ECOWAS, Alliance of Sahelian States (AES) and the Global Order

ECOWAS, Alliance of Sahelian States (AES) and the Global Order

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 10:54 am

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

Last week the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forgave the revolutionary regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger their sins of removing democratically elected proxies of France from power. By this generosity borne out of desperation, the organization sought to cover its shame. It returned to eat its vomit in its latest scampering to protect its integrity as a truly pan-regional body. Since last August, attempts by self-serving heads of some West African states, mainly Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire, falsely operating under the aegis of the ECOWAS, have been interesting to watch. They claimed they were protecting democracy in the sub-region without undertaking any meaningful investigations into the nature of the challenges that events in the Sahel posed. They simply projected an instinctive aversion for change, or better still, exuded a determination to maintain a status quo, no matter how odious that is. Nigerians are familiar with that mode of thinking. More worrisome was the complete dearth of appreciation of the evolved complexities of the global order in which the revolutionary developments in the Sahel could be contextualized. This context should have constrained the rash policy choices made by ECOWAS concerning the difficult problem that had emerged in the Sahel. The lesson on circumspection and discernment was forcefully brought home to the regional gladiators for democracy at the African Union.

The challenges posed to the integrity of the economic community were only dramatically exacerbated by developments in the Sahel. The developments in the Sahel appear to be actualizing the potential to alter not only the strategic configuration of West Africa but also that of the continent, even while it has clear ramifications for the structure of the global system. To be sure, the emergence of the Alliance of Sahelian States (AES) did not instigate the challenge to the internal integrity of ECOWAS. Structurally, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was composed from the very beginning of unlike political entities founded on clashing worldviews and axiomatic principles. A group of states sought to integrate the sub region while, paradoxically, a few members were determined to keep the sub-region apart to protect dubious affiliations to colonial overlords. The permanent challenge has been transcending the structural incongruence through various ad hoc policy compromises that often unraveled at critical times.  In this, the ECOWAS in the past had benefitted from a relatively stable Nigeria with sturdy political leverage anchored in its fairly resilient economy. This critical factor is now conspicuously missing from a fragilized deconsolidated Nigerian state.

A more contemporary and profound expression of structural incongruence among ECOWAS member states is found in the permanent connivance of Cote d’Ivoire, now led by Alassane Ouattara, with Macron of France to sabotage the progressive thrust of the sub-regional organization. At the instance of France, the two undermined the floating of a common currency. Beyond this entrenched fifth columnist, the internal workings of ECOWAS is modelled after the atrocious governing paradigm of West African states. Staffed largely by cronies of various hues, first and second nephews and nieces of politicians across the sub-region, qualified by other personal affinities and often uncompetitive bureaucrats, advice professed by those in charge of the management of substantive challenges is directly influenced by their readings of the minds of the heads of state. Accordingly, rather than sophisticated interrogations of complex phenomena to arrive at rational decisions, what emerges are instinctive calculus of personal interests as responses to complicated phenomena. What therefore go for policy are steps merely to advance the perceived interests of the heads of state.  In the case of developments in the Sahel, ECOWAS bureaucrats unprofessionally pandered to the perceived personal interests of the heads of state. These heads of state were however mobilized to exploit the situation in the Sahel to reaffirm their loyalty to metropolitan puppeteers. It was this noxious conjuncture that premised the convergence of perspectives between the French stooge in Abidjan and the shameless loud mouthed American lackey in Accra. An embarrassing simplistic single narrative of democratic abridgement on the Sahel was born.  Developments in the Sahel was transformed into an element integral to the turmoil in the evolution of the global order. The global order is in a tumultuous state as the United States has sought to scuttle the drive towards the emergence of many poles of global power. Russia, China, Iran and many in the South have joined in the turpitude in reshaping the unipolar order.

