Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

In Malay, Orangutans Means ‘People of the Forest’

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The dust has settled at the resorts in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, as delegates of countries and corporations leave the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The only advance made in the final agreement was for the creation of a ‘loss and damage fund’ for ‘vulnerable countries’. However, despite being hailed as a breakthrough, the deal is little more than the financing of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage agreed upon at the COP25 in 2019. It also remains to be seen whether this new financing will in fact be realised. Under previous agreements, such as the Green Climate Fund established at the COP15 in 2009, developed countries promised to provide developing countries $100 billion per year in financing by 2020, but have failed to meet their stated goals. At the conclusion of COP27, the United Nations expressed ‘serious concern’ that those past pledges have ‘not yet been met’. More importantly, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan notes that a ‘global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investment of at least $4–6 trillion a year’ – a commitment that is nowhere in sight. The International Energy Agency said that, in 2022, annual global clean energy investment will remain below $1.5 trillion. This is ‘record clean energy spending’, they announced, and yet, it is far below the amounts that are required for a necessary transition.

‘A fund for loss and damage is essential’, said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the conclusion of this year’s summit, ‘but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. … The voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be heard’.

One of those voices is that of the orangutan, the great ape of the Bornean and Sumatran forests that the Malays call the ‘people of the forest’ (in Malay, orang means ‘person’ and hutan means ‘forest’). According to the International Union for Conversation of Nature’s Red List, the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli orangutans have experienced sharp population declines and are now categorised as critically endangered – the phase preceding extinction in the wild. There are less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans in existence, with the overall population of orangutans falling by almost half in the last century. They are given no voice in our climate debates.

In 2019, the United Nations released a shocking report that showed the near extinction of one million of the world’s eight million animal and plant species, including the loss of 40% of amphibian species and a third of all marine mammals. As part of its findings on biodiversity and ecosystems, the authors wrote that ‘species that are large, grow slowly, are habitat specialists or are carnivores – such as great apes, tropical hardwood trees, sharks, and big cats – are disappearing from many areas’. The situation is bleak, they warned, ‘unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss’.

What is driving this biodiversity loss? The report includes a long list in which one word comes up over and over again: deforestation. In a landmark publicationThe State of the World’s Forests 2020, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that an astounding 420 million hectares of forest cover had been lost since 1990, although the rate of deforestation has declined from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to a mere 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020. Forests cover about a third of the global land area, over four billion hectares. Half of the forests are relatively intact, while others – notably the rainforests – are in danger of being destroyed.

Just weeks after his re-election, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will take office as the 39th president of Brazil in January 2023, returned to the global stage at COP27. He arrived along with a number of leaders from Brazil’s indigenous community, including federal deputy for the state of Roraima, Joênia Wapichana, and three newly elected members of Congress: Célia Xakriabá (federal deputy for the state of Minas Gerais), Sônia Guajajara (tipped to head a new Ministry of the Indigenous People), and Marina Silva (Lula’s former environment minister who is likely to resume the position). At the summit, Lula affirmed Brazil’s agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia to set up an ‘OPEC of the rainforests’, made last year at COP26 in Glasgow. More than half of the world’s rainforests are in these three countries, which are rich with resources that have been mined to profit multinational firms at great cost to the environment but have failed to advance the social development goals of their own citizens. ‘It is important for these three countries to strengthen their strategic alliance in order to increase their influence in climate change negotiations at the global level’, said Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan (Indonesia has sought to create several cartels, including one with Canada for an OPEC-like body of nickel producers).

The scale and speed at which the global rainforest is being pillaged is alarming. In 2021, the world lost 11.1 million hectares of rainforest cover, roughly the size of the island of Cuba. To put it in football terms with the World Cup underway, the world lost 10 football pitches of rainforest per minute. Brazil, under Jair Bolsonaro, witnessed the greatest devastation of any country last year, with 1.5 million hectares lost. These old forests, dense with vegetation and animals, are now gone. ‘We are going to wage a very strong fight against illegal deforestation’, Lula said at COP27.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia are not alone. The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, chaired by Ghana and the United States and made up of 53 countries, has made bold pledges to end deforestation. Ahead of COP27, Colombia’s minister of environment and sustainable development, Susana Muhamad, announced the creation of an Amazon Bloc made up of the nine countries that share the region’s rainforest (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and French-occupied Guiana). Norway, meanwhile, has said that after Lula takes office it will resume providing funds to Brazil for rainforest protection, which had been suspended during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

The Brazil-Democratic Republic of Congo-Indonesia approach is designed in the framework of mitigation, adaptation, and investment, not through the empty conversation of the COP. Indonesia’s deputy minister for environment and forestry management, Nani Hendriati, explained how the country would promote ecotourism in the mangrove forests through a ‘blue carbon’ approach to ensure that tourism does not tear up the mangroves, seeking to halt the longstanding and rampant deforestation in the country (for example, 40% of Indonesia’s vast mangrove system was destroyed between 1980 and 2005 alone). New initiatives in the country, for instance, promote crab farming in the mangroves rather than allowing their destruction. In this spirit, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo took world leaders to plant mangrove seeds in the Taman Hutan Raya Ngurah Rai Forest Park during the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which took place after COP27.

Such photo opportunities are important if they genuinely seek to shine a light on the problem of deforestation. However, no such light was shone on the multinational mining companies who have destroyed tropical rainforests around the world. A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America examined the impact of industrial mining on deforestation in tropical regions. Looking at a selection of 26 countries, the researchers found that industrial mining in Indonesia accounted for a staggering 58.2% of the total deforestation in these countries between 2000 to 2019. However, in a concerning move, Indonesia’s government passed a new mining law in 2020 that allows permits for mining to be extended with little or no environmental regulation. ‘When the mining concessions increase’, said Pius Ginting of the NGO Action for Ecology and Emancipation of the People (AEER), ‘it drives deforestation and results in a loss of biodiversity and fragments the habitat [of animals and people]’. Indonesia revoked about two thousand mining permits this year, but this revocation is mostly due to the regularisation of the permit system, not greater regulation for environmental protection. Pressure from people’s movements in Indonesia as well as from the catastrophic impact of the climate and environmental disasters have put the government on notice about its proximity to and intimacy with multinational mining companies.

Meanwhile, the question of the orangutan remains unanswered. An academic review of the $1 billion spent on orangutan conservation from 2000 to 2019 found that ‘habitat protection, patrolling, and public outreach had the greatest return on investment for maintaining orangutan populations’. However, these funds have not accomplished much. The key issue of ending deforestation – including halting the expansion of palm oil, pulpwood, and logging plantations in Borneo and Sumatra – is off the table. How much attention will be paid to these matters at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is to be held in Montreal (Canada) from 7–19 December? Will anyone listen to the voice of the orangutans?

