No one doubts that the decolonization of Africa was a botched process in which many borders were demarcated with drawing pens without taking into account the sociocultural peculiarities of the population that inhabits the continent. In addition, the former colonial powers maintained their influence and the extraction of raw materials through corrupt governments that responded to their interests and even with a military presence, often disguised as peace operations. The looting continued, but this time in the shade.
It was an explosive cocktail that, coupled with chronic underdevelopment, had little chance of prospering peacefully. Now, two new actors have burst onto the African geopolitical scene with force, China and Russia, whose growing weight introduces a new element of instability. Several outbreaks of violence clearly ratify this complex scenario: first that of Sudan, and these days that of Niger.
For this reason, today we focus on the dark continent.
The coup in Niger
Sudan’s factional warfare
The case of growing poverty in Madagascar
Until a week ago, Niger was one of the most important Western partners in the Sahel region and a bulwark in the fight against jihadism. The United States defined it as “a rare example of stability”, especially considering that neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso have suffered coups since the pandemic broke out. However, it was only a matter of time before Niger followed suit, and now, with the military overthrow of the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, there has been a 180 degree turn.
Curiously, one of the main justifications for the coup plotters, and for the large part of the citizenry that supports them, is precisely the lack of security in the Sahel, which has become a nest of terrorists and guerrillas. Many believe that the only way to deal with it is with a strong hand. And who better to lend that hand than Russia. For this reason, in the demonstrations after the coup, the red, white and blue banner of the former colonizer, France, has been burned and replaced by another with the same colors, but in a different order and horizontally.
Wagner’s Russian mercenaries have been the first to celebrate the rise of General Abdourahmane Tchiani, which is very revealing as to who may be behind this move. And it may be pure coincidence, but the coup occurred coinciding with the Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg, where Vladimir Putin achieved timid support from the African community. Moscow, however, has called for “the restoration of the rule of law.” A good listener, few words are enough.
Located in the heart of the Sahel, Niger is the seventh largest producer of uranium in the world, from which France sources its fuel for its nuclear power plants, and is home to military bases controlled by both Paris and Washington. The coup leaders have already warned that they expect a military intervention from the former settlers, something that the French have ruled out. In any case, it is bad news for the population, one of the poorest in the world, and good news for the mafias, who will have more clients trying to cross part of Africa and the sea to Europe.
Two countries east of Niger, Sudan is in an even worse situation. There, fighting broke out on April 15 and continues to rage. Not surprisingly, the airspace closure was extended last Sunday until the 15th of this month, and everything indicates that it will not be the last extension of this measure. Because the confrontation between the Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by two generals who were allies, Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have become entrenched in the surroundings of Khartoum, a city in permanent flames.
These two soldiers ended together in 2021 with the democracy experiment that started in 2019. They staged a coup and took control of the country. But they did not trust each other, and the attempt to dissolve the RSF – a paramilitary force – for its integration into the Army and put the country back on the path towards democracy caused everything to blow up in a bloody fight by the power.
There can only be one left seems to be the watchword. The problem is that, in their particular fight, they drag a country that cannot raise its head despite its natural wealth and leave a long trail of dead along the way. Most analysts predict that unless one of the two manages to declare victory quickly, Sudan could be plunged into civil war. One more. And, logically, that will also increase the pressure on the already saturated migration channels to Europe.
Although it always seems that the world is getting worse, the truth is that the number of people suffering from hunger, with some ups and downs, has been gradually decreasing. And that most countries have been able to reduce variables as important as infant mortality while extending life expectancy. Even India has managed to lower the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty from almost 70% in the late 1970s to less than 20% today. But there are exceptions, and one of them is Madagascar.
On this southeastern African island, the trend has been the opposite: it has gone from having half the population living in poverty five decades ago to 80% today, a percentage that is consistent with that of those who work in agriculture. A third of the population is illiterate, almost 50% of children under 5 years of age are malnourished, 46% of its inhabitants do not have access to drinking water, and only 15% have sanitation. These are the ideal conditions for, added to climate change, the perfect storm to occur and the country to explode.
The World Bank wondered what Madagascar should do to break this vicious circle of poverty, and came to a conclusion as obvious as utopian: chain several years of strong economic growth. Without the wickers that allow a transition to industry or sustain an increase in productivity, and with corruption as the flag of the political class, there is nothing to do. If a small and relatively isolated territory is added to that, the difficulty becomes an impossibility.
The World Bank concluded its analysis with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It is impossible until it is done.” Of course, Madagascar is not South Africa, but the epitome of everything that does not work in Africa, with the exception of war. It is at this juncture where desperation emerges victorious, driving tens of thousands of people to risk their lives in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic in order to flee from a situation that is completely beyond the control of ordinary citizens.
Is all for today. I hope I have explained well some of what is happening out there. If you are signed up, you will receive this newsletter every Wednesday in your email. And, if you like it, it will be very helpful if you share it and recommend it to your friends..