On Oct 23, France handed off a major military base in northern Niger following months of protests—and is expected to complete its military withdrawal by the end of the year. From 2013 to 2022, France deployed over 3,000 troops to the countries of the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) as part of a counterterrorism mission known as Operation Barkhane. After coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and now Niger, all three countries have expelled the French presence.
While coverage in western media has fixed on the coups themselves, the story on the ground is more complicated. The actions of the coup governments are backed by broad social movements and popular opposition to France’s relationship to the region, which extends far beyond Operation Barkhane. 14 countries in West and Central Africa have their currencies under the control of France in the form of the CFA Franc. 1 in 3 lightbulbs in France are powered by uranium mined from Niger, yet more than 80 percent of Nigeriens lack access to electricity. France’s influence in the region, though waning, is also backed up by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which has some 29 bases across the region, including the world’s largest drone base in Niger. These and other challenges are among those the new coup governments of the Sahel will have to overcome as they attempt to chart new paths forward for their countries.
Inemesit Richardson of the Thomas Sankara Center for Liberation and African Unity in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, speaks with The Real News about the anticolonial movement reshaping the Sahel, and what challenges lie ahead for the region as a new chapter dawns. Inemesit Richardson is President of the Thomas Sankara Center for Liberation and African Unity, a political education center and community library in Burkina Faso.
Editor’s Note: This interview was recorded on Sept. 26, 2023. France began its withdrawal from Niger on Oct. 10.
A previously published version of this podcast erroneously stated in its show notes that the French withdrawal was completed on Oct. 23. The withdrawal has not yet been completed, but is expected to wrap-up by the end of the year.
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Studio Production: Adam Coley
Post-Production: David Hebden
Ju-Hyun Park: Welcome to The Real News. My name is Ju-Hyun Park, engagement editor at The Real News. Today we’ll be talking about recent developments in the Sahel region of Africa, particularly the recent announcement by France that it is withdrawing militarily from its former colony of Niger. We’ll also discuss the three coup governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger that have arisen in the past couple of years to challenge French Neocolonialism in the region.
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The Sahel region has undergone a major and rapid transformation in the past two years. From 2014 to 2022, France militarily occupied five nations in the region, all of them former colonies: Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, where permanent French military bases were established as well as in Mauritania. The pretext for French occupation was a counter-terrorism mission known as Operation Barkhane, intended to enhance regional security. To be clear, the presence of armed militant groups throughout the Sahel is a major problem, one that goes back to the Libyan civil war when the US/NATO destruction of the Libyan state and economy created the condition for many such militant organizations to proliferate throughout the region.
At its height, operation Barkhane saw 5,500 French troops deployed across the Sahel. Yet despite almost a decade of intervention, France failed to meaningfully curb violence in the region and stoked the anger of local populations through attacks on civilians such as an airstrike on a wedding in Mali in 2021, which killed 22 people. The fortunes of the French have turned with the rise of new coup governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, as opposed to their continued presence. It ought to be noted that in the case of Mali and Burkina Faso, the governments of Assimi Goita and Ibrahim Traore, replaced prior military juntas that were friendly to the French and not the target of international sanctions.
The rise of these new governments has begun a rollback of French power, with France withdrawing from Mali in August 2022, and Burkina Faso ordering France to leave in January of this year. On July 26, Aku and Niger under the leadership of Abdur Haman Tchiani, ousted former president Mohamed Bazoum. Since coming into power, the Tchiani government has set its sights on cutting Niger free of France for good. This has not only entailed ending military cooperation and demanding France withdraw its troops; Niger is also the second-largest supplier of uranium to the EU and French multinationals hold important stakes in the mining companies that own and exploit Niger’s mineral resources. Tchiani’s push to expel France militarily and economically has been backed up by social movements which have staged two months of nationwide protests demanding France’s departure. On September 22, France finally relented and announced the withdrawal of its troops and its diplomats.
So what lies ahead for the Sahel and how do we understand these recent events? Joining me today to help situate these developments, is an important guest for the Thomas Sakara Center for Liberation and African Unity in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The Thomas Sankara Center is a lending library and political education center in the Cissin neighborhood of Ouagadougou that has operated for two years. It provides political education courses and access to a library of anti-colonial and revolutionary texts that most Burkina Bay families would be otherwise unable to afford or access on their own. Inemesit Richardson is president of the Thomas Sankara Center and a member of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party. Inemesit, thank you for joining us.
Inemesit Richardson: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate talking to you.
Ju-Hyun Park: I appreciate having you here. Now we’re certainly looking at a really momentous occasion today. It’s been two months of constant protests from Nigerians demanding the withdrawal of France. Could you start by helping us better understand the situation on the ground? What are the social movements and sectors of society that have mobilized in the last few months and what is driving them?
Inemesit Richardson: Okay, well, we first need to understand that the Sahel region of Africa has been increasing in an anti-imperialist consciousness for many years. So what we’re seeing right now is the buildup of many years of mobilizing getting bigger and bigger and bigger, to the point that now we have heads of state who are representing these popular movements that are emerging from the cause of the masses of people. So if we look back to around 2018- 2019 or so, we see an eruption of mobilizing against the CFA Frank currency. And then very close to this time period, we start to see mass-mobilizing protests growing to the point where it’s starting in the hundreds, growing to the thousands, to the tens of thousands in Mali against the French military operation. At one point Mali was really the base in the center.