In October, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, told a townhall of civil society organisations in Washington, DC that the IMF ‘is indeed supporting biodiversity. For instance, we have economists that are able to measure the monetary value of an elephant and the value of a whale’. Georgieva’s comments echo an observation made by Karl Marx in volume one of Capital (1867): ‘In England, women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation’.

What is the monetary value of an orangutan, let alone the survival of the planet? The ruling class might be able to calculate those values, but it is clear that they are unwilling to foot the bill to save the planet.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research newsletter

War on Water in Africa

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In early November, foreign ministers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’Apala, and Rwanda, Vicent Birutamet in Luanda, Angola, to find a political solution to a conflict that has been ongoing in eastern DRC for decades. The foreign ministers agreed that the “peace roadmapagreed to in a July meeting had to be implemented. Angola’s President João Lourenço shuttled between Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the DRC’s President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi in his role as the African Union’s “mediator in the crisis” between Rwanda and the DRC.

Meanwhile, the M23 rebels—backed by Rwanda—have expanded their attacks in the DRC. In retaliation, the DRC expelled Rwandan Ambassador Vincent Karega. The M23 with the assistance of Rwanda troops captured Kiwanja and Rutshuru, two towns in the DRC’s North Kivu province. Rwanda argues that it was the DRC that violated agreements leading to the fighters being reinstated.

In August, a leaked report from the United Nations showed that Rwanda had backed the M23. It was difficult for Rwanda to deny the details in the report, particularly after U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood, alternate representative for special political affairs, told the UN Security Council that his government calls “on state actors to stop their support for these groups, including the Rwandan Defense Forces’ assistance to M23.” The M23 is a recent entrant into the wars in the DRC’s eastern provinces, which have been ongoing since the early 1990s. A UN report from August 2010 details several hundred violent incidents that took place in the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003, with “deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people”; one estimate, based on studies conducted in 2000 and 2004, suggests that more than 3 million people have died in the conflict since 1998.

In June, the DRC allowed the East African Community to send troops into its eastern regions, as long as the Rwandan military was not involved in the intervention. Through this agreement, troops from Burundi and Kenya arrived in eastern Congo. This has caused alarm. Carina Tertsakian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative told the Associated Press, “It is no surprise that Burundi is the first country to offer troops. Burundi is a direct party to the conflict, so cannot be viewed as a neutral actor. It therefore seems unlikely that their deployment will end the insecurity in the area.”

Former DRC presidential candidate Martin Fayulu told Deutsche Welle recently that he is distressed by the lack of international attention to this conflict. “Ukraine is having a problem,” he said, and the widespread media coverage has brought the world’s attention to that. “[W]e are having a problem in Congo, but nobody is condemning Rwanda. Why?” Perhaps, it has to do with the cobalt, copper, lithium, and the trees of the rainforest, precious resources that continue to be exploited by the rest of the world despite the carnage that has afflicted Africa’s Great Lakes for the past 30 years.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Lula Must Save Brazil From Savage Capitalism

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Juliana Cardoso is sitting in her office in front of a lavender, orange, and yellow mandala that was made for her. She has been a member of São Paulo’s city council since 2008. On October 2, 2022, as a candidate for the Workers Party (PT), Cardoso won a seat in Brazil’s lower house, the Federal Chamber of Deputies.

She is wearing a t-shirt that bears the powerful slogan: O Brasil é terra indígena (Brazil is Indigenous land). The slogan echoes her brave campaign against the disregard shown by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s 38th president defeated on October 30, towards the Indigenous populations of his country. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Bolsonaro vetoed Law no. 14021 which would have provided drinking water and basic medical materials to Indigenous communities. Several organizations took Bolsonaro to the International Criminal Court for this action.

In April 2022, Cardoso wrote that the rights of the Indigenous “did not come from the kindness of those in power, but from the struggles of Indigenous people over the centuries. Though guaranteed in the [1988] Constitution, these rights are threatened daily.” Her political work has been defined by her commitment to her own Indigenous heritage but also by her deep antipathy to the “savage capitalism” that has cannibalized her country.

Savage Capitalism

Bolsonaro had accelerated a project that Cardoso told us was an “avalanche of savage capitalism. It is a capitalism that kills, that destroys, that makes a lot of money for a few people.” The current beneficiaries of this capitalism refuse to recognize that the days of their unlimited profits are nearly over. These people—most of whom supported Bolsonaro—“live in a bubble of their own, with lots of money, with swimming pools.” Lula’s election victory on October 30 will not immediately halt their “politics of death,” but it has certainly opened a new possibility.

New studies about poverty in Brazil reveal startling facts. An FGV Social study from July 2022 found that almost 63 million Brazilians—30% of the country’s population—live below the poverty line (10 million Brazilians slipped below that line to join those in poverty between 2019 and 2021). The World Bank documented the spatial and racial divides of Brazil’s poverty: three in ten of Brazil’s poor are Afro-Brazilian women in urban areas, while three-quarters of children in poverty live in rural areas. President Bolsonaro’s policies of upward redistribution of wealth during the pandemic and after contributed to the overall poverty in the country and exacerbated the deep social inequalities of race and region that already existed. This, Cardoso says, is evidence of the “savage capitalism” that has gripped her country and left tens of millions of Brazilians in a “hole, with no hope of living.”

To Sow Hope

“I was born and raised within the PT,” she tells us, in the Sapopemba area of São Paulo. Surrounded by the struggles against “savage capitalism,” Cardoso was raised by parents who were active in the PT. “As a girl, I walked amongst those who built the PT, such as José Dirceu, José Genoino, President Lula himself,” as well as her mother—Ana Cardoso, who was one of the founders of the PT. Her parents—Ana Cardoso and Jonas “Juruna” Cardoso—were active in the struggles of the metalworkers and for public housing in the Fazenda da Juta area of Sapopemba. A few days after he led a protest in 1985, Juruna was shot to death by mysterious gunmen. Juliana had been sitting in his lap outside their modest home in the COHAB Teotônio Vilela. Her mother was told not to insist on an investigation, since this would “bring more deaths.” This history of struggle defines Juliana.

