No respite for France as a ‘New Africa’ rises

No respite for France as a ‘New Africa’ rises
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Like dominos, African states are one by one falling outside the shackles of neocolonialism. Chad, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and now Gabon are saying ‘non’ to France’s longtime domination of African financial, political, economic, and security affairs.

by Pepe Escobar

By adding two new African member-states to its roster, last week’s summit in Johannesburg heralding the expanded BRICS 11 showed once again that Eurasian integration is inextricably linked to the integration of Afro-Eurasia.

Belarus is now proposing to hold a joint summit between BRICS 11, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).  President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s vision for the convergence of these multilateral organizations may, in due time, lead to the Mother of All Multipolarity Summits.

But Afro-Eurasia is a much more complicated proposition. Africa still lags far behind its Eurasian cousins on the road toward breaking the shackles of neocolonialism.   

The continent today faces horrendous odds in its fight against the deeply entrenched financial and political institutions of colonization, especially when it comes to smashing French monetary hegemony in the form of the Franc CFA – or the Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community). 

Still, one domino is falling after another – Chad, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and now Gabon. This process has already turned Burkina Faso’s President Captain Ibrahim Traoré, into a new hero of the multipolar world – as a dazed and confused collective west can’t even begin to comprehend the blowback represented by its 8 coups in West and Central Africa in less than 3 years. 

Bye bye Bongo 

Military officers decided to take power in Gabon after hyper pro-France President Ali Bongo won a dodgy election that “lacked credibility.” Institutions were dissolved. Borders with Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo were closed. All security deals with France were annulled. No one knows what will happen with the French military base.

All that was as popular as it comes: soldiers took to the streets of the capital Libreville in joyful singing, cheered on by onlookers.  

Bongo and his father, who preceded him, have ruled Gabon since 1967. He was educated at a French private school and graduated from the Sorbonne. Gabon is a small nation of 2.4 million with a small army of 5,000 personnel that could fit into Donald Trump’s penthouse. Over 30 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and in over 60 percent of regions have zero access to healthcare and drinking water. 

The military qualified Bongo’s 14-year rule as leading to a “deterioration in social cohesion” that was plunging the country “into chaos.”

On cue, French mining company Eramet suspended its operations after the coup. That’s a near monopoly. Gabon is all about lavish mineral wealth – in gold, diamonds, manganese, uranium, niobium, iron ore, not to mention oil, natural gas, and hydropower. In OPEC-member Gabon, virtually the whole economy revolves around mining.   

The case of Niger is even more complex. France exploits uranium and high-purity petrol as well as other types of mineral wealth. And the Americans are on site, operating three bases in Niger with up to 4,000 military personnel. The key strategic node in their ‘Empire of Bases’ is the drone facility in Agadez, known as Niger Air Base 201, the second-largest in Africa after Djibouti.  

French and American interests clash, though, when it comes to the saga over the Trans-Sahara gas pipeline. After Washington broke the umbilical steel cord between Russia and Europe by bombing the Nord Streams, the EU, and especially Germany, badly needed an alternative. 

Algerian gas supply can barely cover southern Europe. American gas is horribly expensive. The ideal solution for Europeans would be Nigerian gas crossing the Sahara and then the deep Mediterranean. 

Nigeria, with 5,7 trillion cubic meters, has even more gas than Algeria and possibly Venezuela. By comparison, Norway has 2 trillion cubic meters. But Nigeria’s problem is how to pump its gas to distant customers – so Niger becomes an essential transit country.  

When it comes to Niger’s role, energy is actually a much bigger game than the oft-touted uranium – which in fact is not that strategic either for France or the EU because Niger is only the 5th largest world supplier, way behind Kazakhstan and Canada. 
Still, the ultimate French nightmare is losing the juicy uranium deals plus a Mali remix: Russia, post-Prighozin, arriving in Niger in full force with a simultaneous expulsion of the French military. 

Adding Gabon only makes things dicier. Rising Russian influence could lead to boosting supply lines to rebels in Cameroon and Nigeria, and privileged access to the Central African Republic, where Russian presence is already strong.  

It’s no wonder that Francophile Paul Biya, in power for 41 years in Cameroon, has opted for a purge of his Armed Forces after the coup in Gabon. Cameroon may be the next domino to fall. 

The Americans, as it stands, are playing Sphynx. There’s no evidence so far that Niger’s military wants the Agadez base shut down. The Pentagon has invested a fortune in their bases to spy on a great deal of the Sahel and, most of all, Libya. 
About the only thing Paris and Washington agree on is that, under the cover of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), the hardest possible sanctions should be slapped on one of the world’s poorest nations (where only 21% of the population has access to electricity) – and they should be much worse than those imposed on the Ivory Coast in 2010.  

Then there’s the threat of war. Imagine the absurdity of ECOWAS invading a country that is already fighting two wars on terror on two separate fronts: Against Boko Haram in the southeast and against ISIS in the Tri-Border region.

ECOWAS, one of 8 African political and economic unions, is a proverbial mess. It packs 15 member nations – Francophone, Anglophone and one Lusophone – in Central and West Africa, and it is rife with internal division.

The French and the Americans first wanted ECOWAS to invade Niger as their “peacekeeping” puppet. But that didn’t work because of popular pressure against it. So, they switched to some form of diplomacy. Still, troops remain on stand-by, and a mysterious “D-Day” has been set for the invasion. 

The role of the African Union (AU) is even murkier. Initially, they stood against the coup and suspended Niger’s membership. Then they turned around and condemned the possible western-backed invasion. Neighbors have closed their borders with Niger.  

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