The hegemony of the United States that was envisaged following the collapse of the Soviet Union was perceived as the end of history. That undue optimism about the end of the robust dynamic of strategic interactions among elite powers has proven to be a fluke. The United States and the successor state of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, were projected as the two states best situated in size, material resources, technological capacity, military prowess, and location to dominate in the post-Cold War era for another unfathomable millennia. Indeed the two states constitute critical centers of power around which revolve the confrontations in Europe for strategic domination. As it turned out, the United States, as the preeminent power in Western Europe, sought to ingest a finally humbled and defeated Russian Federation in the process of a desired final conquest of the totality of the European strategic space. The ultimate continued domination of Africa by Western Europe is seen as a critical element in the strategy to attain the undisputed global preeminence of the West with the United States as the hegemon. The rise of China as arguably a preeminent world power in conventional terms, as the dominant global manufacturing hub and workshop of the world, and evolving as the center of an alternative global trade system has meanwhile altered the calculus of global power, including the structure of global economy. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership at the geopolitical level and the BRICS, indisputably effectively undermining the dominance of the United States dollar as the sole currency for international transactions in the economic realm, has effectively created an opposing bloc against a United States-led Western alliance that is expressed in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its domination of the Bretton Woods institutions.

Thus despite the earlier decline of geopolitics in immediate post World War II following its association with the ambitions of Nazi Germany and of imperial Japan as well as the emergence of the development of nuclear power and inter-continental delivery systems with remarkable precision, the significance of geographical factors in the global strategic hierarchy of power appeared underplayed. However, in the post-Soviet era, all the factors have been integrated into coordinated multi-faceted strategic planning to achieve coherent global geostrategic plans. Geopolitics has therefore continued to influence international politics. It served as the basis for the United States’ Cold War strategy of containment, which was developed by George Kennan as a geopolitical strategy to limit the expansion of the Soviet Union. Analysts have expanded geopolitics to include the economic dimensions of politics interacting with military factors. Geopolitical risk focuses on the impact of political developments, including at the state and micro level, across the globe, which could impact the flow of goods and services in the international trade system and cause supply chain disruptions and cost increases for businesses. These postulations have been proven by the global impact of events in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in West Africa. The decision of the junta in Niger to hike the price of uranium dramatically changed the international market for the strategic mineral.

Meanwhile, Zbigniew Brzezinski has articulated the critical role of geopolitics in the post-Soviet era. In directing the foreign policy of the United States he professes that ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power. He suggests that the last decade of the twentieth century has witnessed a tectonic shift in world affairs. For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as the key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power. He observes that although Eurasia, retains its geopolitical importance. Asia has lately become a vital center of economic growth and rising political influence. Hence, the issue of how a globally engaged –xiii America copes with the complex Eurasian power relationships -and particularly whether it prevents the emergence of a dominant and antagonistic Eurasian power — remains central to America’s capacity to exercise global primacy. It follows that — in addition to cultivating the various novel dimensions of power (technology, communications, information, as well as trade and finance) — American foreign policy must remain concerned with the geopolitical dimension and must employ its influence in Eurasia in a manner that creates a stable continental equilibrium, with the United States as the political arbiter.

In this turbulent climate focused on integrated global geopolitics of a digitally compressed universe, the fate of Niger was immediately projected as an element of and integral to the confrontations and ultimate outcome of the undergoing epochal structural reordering of the global strategic template. The July 26, 2023 coup in Niger seemed to be one too many in a string of specifically anti-French, but generally anti-Western, military interventions in West Africa. The geopolitics of the Nigerien coup thus transcended what happened to Niger, but was rather linked to the global implications of earlier developments in Mali, Burkina Faso, and, contentiously, Guinea. Meanwhile, the August 2023 coup in Gabon in Central Africa seemed a farcical opportunistic charade within the Bongo family that, with the connivance of France, had ruled that country for half a century. The patriarchal Omar Bongo, a diminutive petty agent of France, had been rewarded for his services with the Presidency of the state.  He was implacably loyal to his benefactors who deployed him to do all the dirty work for France in Central Africa. From the father Omar to the son Ali, the Bongo family ruled Gabon for 55 years and maintained a special relationship with France. Gabon remained long a bastion of French influence. A regime transition in Libreville, Gabon, whether through democratic avenues or otherwise, to another strongman within the Bongo clan was not of relevance to the serious revolutionary impulses being expressed in West Africa.