“We are not bureaucrats,” she told us. “We are militants.” People like her who will be in the Congress will “use the instrument of the mandate to move an agenda” to better the conditions of everyday life. Pointing to the mandala in her office, Juliana says, “I think this lilac part is my shyness.” Her active life in politics, she says, “kind of changed me from being shy to being much firmer.” There is only one reason “why I am here,” she says, and that is “to sow, to have hope for seeds that will fight with me for the working class, for women, during this difficult class struggle.”

Politics in Brazil is Violent

Lula will be sworn into office on January 1, 2023. He will face a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate that are in the grip of the right-wing. This is not a new phenomenon, although the centrão (centre), the opportunistic bloc in the parliament that has run things, will now have to work alongside far-right members of Bolsonaro’s movement. Juliana and her left allies will be in a minority. The right, she says, enters politics with no desire to open a dialogue about the future of Brazil. Many right-wing politicians are harsh, formed by fake news and a suffocating attitude to money and religion. “Hate, weapons, death”—these are the words that seem to define the right-wing in Brazil. It is because of them that politics “is very violent.”

Juliana entered politics through struggles developed by the Base Ecclesiastical Communities (CEBs) of the Catholic Church, learning her ethics through Liberation Theology through the work of Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns and Paulo Freire. “You have to engage people in their struggles, dialogue with them about their struggles,” she told us. This attitude to building struggles and dialoguing with anyone defines Juliana as she prepares to go to Brasilia and take her seat in the right-wing dominated National Congress.

Lula, Juliana says, “is an ace.” Few politicians have his capacity to dialogue with and convince others about the correctness of his positions. The left is weak in the National Congress, but it has the advantage of Lula. “President Lula will need to be the big star,” said Juliana. He will have to lead the charge to save Brazil from savage capitalism.

Japan’s Discomfort in the New Cold War

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In early December 2021, Japan’s Self-Defense Force joined the U.S. armed forces for Resolute Dragon 2021, which the U.S. Marines called the “largest bilateral training exercise of the year.” Major General Jay Bargeron of the U.S. 3rd Marine Division said at the start of the exercise that the United States is “ready to fight and win if called upon.” Resolute Dragon 2022 followed the resumption in September of trilateral military drills by Japan, South Korea, and the United States off the Korean peninsula; these drills had been suspended as the former South Korean government attempted a policy of rapprochement with North Korea.

These military maneuvers take place in the context of heightened tension between the United States and China, with the most recent U.S. National Security Strategy identifying China as the “only competitor” of the United States in the world and therefore in need of being constrained by the United States and its allies (which, in the region, are Japan and South Korea). This U.S. posture comes despite repeated denials by China—including by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on November 1, 2022—that it will “never seek hegemony or engage in expansionism.” These military exercises, therefore, place Japan center-stage in the New Cold War being prosecuted by the United States against China.

Article 9

The Constitution of Japan (1947) forbids the country from building up an aggressive military force. Two years after Article 9 was inserted into the Constitution at the urging of the U.S. Occupation, the Chinese Revolution succeeded and the United States began to reassess the disarmament of Japan. Discussions about the revocation of Article 9 began at the start of the Korean War in 1950, with the U.S. government putting pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida to build up the army and militarize the National Police Reserve; in fact, the Ashida Amendment to Article 9 weakened Japan’s commitment to demilitarization and left open the door to full-scale rearmament.

Public opinion in Japan is against the formal removal of Article 9. Nonetheless, Japan has continued to build up its military capacity. In the 2021 budget, Japan added $7 billion (7.3%) to spend $54.1 billion on its military, “the highest annual increase since 1972,” notes the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In September 2022, Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that his country would “radically strengthen the defense capabilities we need….To protect Japan, it’s important for us to have not only hardware such as aircrafts and ships, but also enough ammunition for them.” Japan has indicated that it would increase its military budget by 11% a year from now till 2024.

In December, Japan will release a new National Security Strategy, the first since 2014. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told the Financial Times, “We will be fully prepared to respond to any possible scenario in east Asia to protect the lives and livelihoods of our people.” It appears that Japan is rushing into a conflict with China, its largest trading partner.

Africa is Not a Breeding Ground

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On 17 October, the head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), US Marine Corps General Michael Langley visited Morocco. Langley met with senior Moroccan military leaders, including Inspector General of the Moroccan Armed Forces Belkhir El Farouk. Since 2004, AFRICOM has held its ‘largest and premier annual exercise’, African Lion, partly on Moroccan soil. This past June, ten countries participated in the African Lion 2022, with observers from Israel (for the first time) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Langley’s visit is part of a broader US push onto the African continent, which we documented in our dossier no. 42 (July 2021), Defending Our Sovereignty: US Military Bases in Africa and the Future of African Unity, a joint publication with The Socialist Movement of Ghana’s Research Group. In that text, we wrote that the two important principles of Pan-Africanism are political unity and territorial sovereignty and argued that ‘[t]he enduring presence of foreign military bases not only symbolises the lack of unity and sovereignty; it also equally enforces the fragmentation and subordination of the continent’s peoples and governments’. In August, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield travelled to Ghana, Uganda, and Cape Verde. ‘We’re not asking Africans to make any choices between the United States and Russia’, she said ahead of her visit, but, she added, ‘for me, that choice would be simple’. That choice is nonetheless being impelled by the US Congress as it deliberates the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act, a bill that would sanction African states if they do business with Russia (and could possibly extend to China in the future).

To understand this unfolding situation, our friends at No Cold War have prepared their briefing no. 5, NATO Claims Africa as Its ‘Southern Neighbourhood’, which looks at how NATO has begun to develop a proprietary view of Africa and how the US government considers Africa to be a frontline in its Global Monroe Doctrine.

In August 2022, the United States published a new foreign policy strategy aimed at Africa. The 17-page document featured 10 mentions of China and Russia combined, including a pledge to ‘counter harmful activities by the [People’s Republic of China], Russia, and other foreign actors’ on the continent, but did not once mention the term ‘sovereignty’. Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that Washington ‘will not dictate Africa’s choices’, African governments have reported facing ‘patronising bullying’ from NATO member states to take their side in the war in Ukraine. As global tensions rise, the US and its allies have signalled that they view the continent as a battleground to wage their New Cold War against China and Russia.

A New Monroe Doctrine?

At its annual summit in June, NATO named Africa along with the Middle East ‘NATO’s southern neighbourhood’. On top of this, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ominously referred to ‘Russia and China’s increasing influence in our southern neighbourhood’ as a ‘challenge’. The following month, the outgoing commander of AFRICOM, General Stephen J Townsend, referred to Africa as ‘NATO’s southern flank’. These comments are disturbingly reminiscent of the neocolonial attitude espoused by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the US claimed Latin America as its ‘backyard’.

