Western fixation with terrorism at the expense of poverty and basic human rights is finally coming home to roost in Africa.
New or reinvigorated democracies supported by the U.S. and France are imploding. Military coups are rearranging the rubble. A decade or so ago this would have represented serious political backwardness. But now it’s quite different. I’m surprised to find myself saying so, but these military coups look a lot better than the regimes they’re toppling.
At the center of the quagmire is France. France embodies the best intents of western democracies. But with all the problems western democracies are having with themselves their motivations abroad now grow suspect, their actions futile.
Last week’s coup in Burkina Faso brought this troubling situation into world headlines because it mirrors almost exactly what’s recently happened in Mali, Chad, Guinea and the Sudan as well. Yes, it’s a trend.
It’s starting with the most stressed of African countries but it’s not going to stop there.
These mostly desert countries are among Africa’s poorest. Three of the five are landlocked with resources that will soon be antiquated (like oil) or super valuable (like rare earths) which are difficult to mine and take years of stable development.
France was the colonial power of these least successful nations. Unlike Britain France maintained a significant presence in these former dependents including long-standing militaries and hard control over regional currencies.
France became the go-to expert on terrorism. Obama relied heavily on them before setting up the massive military arm, AFRICOM. That, of course, if not the principle cause of today’s problems was its fuel. Western fear of terrorism blinded rational attempts to understand and eliminate it.
Terrorism is born of want. Not an easy problem to solve. Societies leaders want easy. Generals solve problems by identifying and blowing up targets. Even though this is enormously more expensive than wiping out poverty by dropping dollar bills out of airplanes, the measure of how many targets blown up is simple.
So the democratic leaders that emerged in the countries that facilitated western militarism against terrorism quickly grew corrupt. Democracy, like “want”, is messy and difficult to solve. All the West wanted was a body count.
Then as Africans grew more educated and savvy to how they were being tugged around, nascent freedom movements grew and grew. The April Spring while premature was a giant manifest of this. Corrupt leaders were deposed and for a short while the experiment of democracy bloomed like azaleas. It was very short. Without the huge nurture from mature democracies that was necessary to sustain these new cultural moments, they failed.
Guerilla terrorism cannot be defeated by traditional armies. How many times do we have to learn this lesson? I had thought that the Revolutionary War’s success over the sitting duck lines of British redcoats would be enough for clear-minded people to give up old ways of doing battle. But I’ve lived through Vietnam to Afghanistan and the Sherman Tank still rules.
Generational failures of wars really depress local folks. How on earth can we characterize Mali’s expulsion today of France’s ambassador as “ungrateful?” Terrorism has grown substantially in Africa in the last few years in spite of the French foreign legion’s new uniforms.
So right now the more educated and younger Africans find themselves like me believing there’s no alternative to the military. Burkina’s new soldier leader, for example, in his first announcement said he was reinstating the constitution and guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary. The regime he toppled didn’t do that.
Most media reports including good ones like the New York Times miss or minimize this crucial analysis. Most highlight the fact that these coups are being punished by African-wide institutions like the AU and ECOWAS, but then fail to point out that the majority of these institutions are made of patently corrupt regimes.
Mali just expelled its French ambassador for exaggerating reports of successful terrorist campaigns. Africans seem no longer capable of tolerating the feints of democracy.
The era of Trump and Johnson didn’t help: In one fell swoop democracy wiped out itself. Then came the pandemic. Then came the terrorists. Now comes the local military.
In an early December public discussion Chatham more or less predicted the series of coups culminating last week in Burkina. They believe the single-most important driver is the emerging terrorism.
CSIS provides the history and foundation for that belief, very similar to my summary narrative above that western democracies under both economic and political threats over emphasized militarism and when that failed simply abandoned Africa.
Well, so Africa’s now “abandoned.” Abandoned by what? By Trumpian regimes? Africa’s State Houses are bustling today with more uniforms than suits. Times are changing. In much of Africa the age of democracy may be coming to an end.