If the anti-French coups in Mali and Burkina Faso were considered to be aberrant events, the Nigerien coup was articulated in a similar revolutionary mold. The Nigerien junta advanced the same rationale of radical departure from the neo-colonial dispensation instituted and overseen by France in the sub-region. Put together, developments in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger emerged as a major substantive historic trend with significant implications for the structure of power in the West African sub-region, Africa, and with significant salience for an evolving global order. These developments were also aligned with emerging repugnant sentiments across the continent directed at the consequences of the multi-level instrumentalized character of African democracy. This gross distortion of democracy was associated with status-quo regimes on the continent validated and overseen by their hypocritical directors in Western capitals. The strategic landscape in Africa was changing with the series of restorative interventions by the military. The geopolitics of these developments focus on the dynamics generated by the robust interactions of diverse interests across the system responding to constraints and opportunities presented by the closures and openings offered by the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The repudiation of the structure of the global political economy and the skewed conventions and protocols of the international market based on the deliberate gross undervaluation of African products, including mineral resources of clear critical strategic importance such as Uranium and Gold, was integral to the rejection of Western neo-colonial domination in West Africa. Muammar Gaddafi succeeded in rejecting this undervaluation of African mineral resources and products by unilaterally hiking the price of oil and through that act changing the lives of many oil-producing states in the South. Political economy has been very central to the superordinate and subordinate hierarchy of the global system. The timing of the radical developments in francophone West Africa and challenges posed to the United States dollar dominance of global trade through the instrumentality of the BRICS seem to suggest the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger as dimensions of the restructuring of the global strategic order. These could also be better appreciated by reason of the fact that beginning from the Atlantic coast of West Africa, through the semi-arid Sahelian region, across the Sahara to the Red Sea along the borders of North Africa is concentrated the largest and most diverse strategic natural resources in the world. The future political economy of the globe thus rests significantly on control of or preponderant influence in the vast territory of Africa. The geopolitics of the coup in Niger essentially was also about reordering the basics and fundamentals of the contrived incapacitation of Africa to negotiate fair, just, and reasonable terms for its goods and services in its economic interactions with the Western-dominated international trade system. Accordingly, at the level of economic relations, other potential trading partners of Africa outside the Western mainstream in the international system were particularly enthused by developments in West Africa. What turned out to be a futile last stand resistance of France against anti-establishment coups in West Africa thus made sense from the perspectives of its loss of invaluable source of critical mineral resource and a platform for hegemonic projection of force in the Sahel. For a start, one of the earliest concrete decisions of the junta in Niger to break free from the exploitative gross undervaluation of its resources was to raise the price of uranium from Euro 0.80 paid to it by France to Euro 200 per kilogram. The move was a seismic shift in the global market. Shortly after the announcement of the decision of the junta in Niger, Europe claimed to be altering its priority in Africa from resource exploitation to sustainability.

Chinedu Okafor puts the announcement of the European Union in a context: He records that The European Union announced on the second day of the African Climate Summit in Nairobi that it was supporting Africa with assistance to create jobs through a special investment plan on adapting to climate change, adding another feather to a region that has long been accused of exploitation of Africa. The President of the European Union (EU), Ursula Von Der Leyen, also said that the £150 billion ($156 billion) Global Gateway Investment Plan for Africa was revolutionizing how the European Union (EU) interacted with Africa.

Furthermore, Chinedu Okafor highlights that oil, gas, and other natural resources have been extracted from Africa for decades by EU members to fuel their businesses. Now that the bloc itself wants to stop using what they have tagged as dirty energy, and in turn, has been pressuring Africa to do the same. The fact that some African nations desire to enjoy the recently found resources before transiting has made this shift in policy contentious.