This paternalistic view of Africa appears to be widely held in Washington. In April, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Countering Malign Russian Influence Activities in Africa Act by a vote of 415-9. The bill, which aims to punish African governments for not aligning with US foreign policy on Russia, has been widely condemned across the continent for disrespecting the sovereignty of African nations, with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor calling it ‘absolutely disgraceful’.

The efforts by the US and Western countries to draw Africa into their geopolitical conflicts raise serious concerns: namely, will the US and NATO weaponise their vast military presence on the continent to achieve their aims?

AFRICOM: Protecting US and NATO’s Hegemony

In 2007, the United States established its Africa Command (AFRICOM) ‘in response to our expanding partnerships and interests in Africa’. In just 15 years, AFRICOM has established at least 29 military bases on the continent as part of an extensive network which includes more than 60 outposts and access points in at least 34 countries – over 60 percent of the nations on the continent.

Despite Washington’s rhetoric of promoting democracy and human rights in Africa, in reality, AFRICOM aims to secure US hegemony over the continent. AFRICOM’s stated objectives include ‘protecting US interests’ and ‘maintaining superiority over competitors’ in Africa. In fact, the creation of AFRICOM was motivated by the concerns of ‘those alarmed by China’s expanding presence and influence in the region’.

Zemba Luzamba (DRC), Parlementaires debout (‘Parliamentarians Standing’), 2019.

From the outset, NATO was involved in the endeavour, with the original proposal put forward by then Supreme Allied Commander of NATO James L Jones, Jr. On an annual basis, AFRICOM conducts training exercises focused on enhancing the ‘interoperability’ between African militaries and ‘US and NATO special operations forces’.

The destructive nature of the US and NATO’s military presence in Africa was exemplified in 2011 when – ignoring the African Union’s opposition – the US and NATO launched their catastrophic military intervention in Libya to remove the government of Muammar Gaddafi. This regime change war destroyed the country, which had previously scored the highest among African nations on the UN Human Development Index. Over a decade later, the principal achievements of the intervention in Libya have been the return of slave markets to the country, the entry of thousands of foreign fighters, and unending violence.

In the future, will the US and NATO invoke the ‘malign influence’ of China and Russia as a justification for military interventions and regime change in Africa?

Africa Rejects a New Cold War

At this year’s UN General Assembly, the African Union firmly rejected the coercive efforts of the US and Western countries to use the continent as a pawn in their geopolitical agenda. ‘Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history’, stated Chairman of the African Union and President of Senegal Macky Sall; ‘it does not want to be the breeding ground of a new Cold War, but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all its partners, on a mutually beneficial basis’. Indeed, the drive for war offers nothing to the peoples of Africa in their pursuit of peace, climate change adaptation, and development.

“Europe is a garden. The rest of the world is a jungle. And the jungle could invade the garden. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us.” – Shocking comments from EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell — No Cold War

At the inauguration of the European Diplomatic Academy on 13 October, the European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, said, ‘Europe is a garden… The rest of the world… is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden’. As if the metaphor were not clear enough, he added, ‘Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us’. Borrell’s racist comments were pilloried on social media and eviscerated in the European Parliament by Marc Botenga of the Belgian Workers’ Party, and a petition by the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25) calling for Borrell’s resignation has received over 10,000 signatures. Borrell’s lack of historical knowledge is significant: it is Europe and North America that continue to invade the African continent, and it is those military and economic invasions that cause African people migrate. As President Sall said, Africa does not want to be a ‘breeding ground of a new Cold War’, but a sovereign place of dignity.

Newsletter of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Click here to read the original

Guinea’s Plight Lays Bare the Greed of Foreign Mining Companies in the Sahel

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On October 20, 2022, in Guinea, a protest organized by the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) took place. The protesters demanded the ruling military government (the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development, or CNRD) release political detainees and sought to establish a framework for a return to civilian rule. They were met with violent security forces, and in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, at least five people were injured and three died from gunshot wounds. The main violence was in Conakry’s commune of Ratoma, one of the poorest areas in the city.

In September 2021, the CNRD, led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, overthrew the government of Alpha Condé, which had been in power for more than a decade and was steeped in corruption. In 2020, then-President Alpha Condé’s son—Alpha Mohamed Condé—and his minister of defense—Mohamed Diané—were accused of bribery in a complaint that the Collective for the Transition in Guinea (CTG) filed with the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office. The complaint alleges that these men received bribes from an international consortium in exchange for bauxite mining rights near the city of Boké.

Boké, in northwestern Guinea, is the epicenter of the country’s bauxite mining. Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite (estimated to be 7.4 billion metric tons) and is the second-largest producer (after Australia) of bauxite, an essential mineral for aluminum. All the mining in Guinea is controlled by multinational firms, such as Alcoa (U.S.), China Hongqiao, and Rio Tinto Alcan (Anglo-Australian), which operate in association with Guinean state entities.

When the CNRD under Colonel Doumbouya seized power, one of the main issues at stake was control over the bauxite revenues. In April 2022, Doumbouya assembled the major mining companies and told them that by the end of May they had to provide a road map for the creation of bauxite refineries in Guinea or else exit the country. Doumbouya said, “Despite the mining boom in the bauxite sector, it is clear that the expected revenues are below expectations. We can no longer continue this fool’s game that perpetuates great inequality” between Guinea and the international companies. The deadline was extended to June, and the ultimatum’s demands to cooperate or leave are ongoing.

Doumbouya’s CNRD in Guinea, like the military governments in Burkina Faso and Mali, came to power amid popular sentiment fed up with the oligarchies in their country and with French rule. Doumbouya’s 2017 comments in Paris reflect that latter sentiment. He said that French military officers who come to Guinea “underestimate the human and intellectual capacities of Africans… They have haughty attitudes and take themselves for the colonist who knows everything, who masters everything.” This coup government—formed out of an elite force created by Alpha Condé to fight terrorism—has captured the frustrations of the population, but is unable to construct a viable agenda to exit the country’s dependence on foreign mining companies. In the meantime, the protests for a return to democracy are unlikely to be quelled.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

China’s Path to Socialist Modernization

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The Communist Party of China (CPC) held its 20th National Congress from October 16 to October 22, 2022. Every five years, the delegates of the CPC’s 96 million members meet to elect its top leaders and to set the future direction for the party. One of the main themes of the congress this year was “rejuvenation” of the country through “a Chinese path to modernization.” In his report to the congress, Xi Jinping, the CPC’s general secretary, sketched out the way forward to build China “into a modern socialist country.”