They called their operation Operation Barkhane and it was based out of Mali, primarily, but really across the Sahel. There was an alliance called the G5 Sahel Group with Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Mauretania. So all of those countries had some form of French military occupation. And so the movement, which at one point was very focused on the CFA Frank currency, and still is, became a movement that was very much against military forms of imperialism. And Mali became at one point the center of that. And then once we see Mali has a coup and the coup leads to this progressive anti-imperialist government of Assimi Goita, we see an absolute explosion of mobilization and anti-imperialist consciousness at an all-time high all across the Sahel region, including in Burkina Faso and in Niger.
Well before the coup in Niger happened, there was the coup first in Mali. Then there were two coups in Burkina actually, the second one bringing about an anti-imperialist leader who took a similar move against France like Mali did. Then it became a question where, among the people, it was almost like a matter of time when would Niger be the next one to go in this direction? The people were ready. There were a lot of false flag alerts coming from regular Niger citizens saying, okay, the coup’s going to happen soon, the coup’s happening. Until it finally did.
Ju-Hyun Park: Thank you so much for that background. It’s very important that you mentioned that in the case of both Mali and Burkina Faso, these were governments that were headed up by military juntas prior to the most recent coups. But it was only after these most recent coups took a stance against French intervention in the military sense as well as France’s economic neo-colonial control of the region, that these governments began to experience consequences from France and from neighboring states as well. To bring us into understanding the roots of these popular uprisings a little further, could you describe a little bit and explain some of what exactly the CFA Frank is for those of us who may be unfamiliar? What exactly, historically, is it coming from and what are its impacts on the actual societies which are subjected to it?
Inemesit Richardson: Okay. The CFA Frank is a colonial currency. Now we can say it’s a neo-colonial currency. It’s a pretty unique currency in the sense that there aren’t very many currencies in the world, or really any that operate like it, except for the Comorian Franc which is pretty much the same thing under a different name. So there are 14 countries in Africa that use this currency, plus Comoros, which has the same thing as I said, but under a different name. It’s divided into two regions, one in West Africa and one in Central Africa, and they operate in the same way. Countries that use this currency have to hold about 50% of their national reserves in the French Treasury out in Paris. That number has changed in the past but if I’m not mistaken, it’s around 50% right now. The currency is anchored to the Euro, it’s pegged to the Euro.
The value of the currency does not reflect anything to do with any local economies existing within Africa. If the Euro increases in value, so does the CFA, if the Euro falls in value, so does the CFA. It’s really a fixed exchange rate that’s based on whatever rate is going to be favorable towards the EU accessing raw materials at a favorable rate and also having a market to export their goods. It gives France voting and veto power in the two regional banks. There’s a regional bank in West Africa and there’s another regional bank that oversees the CFA in Central Africa. France has enormous power within those banks to determine certain financial agreements and economic trade agreements for the African countries that are in those regions and that use this currency.
And even though as I mentioned, both the currencies in West and Central Africa are the same, they’re like the same system, they have the same name, and they operate in the same way, West and Central African currencies actually cannot trade directly with each other through the CFA Frank currency. They have to convert it to the Euro first and then transfer that back into the West African currency has to be transferred into the Euro and then converted into the Central African one and vice versa. I’m not necessarily an expert on economics and monetary policy but I can say that there’s a great book that’s written about this, I believe it’s called Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story. I’m more familiar with the title in French, but it’s by Ndongo Samba Sylla and I believe Fanny Pigeaud, if I’m not mistaken. So I recommend that for people who are curious about how this currency operates.
Ju-Hyun Park: Yeah, thank you so much for that really insightful overview of the CFA. I feel like what you’re describing there is really an intentional system of dependency that’s being foisted onto nations in Western Central Africa, where a certain amount of their wealth is always going to be cycled back into France in the form of these reserves. At the same time, because there are rules in terms of the ability to exchange one form of CFA for another, you have these two regional blocks that are economically being divided in a very artificial and unnatural way that is really only to the benefit of outsiders.
Pivoting a little bit to better understand the everyday ins and outs of Operation Barkhane, you’re speaking to us today from Burkina Faso. I’m wondering if you can share a little bit from your vantage of what the experience of Operation Barkhane has been like for everyday people in Burkina Faso? How have the last several years of civil conflict and French intervention really impacted people on the ground? And since you’ve also seen the rise of the Traoré government most recently, what has this new government meant for people in a material sense?
Inemesit Richardson: Okay. I’ll start by saying that Burkina Faso is a country that I admire a lot for its dignity. It’s a country that has a lot of dignity and that time and time again has really been at the forefront of defending its own sovereignty. And so I really admire that about this country in particular. But it is true that over the past several years now, the country has been in some ways, very much destabilized by these paramilitary terrorist organizations. A lot of this is blowback from the NATO invasion of Libya which led to a power vacuum in the Libyan state. Certain groups are able to access Libyan arms from the fallen state and bring those into the Sahel. And there’s been an immense crisis ever since.
