The recent protests in Senegal demonstrate the type of local crises taking place that foreign-backed governments in Africa seek to quell. They are examples of how external meddling, particularly from former colonizers harms the population at-large.
Senegal is over 95 percent Muslim. The World Bank tells us it is one of the most stable countries in Africa, citing three peaceful transfers of power since 1960.
But how is it that a country with such political stability has more than one-third of its people living below the poverty line and 75 percent of its families suffering from “chronic poverty”? It seems the ‘successful’ post-colonial transition and the continued partnership with France is not really providing the population with all the benefits that ‘democracy’ was supposed to give. One need only to look at what happened this past month for evidence of that. At least eight were killed in these protests.
A quick scroll through Macron’s Twitter page shows no statements regarding the Senegalese protests. Be reassured though, he has asked the Burmese military to stand down.
(“France calls for the immediate end to repression in Burma, the liberation of detained persons, and the respect of the democratic choice of the Burmese people, as expressed in the last elections. We are on your side.”)
Let’s not have disrespect for the people’s choice to support the genocide-committing Aung San Suu Kyi. I guess in democracies, the importance of the voice and will of the people is relative, particularly in the eyes of France.
France announced in February that they would not be withdrawing troops from Mali anytime soon, with Macron adding
“At the moment, we don’t intend to engage in other missions beyond that but rather focus on what we are doing already.”
By what they’re “doing already,” does he mean this? ‘Authu billah.
With good reason, we tend to focus on France’s involvement in Africa. This is in large part because France colonized a great deal of it and actively works to maintain their presence and influence there.
It’s important to realize, though, that the US military is also very much present in Africa, particularly in Muslim-majority countries. This is purposefully kept quiet, as explained here:
“Although US commandos operate on the African continent with the agreement of host governments, ordinary Africans are rarely told about the full extent of US activities — nor offered a say in how and why Americans operate in their countries. Even basic information, like the sweep and scope of deployments by elite US troops and clandestine combat by American commandos on the continent, is mostly unreported across Africa.”
In 2019 the US had a military presence in some capacity in the following countries: Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania and Tunisia. Almost three-quarters of those countries are Muslim-majority. That is reason enough for concern for us.
Considering the level of corruption of many of the African governments in which either the US forces are operating and/or France has a heavy presence (military or political), it is not really possible to trust heads of states’ judgement as to which forces should operate in their countries. Along with crimes being committed by foreign governments, who are working with local authorities, local authorities also can have blood on their hands. This happened in Burkina Faso, where local security forces received counter terrorism training from US special operations:
“In July , a Human Rights Watch report implicated Burkinabe soldiers in mass killings in the northern town of Djibo — and this is not the first time they have been accused of serious human rights violations.”
Unfortunately, the deeper one digs, the clearer it is that countries like the US and France are much more part of the problem than the solution. Brown University’s The Costs of War Project gives some poignant evidence of that:
“In the early 2000s, U.S. strategists justified counterterrorism assistance in the relatively peaceful Sahel by warning that a radical group in Algeria with links to Al-Qaeda could spread throughout the region. Today, Burkina Faso is enveloped in an escalating conflict in which government forces, militant groups, and state-backed informal militias all terrorize civilians.
In 2020, there were at least 1,000 attacks, massacres, and other violent incidents linked to militant Islamist groups across the portion of the Sahel that spans Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – a sevenfold increase since 2017. Rather than addressing the root causes of this violence – including poverty, lack of development, and anger at government, corrupt elites and neocolonial activities by Western nations – Burkina Faso’s government has militarily targeted the Fulani, whose members it accuses of being or supporting terrorists. The Fulani are semi-nomadic herders who live across West and North Africa and who have, since long before the colonial era, practiced Islam and sent their children to Koranic schools.”
Do militant groups just sprout up out of nowhere, deciding they are going to wreak havoc on the population? Not typically.
Just to be clear, no one is saying that wreaking havoc on innocent civilians is OK. The point is—and the evidence demonstrates it—that it’s not only these groups that are doing that. The War on Terror has helped to create terror, not quash it.
In the case of the Sahel region, perhaps addressing the root causes of whatever violence or instability was present prior to the War on Terror is not in the US’s, or any western government’s, interests. After all, doing so would potentially lead to local governments that might be unwilling to pander to them and remain tied to their wars and economic interests.
In ignoring baseline problems such as poverty and corruption, African countries allow instability and violence to flourish. Instead of addressing those concerns, they buy into the value of the War on Terror, they continue to keep a colonial-era currency (or decide to rename it but keep it pegged to the Euro and French banks), they make deals that serve heads of state and the foreign governments who need their resource-rich lands. They keep their own pockets’ and the West’s full and the local people’s empty. It’s safe to suggest—that’s why people were killed in last month’s protests in Senegal.
- Turse, Nick, Mednick, Sam, & Sperber, Amanda. “Inside the Secret World of US Commandos in Africa.” August 11, 2020. https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/exclusive-inside-secret-world-us-commandos-africa#:~:text=Counter%2DTerrorism%20Training&text=Juniper%20Shield%20is%20the%20United,Nigeria%2C%20Senegal%2C%20and%20Tunisia. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Savell, Stephanie. “The Costs of United States’ Post-9/11 ‘Security Assistance’: How Counterterrorism Intensified Conflict in Burkina Faso and Around the World. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2021/Costs%20of%20Counterterrorism%20in%20Burkina%20Faso_Costs%20of%20War_Savell.pdf, p.3 ↑