Most of the Western media commentary about the congress ignored the actual words that were said in Beijing, opting instead to make wild speculations about the deliberations in the party (including about the sudden departure of former Chinese President Hu Jintao from the Great Hall of the People during the closing session of the congress, who left because he was feeling ill). Much could have been gained from listening to what people said during the National Congress instead of putting words in their mouths.

Socialist Modernization

When the Communist Party took power in China in 1949, the country was the 11th poorest country in the world. For the first time since the “century of humiliation” that began with the British wars on China from 1839 onward, China has developed into a major power with the social situation of the Chinese people having greatly improved from their condition in 1949. A short walk away from the Great Hall of the People, where the congress was held, is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, which reminds people of the immense achievement of the Chinese Revolution of 1949 and its impact on Chinese society.

Xi Jinping became the general secretary of the CPC at the 18th National Congress in 2012 and was elected president of the People’s Republic of China in March 2013. Since then, the country has gone through significant changes. Economically, China’s GDP has almost doubled to become the world’s second-largest economy, growing from 58.8 trillion yuan in 2013 to 114.37 trillion yuan in 2021, and its GDP expanded at a rate of 6.6 percent per year during the same period. Meanwhile, the country’s per capita GDP almost doubled between 2013 and 2021, with China approaching the high-income country bracket. In terms of the world economy, China’s GDP was 18.5 percent of the global total in 2021, and the country was responsible for 30 percent of world economic growth from 2013 to 2021. China also manufactured 30 percent of the world’s goods in 2021, up from more than 20 percent in 2012. This adds to the decades of historically unprecedented growth rate of 9.8 percent per year from 1978 to 2014 since the launching of economic reform in China in 1978. These economic achievements are historic and did not come without their set of challenges and consequences.

While delivering the report at the opening of this congress, Xi spoke about the situation that the Chinese people faced a decade ago: “Great achievements had been secured in reform, opening up, and socialist modernization… At the same time, however, a number of prominent issues and problems—some of which had been building for years and others which were just emerging—demanded urgent action.” He went on to talk about the “slide toward weak, hollow, and watered-down party leadership,” pointing out that “money worship, hedonism, egocentricity, and historical nihilism” were the deep-seated problems in a development process that was “imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” These are significant self-criticisms made by the man who has led the country for the past decade.

Corruption

A decade ago, in his speech at the 18th CPC National Congress, outgoing Secretary General Hu Jintao mentioned the word “corruption” several times. “If we fail to handle this issue well,” he warned, “it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.” Xi Jinping’s first task after taking over as general secretary of the CPC was to tackle this issue. In his inaugural speech as the party head in 2013, Xi said he was committed to “the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time,” referring to the corruption that had spread from the high echelons down to the grassroots level within the party and the government. The party launched “eight-point” rules for its members in December 2012, to limit practices such as inconsequential meetings and extravagant receptions for official visits, and advocated “diligence and thrift.”

Meanwhile, a year after the launch of the “mass line campaign” by Xi’s administration in June 2013, official meetings were reduced by 25 percent in comparison to the period before the campaign, 160,000 “phantom staff” were removed from the government payroll, and 2,580 “unnecessary” official building projects were stopped. Over the past decade, from November 2012 to April 2022, nearly 4.4 million cases involving 4.7 million officials were investigated in the fight against corruption. Party members have been investigated. In the first half of this year alone, 24 senior officials were investigated for corruption, and former ministers, provincial governors, and presidents of the biggest state-owned banks have been expelled from the party and given harsh sentences, including life imprisonment.

Hu Jintao’s comments and Xi Jinping’s actions reflected concerns that during the period of high growth after 1978, CPC members grew increasingly detached from the people. During the first months of his presidency, Xi launched the “mass line campaign” to bring the party closer to the grassroots. As part of the “targeted poverty alleviation” campaign launched in 2014, 800,000 party cadres were sent to survey and visit 128,000 villages as part of this project. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, China successfully eradicated extreme poverty, contributing to 76 percent of the global reduction in poverty till October 2015.

Beyond the party’s self-correction, Xi’s strong words and actions against the corrupt “flies and tigers” contributed to the Chinese people’s confidence in the government. According to a 2020 research paper by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the overall satisfaction with the government’s performance was 93.1 percent in 2016, seeing the most significant growth in the more underdeveloped regions in the countryside. This rise of confidence in rural areas resulted from increased social services, trust in local officials, and the campaign against poverty.

Right Side of History

At the 20th Congress, Xi Jinping reflected on the history of colonialism—including China’s “century of humiliation”—and the implications this would have for China going forward. “In pursuing modernization,” Xi said, “China will not tread the old path of war, colonization, and plunder taken by some countries. That brutal and blood-stained path of enrichment at the expense of others caused great suffering for the people of developing countries. We will stand firmly on the right side of history and on the side of human progress.”

Chinese officials routinely tell us that their country is not interested in seeking dominance in the world. What China would like to do is to collaborate with other countries to try and solve humanity’s dilemmas. The Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, was launched in 2013 with the purpose of “win-win” cooperation and development and has thus far built much-needed infrastructure with investment and construction contracts totaling $1 trillion in almost 150 countries. China’s interest in tackling the climate catastrophe is evidenced by its planting of a quarter of the world’s new forests over the past decade and in becoming a world leader in renewable energy investment and electric vehicle production. On the public health side, China adopted a COVID-19 policy that prioritizes lives over profit, donated 325 million doses of vaccines, and saved millions of lives as a result of this. As a result of its initiatives in the public health sector, the average life expectancy of Chinese people was 77.93 years in 2020 and reached 78.2 years in 2021, and for the first time, surpassed life expectancy in the United States—77 years in 2020 and 76.1 in 2021—making this drop “the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-1923.”

