opponents (read that again, if you need to; I did)…it is far more a matter of “keeping the pot simmering,” to keep the local “partner nations” off-balanced, and in dire need of “friendly support”…the notion that local military officers, professionally trained by Western militaries, might go home, look at the rank corruption and incompetence of their “democratically elected” governments, and decide that “drastic measures” are required to save the country, is apparently unfathomable inside the air conditioned think tanks of Washington, DC, London, Paris and Brussels.
There is, however, another dimension to this situation: Grand Strategy.
The BRICS Group, led by Communist China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, has used the wave of coups across the African Sahel region – the so-called “Coup Belt” – to their distinct advantage. When zooming out to a wider Africa map, it is clear that the pattern of coups in the African Sahel region stretch in a near-unbroken line from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean…and every coup in those states in the last fifteen odd years has been done with at least tacit Russian or Chinese support. With the BRICS Group inviting in new members, this opens the possibility of a revival of a British idea from their imperial days in Africa: instead of a “Cairo to Cape Town Railway”, the wave of Russia-friendly governments produced by the wave of recent coups opens the possibility of a “Port Sudan to Dakar Railway”, cutting across the breadth of the continent, causing a vast and violent shift in global commerce, as it would allow a transshipment route for cargoes that would bypass the Suez Canal…All that is needed for such a project is money (see: Saudi Arabia joining BRICS, above), and a much-improved security situation, neutralizing both “islamist insurgents” and general banditry. This would also open the possibility of reviving the “Cairo to Cape Town” route, as well as additional north-south spur lines. Russia is well-versed in the impacts of a continent-spanning rail line, as their more-than-a-century-old Trans-Siberian Railway remains a vital economic artery for the Russian state.
Another dimension, is the neutralizing of ECOWAS, the “Economic Community of West African States”, an economic cooperation sphere which has been increasingly flexing its military muscles, intervening in several member states over the years, for a variety of reasons. In Niger, however ECOWAS’s immediate order to the coup’s ruling junta to immediately return the deposed Nigerien president to power, was met with a blunt refusal – a refusal that has now been formally backed up by the nations of Burkina Faso and Mali, both of whom are currently led by military junta’s who also succeeded in their own recent coups. And in the broader ECOWAS nations, there is very little support for the idea of a military intervention, especially in light of increasing attacks by AQIM and Boko Haram in recent months.
On top of this, the Organization of African Unity (the “OAU”) has also taken action that is not being well received on the “African Street”. These unpopular actions in recent weeks hold the possibility of seriously fragmenting both organizations.
Which, to return to the corruption angle, also brings up an ugly possibility, one verging into full-on “Conspiracy-Theory Land” (a place that is increasingly “Conspiracy-Fact Land”): that Western militaries are being deliberately hamstrung in fighting islamist insurgencies – not simply in Africa, but around the world.
This is in no way the fault of the Western troops at the “pointy end of the spear” – major policy theories and decisions are presented to troops detailed to execute them far less often than they are presented to the general public, regardless of country. But there is a clear pattern in the preceding thirty or so years: Western forces are sent into a state which – although theoretically rich in natural resources – is almost hopelessly backward, and kept that way by Western interests who want both cheap resources, no matter the cost, and “strategic positioning,” also no matter the cost.
Military force has its limits. The problem with Georges Clemenceau’s tired saw, that “war is too important to be left to the generals”, is that politicians – and the “political” generals advising them – are almost always in a far worse position to be making military decisions than their generals.
This is as true in Africa as it is in Ukraine. In the latter case, the hysterical incompetence and base greed of “corporate donation”-driven politicians has brought the world closer to open nuclear conflict than at any time since at least 1983. (YouTube link)
But in Africa, this hysterical incompetence actually presents a far greater danger to the West: African states with enough military competence to make it difficult to invade them all, who can form a solid negotiating bloc – especially one with support from Russia and Communist China – can up-end Western technology and transport infrastructures to the point of collapse, without firing a shot. Those directing affairs in Washington, London, Paris and Brussels believe that they can “manage” these coming “adjustments”; they cannot, but that is not stopping them from proceeding with their plans, plans driven by arrogance, hubris, and not a little racism.
The people running things in the West are playing a game by rules that they think that wrote, and which they assume cannot be changed unless they want to.
The Universe will only tolerate a certain amount of stupidity. When that limit is passed, the Universe has a habit of collapsing things, in any of a number of way – none of them good.
To quote the Athenian scholar and general, Thucydides, “The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”