The geopolitics of the coups in the sub-region thus had implications for the structure of influence among the consequential forces on the African continent. The diverse responses to the crisis from the immediate West African sub-region and outside of it within Africa however challenged extant protocols and practices in relation to the management of crisis and conflict in the continent. Also, at the global level, these coups in West Africa presented challenges to the dominant elite forces in Western Europe in developing a common understanding and approaches, in particular as the events were clearly linked to rising antipathies against the West in favor of rival Russia. In the context of the volatility of the flux in the global strategic order, the situation presented a clear threat to sub-regional stability as major elite forces and their allies in the vicinity of Niger staked claims to strategic interests in the crisis in Niger. Thus understanding the geopolitics of the coups impels a basic understanding that Africa is one continent that has historically fallen prey to predatory elite powers. Africa has in the past been the object of ferocious contentions and unilateral deals among the dominant forces in the global system. The contemporaneous political construction of Africa and the political economy imposed on it is the outcome of a scramble among European powers in the 19th century. The social and political state of Africa had always been associated with the outcomes of major defining historical conjunctures, whether in pacific settlements or in fierce impositions, as a prize to be won or lost by contending elite protagonists. Military interventions by radical forces in Africa to destroy the status quo, including to upstage the rule of proxies of external powers, could only be understood as part of a grand restorative project of the continent to be incrementally achieved through revolutions across the divided geo-political spaces across Africa.

In these settings, the reactionary opportunism of local proxies in connivance with the dominant external superordinate force has been the norm. As such, the character of the political constructions and the fixations to Africa’s often sociologically irrational political entities are traceable to the capacity of the superordinate controllers to manipulate the internal human agencies responsible for the maintenance of the contrived status quo. The institutions and structures of governance were thus permanently compromised. The role of the External order in the political construction and evolution of Africa as well as the political economy associated with that construction have been ruinous. The permanent schisms around the control of Africa’s geographical spaces and political entities provide an international context that inform the global dimension of the exploitation of such geographical entities. The exploitation is for the political and economic advantage of neo-colonial powers. In this connection, there has occurred a major shift of consciousness across the continent to different degrees in various states. These varying levels of endogenous transformations inform the degree of consciousness as an operative transformative capital for the people and formal states in seizing historic openings for the state in the strategic flux in the global structure. Rebalancing the extant character of global geopolitics and the associated political economy of colonial control is of critical salience to Africa. Indeed, the continent’s search to be extricated from the historic control of foreign powers is related to fundamentally altering its economic relationship with its global interlocutors and the partnerships that are forged for its development.

Accordingly, for Africa, the volatile global context of the coup in Niger and the pronouncement of the junta in Niamey denouncing that extant global structure in which Niger was merely tangential, like most post-colonial African states, to the preeminent interest of its neo-colonial hegemon. The pronouncements of the junta, and more particularly its exponential revision of the price of uranium from Euro 0.08 to Euro 200 per kg was consistent with a desired historic repudiation of the subordinate locus of the continent in all facets of international and global interactions. The price hike had immediate impact on the global market and signaled a future direction of the posture of the junta to other matters. The restorative Africanist alignment enunciated by the articulators of the coup as the guiding principles of action and policy therefore could be understood as another small, but important, step in the historic struggle of Africa for a restoration of the dignity and parity in global affairs of the long subordinated continent. That was the perspective of one group of state actors in Africa who were determined to protect the change in Niger irrespective of the manner of the process for the actualization of that mission. These African states with revolutionary instincts are opposed by conservative forces whose leaderships whose domestic profiles are often basically delinked from the emerged values and sensibilities of the African people in general. Such leaders are characterized by their alignment with the broader interests of dominant neo-colonial forces across the continent. Accordingly, engaging with the coup in Niger among African states elicited robust partisan and confrontational reactions along and between the lines of revolutionary impulses and conservative status quo deconsolidated states.

Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance

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