China’s communists do not see these events without putting them in the context of the long process undertaken by the government toward achieving and ensuring their social development. In 27 years, China will celebrate the centenary of its revolution. In 1997, then-President of China Jiang Zemin spoke about the two centenary goals—the 100-year markers following the founding of the Communist Party (1921) and the Chinese Revolution (1949)—that “underwrite all China’s long-term economic planning programs and contemporary macroeconomic policy agendas.” At that time, the focus was on growth rates. In 2017, Xi Jinping shifted the emphasis of these goals to the “three tough battles”: to defuse major financial risks, to eradicate poverty, and to control pollution. This new congress has gone beyond those “tough battles” to protect Chinese sovereignty and to expand the dignity of the Chinese people.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

West: Enemy of Peace between Ukraine and Russia

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5 mins read

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This war has been horrendous, though it does not compare with the terrible destruction wrought by the U.S. bombardment of Iraq (“shock and awe”) in 2003. In the Gomel region of Belarus that borders Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian diplomats met on February 28 to begin negotiations toward a ceasefire. These talks fell apart. Then, in early March, the two sides met again in Belarus to hold a second and third round of talks. On March 10, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia met in Antalya, Türkiye, and finally, at the end of March, senior officials from Ukraine and Russia met in Istanbul, Türkiye, thanks to the initiative of Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On March 29, Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, “We are pleased to see that the rapprochement between the parties has increased at every stage. Consensus and common understanding were reached on some issues.” By April, an agreement regarding a tentative interim deal was reached between Russia and Ukraine, according to an article in Foreign Affairs.

In early April, Russian forces began to withdraw from Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv Oblast, which meant that Russia halted military operations around Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The United States and the United Kingdom claimed that this withdrawal was a consequence of military failure, while the Russians said it was due to the interim deal. It is impossible to ascertain, with the available facts, which of these two views was correct.

Before the deal could go forward, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv on April 9. A Ukrainian media outlet—Ukrainska Pravda—reported that Johnson carried two messages to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: first, that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with,” and second, that even if Ukraine signed agreements with the Kremlin, the West was not ready to do so. According to Ukrainska Pravda, soon after Johnson’s visit, “the bilateral negotiation process was paused.” A few weeks later, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv, and following the trip, Austin spoke at a news conference at an undisclosed location in Poland and said, “We want to see Russia weakened.” There is no direct evidence that Johnson, Blinken, and Austin directly pressured Zelenskyy to withdraw from the interim negotiations, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that this was the case.

The lack of willingness to allow Ukraine to negotiate with Russia predates these visits and was summarized in a March 10, 2022, article in the Washington Post where senior officials in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration stated that the current U.S. strategy “is to ensure that the economic costs for Russia are severe and sustainable, as well as to continue supporting Ukraine militarily in its effort to inflict as many defeats on Russia as possible.”

Long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since 2014, the United States has—through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense—spent more than $19 billion in providing training and equipment to the Ukrainian military ($17.6 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022). The total annual budget of the United Nations for 2022 is $3.12 billion, far less than the amount spent by the U.S. on Ukraine today. The arming of Ukraine, the statements about weakening Russia by senior officials of the U.S. government, and the refusal to initiate any kind of arms control negotiations prolong a war that is ugly and unnecessary.

Ukraine Is Not in Iowa

Ukraine and Russia are neighbors. You cannot change the geographical location of Ukraine and move it to Iowa in the United States. This means that Ukraine and Russia have to come to an agreement and find a solution to end the conflict between them. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy won by a landslide (73 percent) in the Ukrainian presidential election against Petro Poroshenko, the preferred candidate of the West. “We will not be able to avoid negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said on a TV panel, “Pravo Na Vladu,” TSN news service reported, before he became president. In December 2019, Zelenskyy and Putin met in Paris, alongside then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron (known as the “Normandy Four”). This initiative was driven by Macron and Merkel. As early as 2019, France’s President Emmanuel Macron argued that it was time for Europe to “rethink… our relationship with Russia” because “pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound strategic error.”

In March 2020, Zelenskyy said that he and Putin could work out an agreement within a year based on the Minsk II agreements of February 2015. “There are points in Minsk. If we move them around a bit, then what bad can that lead to? As soon as there are no people with weapons, the shooting will stop. That’s important,” Zelenskyy told the Guardian. In a December 2019 press conference, Putin said, “there is nothing more important than the Minsk Agreements.” At this point, Putin said that all he expected was that the Donbas region would be given special status in the Ukrainian Constitution, and during the time of the expected Ukraine-Russia April 2020 meeting, the troops on both sides would have pulled back and agreed to “disengagement along the entire contact line.”

Role of Macron

It was clear to Macron by 2020 that the point of the negotiations was about more than just Minsk and Ukraine; it was about the creation of a “new security architecture” that did not isolate Russia—and was also not subservient to Washington. Macron developed these points in February 2021 in two directions and spoke about them during his interview with the Atlantic Council (a U.S. think tank). First, he said that NATO has “pushed our borders as far as possible to the eastern side,” but NATO’s expansion has “not succeeded in reducing the conflicts and threats there.” NATO’s eastward expansion, he made clear, was not going to increase Europe’s security. Second, Macron said that the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019—and Russia’s mirroring that—leaves Europe unprotected “against these Russian missiles.” He further said, “As a European, I want to open a discussion between the European Union and Russia.” Such a discussion would pioneer a post-Cold War understanding of security, which would leave the United States out of the conversation with Russia. None of these proposals from Macron could advance, not only because of hesitancy in Russia but also principally because they were not seen favorably by Washington.

Confusion existed about whether U.S. President Joe Biden would be welcomed into the Normandy Four. In late 2020, Zelenskyy said he wanted Biden at the table, but a year later it became clear that Russia was not interested in having the United States be part of the Normandy Four. Putin said that the Normandy Four was “self-sufficient.” Biden, meanwhile, chose to intensify threats and sanctions against Russia based on the claims of Kremlin interference in the United States 2016 and 2018 elections. By December 2021, there was no proper reciprocal dialogue between Biden and Putin. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinistö that there was a “need to immediately launch negotiations with the United States and NATO” on security guarantees. In a video call between Biden and Putin on December 7, 2021, the Kremlin told the U.S. president that “Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia.” No such guarantee was forthcoming from Washington. The talks fizzled out.

The record shows that Washington rejected Macron’s initiatives as well as entreaties from Putin and Zelenskyy to resolve issues through diplomatic dialogue. Up to four days before the Russian invasion, Macron continued his efforts to prevent an escalation of the conflict. By then, the appetite in Moscow for negotiations had dwindled, and Putin rejected Macron’s efforts.

An independent European foreign policy was simply not possible (as Macron had suggested and as the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev had proposed in 1989 while talking about his vision for a “common European home” that would stretch from northern Asia to Europe). Nor was an agreement with Russia feasible if it meant that Russian concerns were to be taken seriously by the West.

Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations from 2014 to February 2022—which could have prevented the invasion by Russia in the first place, and once the war started, could have led to the end of this war. All wars end in negotiations, but these negotiations to end wars should be permitted to restart.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Charting the Rise of Anti-French Sentiment Across Northern Africa

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4 mins read

In November 2021, a French military convoy was making its way to Mali while passing through Burkina Faso and Niger. It did not get very far. It was stopped in Téra, Niger, and before that at several points in Burkina Faso (in Bobo-Dioulasso and Kaya as well as in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital). Two civilians were killed as a result of clashes between the French convoy and protestors who were “angry at the failure of French forces to reign in terrorism in the region.” When the convoy crossed into Mali, it was attacked near the city of Gao.

Colonel Pascal Ianni, French Chief of Defense Staff spokesperson, told Julien Fanciulli of France 24 that there was a lot of “false information circulating” about the French convoy. Blame for the attacks was placed on “terrorists,” namely Islamic groups that continue to hold large parts of Mali and Burkina Faso. These groups have been emboldened and hardened by the 2011 war on Libya, prosecuted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and egged on by France. What Colonel Ianni would not admit is that the protests that followed the convoy revealed the depth of anti-French sentiment across North Africa and the Sahel region.

Coups d’états in the region have been taking place for more than two years—from the coup in Mali in August 2020 to the coup in Burkina Faso in September 2022. The coups in the region, including the coup in Guinea in September 2021 as well and the two other coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), and another coup in Burkina Faso (January 2022), were driven in large part due to the anti-French sentiment in the Sahel. In May 2022, the military leaders in Mali ejected the French military bases set up in 2014, while France’s political project—G5 Sahel—flounders in this atmosphere of animosity. Protests against the French in Morocco and Algeria have only added weight to the anti-French sentiment spreading across the African continent, with French President Emmanuel Macron showered with insults as he tried to walk the streets of Oran in Algeria in August 2022.

Animosities

“The situation in the former French colonies (Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Mali) is different from the situation in northern Africa,” Abdallah El Harif of the Workers’ Democratic Way Party of Morocco told me. “The bad relations between the regime in Morocco and France is due to the fact that the Moroccan regime has developed important economic, political, and security relations with the regimes of West Africa at the expense of the French,” he said. About the former French colonies along the Sahel in particular, El Harif said that “many popular insurrections” had taken place against the continued French colonial presence in these countries. With Morocco distancing itself from France, Paris is angered by its growing ties with the United States, while in the Sahel region people want to eject France from their lives.

Morocco’s monarchy has reacted quietly to the coups in the Sahel, not willing to associate itself with the kind of anti-French sentiment in the region. Such an association would call attention to Morocco’s close relationship with the United States. This U.S.-Morocco relationship has provided the monarchy with dividends: military equipment from the United States and permission for Morocco to continue with its occupation of Western Sahara, including the mining of the region’s precious phosphates (in exchange for Morocco opening ties with Israel). Each year, since 2004, Morocco has hosted a U.S. military exercise, the African Lion. In June 2022, 10 African countries participated in the African Lion 2022, with observers from Israel (for the first time) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Morocco, El Harif told me, “has enormously developed its military relations with the United States.” France has been sidelined by these maneuvers, which has annoyed Paris. As he left behind the jeering crowds in Oran, Algeria, President Macron said that he would visit Morocco in late October.

In the Sahel region, unlike in Morocco, there is a growing popular sentiment against the French colonial interference (called Françafrique). Chad’s former President Idriss Déby Itno, who died in 2021, told Jeune Afrique in 2019 that “Françafrique is over. Sovereignty is indisputable, we must stop sticking this label of French backyard to our countries.” “The French control the currency of these states,” El Harif told me. “They have many military bases [in the Sahel region], and their corporations plunder the natural resources of these countries, while pretending to combat terrorism.” When political challenges arise, the French have colluded in assassinating leaders who challenge their authority (such as Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara in 1987) or have had them arrested and jailed (such as Côte d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo in 2011).

Why Is Françafrique Over?

In a recent interview with Atalayar, France’s former ambassador to Mali Nicolas Normand blamed the rising anti-French sentiment on “the repeated anti-French accusations of Mali’s prime minister and the virulent media campaign carried out by Russia on social media, accusing France of looting Mali and actually supporting the jihadists by pretending to fight them, with fake videos.” Indeed, Mali’s prime minister before August 22, 2022, Choguel Maïga, made strong statements against French military intervention in his country. In February 2022, Maïga told France 24 that the French government “have tried to divide his country by fueling autonomy claims in the north.” Malian singer Salif Keïta posted a video in which he said, “Aren’t you aware that France is financing our enemies against our children?” accusing France of collaborating with the jihadis.

Meanwhile, about the accusation that the Russian Wagner Group was operating in Mali, Maïga responded in his interview with France 24 and said that “The word Wagner. It’s the French who say that. We don’t know any Wagner.” However, Mali, he said in February, is working “with Russia cooperators.” Following an investigation by Facebook in 2020, it removed several social media accounts that were traced back to France and Russia and were “going head to head in the Central African Republic.”

In an important article in Le Monde in December 2021, senior researcher at Leiden University’s African Studies Center Rahmane Idrissa pointed out three reasons for the rise in anti-French sentiment in the Sahel. First, France, he said, “is paying the bill in the Sahel for half a century of military interventions in sub-Saharan Africa,” including France’s protection of regimes “generally odious to the population.” Second, the failure of the war against the jihadists has disillusioned the public regarding the utility of the French project. Third, and this is key, Idrissa argued that the inability of the military rulers in the region “to mobilize the population against an enemy (jihadist),” against whom they have no real strategy, has led to this anger being turned toward the French. The departure of the French, welcome as it is, “will certainly not resolve the jihadist crisis, ” Idrissa noted. The people will feel “sovereign,” he wrote, “even if part of the territory remains in the hands of terrorist gangs.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

When Will the Stars Shine Again in Burkina Faso?

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6 mins read

On 30 September 2022, Captain Ibrahim Traoré led a section of the Burkina Faso military to depose Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power in a coup d’état in January. The second coup was swift, with brief clashes in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou at the president’s residence, Kosyam Palace, and at Camp Baba Sy, the military administration’s headquarters. Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho declared on Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina (RTB), the national broadcast, that his fellow captain, Traoré, was now the head of state and the armed forces. ‘Things are gradually returning to order’, he said as Damiba went into exile in Togo.

This coup is not a coup against the ruling order, a military platform called the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (Mouvement patriotique pour la sauvegarde et la restauration or MPSR); instead, it stems from young captains within the MPSR. During Damiba’s brief tenure in power, armed violence increased by 23%, and he failed to fulfil any of the promises that the military made when it overthrew former President Roch Kaboré, an ex-banker who had ruled the country since 2015. L’Unité d’Action Syndicale (UAS), a platform of six trade unions in Burkina Faso, is warning about the ‘decay of the national army’, its ideological disarray manifested by the high salaries drawn by the coup leaders.

