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Shifting Power and Realities: Africa Beyond Niger Coup

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by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Conveying the essence of slavery to those ensnared within its clutches, with the intent of liberating them from its bonds, is a formidable challenge. Many among the enslaved did not perceive it as an avenue to freedom, and the tragedies endured by those who fought for their fellow slaves’ emancipation are profoundly poignant. Within the discourse of authentic social revolutionaries who waged war against the chains of slavery, from luminaries like Frederick Douglass to the indomitable Harriet Tubman, it’s all too easy to overlook one vital aspect—the anguish suffered by the slaves themselves, a pain compounded by their own brethren.

Furthermore, when we denounce the specters of colonialism and neo-colonialism, our gaze often turns to Africa, a repository of many examples. From iconic figures such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, Frantz Fanon, to the resonant voice of PLO, Lumumba advocating for the freedom and sovereignty of the African continent in modern times, their rhetorical and substantive contributions to society stand commendable.

Yet, it’s lamentable that many of these narratives place undue emphasis on external forces as architects of societal decay, relegating discussions about local dissension, hypocrisy, betrayal, and vulnerability to the shadows. The scarcity of self-critique dims our understanding of the internal fissures that plagued these societies. Often, the individuals we venerate as heroes earned their laurels in front of foreign societies by capitalizing on the underlying societal woes of their own origins. Their approach inadvertently nourished the very societal ills they ought to have resolved, allowing these deep-rooted problems to manifest in multifaceted ways. This raises valid concerns about whether true societal transformation transpired through their advocacy. This introspective perspective extends from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela, prompting a reassessment of their historical heroism.

From my personal vantage point, George Washington’s decision to choose democracy over monarchy, resisting Colonel Lewis Nicolas’ entreaty for a royal crown after his victorious war, showcases an exemplary path. These actions underpin the foundational tenets that Western thought has bequeathed to us. Although the regrettable erosion of these honorable truths caused by the maneuvers of corrupt regimes and politicians within Western nations is evident, the essence of Western political thought retains its value. This is the case, even as power-hungry agendas and a decline in intellectual rigor have compromised the moral principles of human civilization.

This isn’t merely corruption in the conventional sense; rather, it’s an ideological corruption that afflicts nations like the United States in contemporary times. In contrast, during the culmination of revolutionary movements across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, several political leaders who were hailed as champions neglected to share the wisdom of learning from their opponents with the downtrodden in society. This oversight deprived common citizens of the opportunity to constructively evolve and contribute to societal betterment. This, in turn, obscured the deception and corruption woven into the tapestry of these so-called liberators’ actions. Their manipulation of a fragile societal fabric, coupled with manipulation fueled by hatred against external foes, served to legitimize their actions. Tragically, these so-called liberators maintained covert liaisons with their supposed enemies via clandestine channels.

This pervasive double standard consistently failed to yield genuine social reform, leaving these societies bereft, vulnerable, and marred by fraud, corruption, and criminality. Among those who ascended to power, be it through democratic means, revolutions, or coups, few exhibited a genuine resolve to address these underlying societal afflictions. Within this context, it becomes imperative to scrutinize the ongoing social upheavals in several pivotal African countries.

Africa, a continent endowed with abundant natural resources, paradoxically languished in poverty – a stark testament to the complex realities of humanity. Nature bestowed its treasures, yet external actors, often masquerading as local saviors, siphoned away their prosperity in the name of emancipation. In the poignant words of the late revered clergyman, Desmond Tutu, ‘they came and asked us to close our eyes, placing holy books on our heads. When we finally opened our eyes, we own holy books, and they own our land.’

A succinct exploration of the ‘military coup’ in Niger, situated within the Sahel region and endowed with substantial natural wealth, particularly uranium, assumes significance as a player in Africa’s evolving political landscape. The bloodless overthrow of the President was met with public approval. A rally attended by over 30,000 individuals underscored the military leaders’ reception. Notably, Niger has experienced its fair share of military coups throughout its political history. The trajectory includes leaders who assumed power through elections and military figures who seized control. Neighboring Nigeria, Libya (during Muammar al-Qaddafi’s administration) and France have exerted significant influence over Niger’s political dynamics. Additionally, French companies hold substantial stakes.

Following the military coup, a swift arrangement was made for Victoria Nuland’s visit. She sought an audience with the former president, who is currently under house arrest in the presidential palace in Niamey. However, the new leadership declined her request. Reports indicate her $200 million offer to coup leaders, many trained by the US, was vehemently rejected. She also used the threat of discontinuing aid to coerce the reinstatement of former President Mohamed Bazoum into power, a plea that went unheard.

The country presently hosts around 1,500 American troops, operating from Niger Air Base 201, which stands as the second-largest US base in Africa. Niger has called upon France to withdraw its contingent of 1,100 soldiers. This request stands in contrast to the situation in Mali and the coup leaders have already accused France of violating their airspace. The situation may escalate further before it eventually subsides. However, from the discussions surrounding Nuland’s visit, a discernible truth emerges—an escalating global surge in radical ideology against both Victoria Nuland and the US administration.

However, weary from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Western nations cannot afford a new war in Niger. Niger’s formerly affable relationship, which deteriorated following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, has undergone a transformation during the Putin administration. Russia has increased its military and political influence in these regions, exemplified by the African conference held on July 27-28, alongside Niger’s power transition. Despite attempts to downplay the event by the West, representatives from 49 African countries attended the St. Petersburg conference, including 17 heads of state who visited Russia to discuss politics, humanitarian concerns, and economics. China’s and Russia’s achievements in African nations underline that even the US would face an unprecedented crisis if war breaks out. Regrettably, the United States not only erodes its credibility but also struggles to comprehend prevailing realities. This perspective appears to seek redemption through the augmentation of its military capacities, inevitably paving the way for unforeseen crises in the times ahead.

We stand at a transformative moment in history, akin to the approaching winter that is set to reshape the conflict in Ukraine and the political dynamics in Europe. Africa’s effort to disentangle from colonial overseers marks a new era. Power shifts resonate with nations seeking alternatives. However, power politics has not eradicated poverty and social disparities in Africa. The resurgence of military coups in West Africa reflects an underlying ailment demanding genuine scrutiny. Yet, the pivotal task is addressing political and socio-economic injustices, tied to the recurring pattern.

What truly matters is the fate of those farmers toiling to feed their children, the laborers trapped in uranium mines reaping meager rewards, the children bereft of proper education due to the absence of adequate schools, and so forth. Is their plight destined to change? Notably, the complex resistance against liberation often arose from the very slaves who sought freedom, rather than the slave owners. This poignant dilemma echoes the tragic reality faced by numerous African nations.

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