By Bashir Aliyu Limanci
There is too much anger against France in the Sahel. France has refused to acknowledge the reality that no matter how tightly it controls its former colonies’ economies, so long as the people feel embittered and continue to see France as an occupier and plunderer, you will never win. But to appease the country you subjugated by playing a key role in improving their living standard, you can make the conquered people easily forgive you. America dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, but by helping rebuild the country, Japan remains one of the US’s biggest economic allies. So are Korea and Vietnam, but America does not have friends in Afghanistan because it is a different story.
France has continued to tightly control its former colonies. UK, Spain, and Russia all killed millions of people during the heydays of their empires. But there are successful countries that are rich such as Hong Kong, Argentina, Mexico, and closer home, South Africa, and Botswana. Can you think of one former French colony in Sub-Saharan Africa that is closer to these developed countries? Rwanda? Yes, but Kagame was only able to aggressively transform Rwanda after he managed to distance himself away from France. He made it clear that the age of hegemony is over.
Before the rise of insurgency in the Sahel, France had comfortably kept its former colonies in line not because they are as developed as Botswana, but because they make do with their lives and there was no immediate threat to their existence. But as the climate change and increasing pressures on human demography caused by the imploding population and stagnant economies, Islamic insurgency, and ethnic conflicts became the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Now it is time for France to pay back and save its colonial allies from humanitarian catastrophe. But France under Emmanuel Macron has attached conditions to its support to include democracy and institutional reforms which may take years but what the people need is urgent.
They need well-trained and equipped armies armed with sophisticated weapons to be able to fight the Islamist insurgents nourished with smuggled weapons from Libya mounted deadly campaigns and France is in no position to help, thus leaving its colonial allies in the lurch and the aid was not forthcoming. Despite leading the onslaught that pushed the Jihadists from northern Mali which borders Burkina Faso, the Islamist insurgency has since spread to Niger and Burkina Faso, which has led to impassioned outrage against France. The people felt betrayed by the country that colonized and ruled them for more than a century. This is the moment France understood this is a game-changer and it is no longer a business as usual.
Putin is a master of poker face. He is always on the lookout for loopholes to distract Russia’s enemies and create a manufactured rift from within. With the success of its operation in Crimea, Russia understands that mercenaries can be used to fight its regional rivals by exploiting the simmering rift between France and its former colonies. Wagner Group, as the Kremlin claims, is a business company that does not represent Russia and has a right to operate outside Russian soil so long as it does not break Russian laws, managed to save the president of Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra from being overrun by rebels. It has been leading fights against insurgents in Mali and the Malians warmly welcomed the Russians. Now there is another military coup in Burkina Faso and the crisis is still caused by public anger. Wagner Group is the first foreign body to establish contact the coup leaders, there is a story cited by The Daily Beast that the ousted president was overthrown after repeatedly refusing suggestions by the military advisers to invite Russian mercenaries after France started withdrawing from its forces in a protest against repeated military coups in the country.
As resurgent Russia readies to reassert its place as a superpower buoyed by its successful campaigns in Syria and Ukraine, it is hard to predict how the geopolitics plays out, at least we have learned that France is fast losing its grips in Africa.