Kaboré was the beneficiary of a mass insurrection that began in October 2014 against Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power since the assassination of Thomas Sankara in 1987. It is worth noting that in April, while exiled in Côte d’Ivoire, Compaoré was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia for his role in that murder. Many of the social forces in the mass uprisings arrived on the streets bearing pictures of Sankara, holding fast to his socialist dream. The promise of that mass movement was suffocated by Kaboré’s limited agenda, stifled by the International Monetary Fund and hindered by the seven-year jihadist insurgency in northern Burkina Faso that has displaced close to two million people. While the MPSR coup has a muddled outlook, it responds to the deep social crisis afflicting the fourth-largest producer of gold on the African continent.

In August 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Algeria. As Macron walked through the streets of Oran, he experienced the anger of the Algerian public, with people yelling insults – va te faire foutre! (‘go f**k yourself’) – forcing him to hurriedly depart. France’s decision to reduce the number of visas provided to Moroccans and Tunisians fuelled a protest by human rights organisations in Rabat (Morocco), and France was forced to dismiss its ambassador to Morocco.

Anti-French feeling is deepening across North Africa and the Sahel, the region south of the Sahara Desert. It was this sentiment that provoked the coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and then in Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022). In February 2022, Mali’s government ejected the French military, accusing French forces of committing atrocities against civilians and colluding with jihadi insurgents.

Over the past decade, North Africa and the Sahel have been grappling with the detritus produced by NATO’s war on Libya, driven by France and the United States. NATO emboldened the jihadi forces, who were disoriented by their defeat in the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002) and by the anti-Islamist policies of Muammar Qaddafi’s administration in Libya. Indeed, the US brought hardened jihadi fighters, including Libyan Islamic Fighting Group veterans, from the Syria-Turkey border to bolster the anti-Qaddafi war. This so-called ‘rat line’ moved in both directions, as jihadis and weapons went from post-Qaddafi Libya back into Syria.

Groups such as al-Qaeda (in the Islamic Maghreb) as well as al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine, and Katibat Macina – which merged into Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (‘Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims’) in 2017 – swept from southern Algeria to Côte d’Ivoire, from western Mali to eastern Niger. These jihadis, many of them Afghanistan War veterans, are joined by common cause with local bandits and smugglers. This ‘banditisation of jihad’, as it is called, is one explanation for how these forces have become so deeply rooted in the region. Another is that the jihadis used older social tensions between the Fulani (a largely Muslim ethnic group) and other communities, now massed into militia groups called the Koglweogo (‘bush guardians’). Drawing various contradictions into the jihadi-military conflict has effectively militarised political life in large parts of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. France’s involvement through Operation Barkhane, a military intervention into Mali in 2014, and its establishment of military bases has not only failed to contain or root out the insurgencies and conflicts; it has exacerbated them.
The Union d’Action Syndicale has released a ten-point plan that includes immediate relief for the areas facing starvation (such as Djibo), an independent commission to study violence in specific areas (such as Gaskindé), the creation of a plan to deal with the cost of living crisis, and an end to the alliance with France, which would include the ‘departure of foreign bases and troops, especially French ones, from national territory’.
A recent United Nations report shows that 18 million people in the Sahel are on ‘the brink of starvation’. The World Bank notes that 40% of Burkinabé live below the poverty line. Neither civilian nor military governments in Burkina Faso, nor those in other Sahel countries, have articulated a project to transcend this crisis. Burkina Faso, for instance, is not a poor country. With a minimum of $2 billion per year in gold sales, it is extraordinary that this country of 22 million people remains mired in such poverty. If this revenue were divided equally amongst the population, each Burkinabé citizen would receive $90 million per year.

Instead, the bulk of the revenue is siphoned off by mining firms from Canada and Australia – Barrick Gold, Goldrush Resources, Semafo, and Gryphon Minerals – as well as their counterparts in Europe. These firms transfer the profits into their own bank accounts and some, such as Randgold Resources, into the tax haven of the Channel Islands. Local control over gold has not been established, nor has the country been able to exert any sovereignty over its currency. Both Burkina Faso and Mali use the West African CFA franc, a colonial currency whose reserves are held in the Bank of France, which also manages their monetary policy.

The coups in the Sahel are coups against the conditions of life afflicting most people in the region, conditions created by the theft of sovereignty by multinational corporations and the old colonial ruler. Rather than acknowledge this as the central problem, Western governments deflect and insist that the real cause of political unrest is the intervention of Russian mercenaries, the Wagner Group, fighting against the jihadi insurgency (Macron, for instance, described their presence in the region as ‘predatory’). Yevgeny Prigozhin, a founder of the Wagner Group, said that Traoré ‘did what was necessary… for the good of their people’. Meanwhile, the US State Department warned the new Burkina Faso government not to make alliances with the Wagner Group. However, it appears that Traoré is seeking any means to defeat the insurgency, which has absorbed 40% of Burkina Faso’s territory. Despite an agreement with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made by Damiba and continued by Traoré that Burkina Faso will return to civilian rule by July 2024, the necessary conditions for this transfer seem to be the defeat of the insurgency.

In 1984, President Thomas Sankara went to the UN. When he took power in his country the previous year, its colonial name was Upper Volta, solely defined by its geographical status as the land north of the Volta River. Sankara and his political movement changed that name to Burkina Faso, which means the ‘Land of Upright People’. No longer would the Burkinabé hunch their shoulders and look at the ground as they walked. With national liberation, the ‘stars first began to shine in the heavens of our homeland’, Sankara said at the UN, as they realised the need for ‘revolution, the eternal struggle against all domination’. ‘We want to democratise our society’, he continued, ‘to open up our minds to a universe of collective responsibility, so that we may be bold enough to invent the future’. Sankara was killed in October 1987. His dreams have held fast in the hearts of many, but they have not yet influenced a sufficiently powerful political project.

In the spirit of Sankara, the Malian singer Oumou Sangaré released a wonderful song, Kêlê Magni (‘War Is a Plague’), in February 2022, which speaks for the entire Sahel:

War is a plague! My country might disappear!
I tell you: war is not a solution!
War has no friends nor allies, and there are no real enemies.
All people suffer from this war: Burkina, Côte d’Ivoire… everyone!

Other instruments are needed: new stars in the sky, new revolutions that build on hopes and not on hatred.

Newsletter issued by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Click here to read the original

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