Niger: “Down France – vive Putin!”
Last week’s coup in Niger sent shockwaves across not only Africa's Sahel region, but the international community at large. Niger had been the last pro-Western holdout in a region known as Africa's “coup belt,” fueling concerns the military takeover could destabilize the region and hurt longstanding counterterrorism efforts there. Yet the sight of Nigeriens waving pro-Moscow protest signs and Russian flags has left many in the West feeling uneasy, ‘Time’ magazine notes.
Yet part of what the “new scramble” narrative misses is that Russia’s presence in Africa is hardly new. Ghana, Guinea, and Mali are cases in point, where the Soviet Union, led by Russia, is remembered as a potent anti-colonial force seeking to free Africans from European and American (and capitalist) oppression. Soviet involvement in Africa was widespread, featuring economic and military assistance for socialist-leaning governments and militias fighting liberation wars. Then and since, Russia has maintained a decades-long diplomatic presence in most African countries.
While Russia's overall trade with Africa is far outmatched by China, it maintains outsized influence in the continent. That includes not just arms but the crucial agricultural sector — the continent has severe food import dependence that places Russia in a unique position that China or others cannot easily fill.
Information campaigns have also boosted Russian influence, through anti-colonialist memes that have turned into action in the streets of Chad, Mali, and elsewhere. These efforts appear to have paid dividends for Russia at the U.N., where in repeated U.N. General Assembly votes several African nations have either voted against or abstained from condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Last year, protestors waved Russian flags following a coup in Burkina Faso. This year it is Niger. If U.S. and European leaders are keen to avoid another repeat of this pattern, they will need to change tack.
According to forecasts, a business-as-usual mindset will lead to an African continent that is far more closely aligned with Russia and its “no limits friendship” with China than to the West.
Unless a course correction is made, the U.S. and Europe are poised to fall further and further behind in terms of aid, trade, arms transfers, and diplomatic engagement — key sources of international influence, ‘Time’ concludes.
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