Ouagadougou, since I’ve been here, is an area of the country that sees less of this violence directly. Most of the violence is towards the Malian border and the Nigerian border areas but we feel a lot of the impact of what it means to be in a state that’s currently waging war against these paramilitary groups. And so we understand this is the state, as much as I don’t want to paint a picture of crisis within Ouagadougou, where on a day-to-day basis here in the capital, things are relatively safe. At the same time, there are internally displaced people, people who have fled from those northern regions that have had to abandon their agriculture, which has had an impact on the country’s economy. It’s destroyed the tourist economy. Burkina Faso hosts the largest film festival on the African continent, FESPACO, and it’s been severely impacted by these attacks.
And then there’s a level of fear living in a context where there are these groups that are operating and we see that it’s had a massive impact on people’s lives. One of the ways it’s impacted Ouagadougou, it’s increased general poverty and hardship across the country as a whole. As I said, there are places where people would have agriculture and have farms where they can’t anymore. There are less people who are coming in. Also, the people-to-people relationships in the Sahel are so strong. There are so many people who have family members who are in Mali or in Niger and those border areas are generally pretty fluid with people constantly going back and forth. But it is extremely dangerous right now to take common routes to Niger or to Mali and even certain villages that are people’s villages that they’ve fled from. They can no longer go back right now because a lot of these villages are in a situation of crisis and warfare.
In a lot of sections of the country, there’s a huge migration out of those regions and they’ve been a little bit siphoned off from the rest. People don’t go there anymore and people aren’t able to have those people-to-people connections, visit their family members who live on the Malian side of the border or the Nigerian side of the border. So it’s been pretty devastating these past few years for the country as a whole. Pretty much every day there are people who are talking about how do we come up with a solution to this violence. People have realized that the best solution is one that does not rely on Western military intervention, to say there’s no trust at all between ordinary people and these Western militaries, the French military, the US, and Germany.
The movement started off very specifically calling out France and then more and more I’m hearing NATO being evoked and people starting to realize more and more that it’s not a question of France but this whole NATO camp. And the average, I say average person, it’s a very widespread question right now is asking where are these groups getting their arms? We don’t have weapons that are manufactured in this region. How are they so well-armed? Where are they getting these supplies from? There’s a lot of distrust, a lot of people who are saying, is it really in the interest of these Western governments to be fighting terrorism? Or is it not more in their interest to prolong this situation, so that they can stay here longer where they have access to the resources that they want to have, the partnerships that they want to have, at least with the heads of state prior to the current ones?
Ju-Hyun Park: Thank you so much for that really expansive overview of what we’re dealing with here. Too often it is easy to forget that these stories of big geopolitical shifts really concern the lives of millions of people, people who are dealing with, as you’re saying, poverty with insecurity. From what it sounds like, also separation from loved ones, from their homes, and from their families. So it really is in the interests of the majority of people to find a solution to the crisis that has gripped the region in the last several years. And that seems to be something that is very important for us to have a grounding in as we look to what’s been going on more at the state level, that we have to understand that there are popular demands and there is a popular will that’s backing up the agendas that we’re seeing from these new governments.
Shifting gears a little bit, you mentioned the role of the US or rather NATO, and I was wondering if we could get into that a little bit. Because a lot of the activities that we’ve been seeing from the outside seem to be focused on expelling the French but they aren’t the only foreign military presence in the region. They’re not the only international player that’s involved in the Sahel. The US is also a major player. It has the largest drone base in the world located in Agadez, in Nige. Also as we know USAFRICOM, which stands for African Command, has a massive and growing presence throughout the continent that is involved with multiple governments either at the level of direct military occupations, at the level of military training, and consultations with various countries.
Can you help us better understand the role of the US military and NATO in conjunction with the French? And it seems that you’re mentioning that NATO is becoming more of a target but if you could comment a little bit on the status of that and what people are seeing as a priority on the ground at the moment?
Inemesit Richardson: Okay. I’ll say when I first came here, I almost never heard people speaking as critically about the US. People understood the US was there and still to some extent right now, the US is treated more like a minor player, at least within the context of Burkina Faso. The US and France have done imperialism a little bit differently in the past few years and it’s led to a different outcome; France has been a little bit more forward and visible, especially with things like the CFA Frank and also with some of the companies that operate on the ground here. We have Orange for our telecommunications company which is a primarily French-based, though multinational, company. We have companies like Total that are everywhere. So there’s more visibility on France’s end but increasingly, people are understanding that NATO is really an alliance. This means that these countries are working together and at the end of the day, they represent the same interests.
They might sometimes have little competition between them but they really represent the same interests and the same status quo. So people are increasingly critical of the West as a whole. Especially in the context of Niger, as you said, Agadez is one of the largest AFRICOM drone bases. It’s between Agadez and Lemunje in Djibouti that are the massive US military presences. And people don’t know this as much but the CIA has their own drone base in Niger. It’s located in the village of Druku, which is near the Libyan border but it’s on the Niger side. There’s been a massive US military presence in Niger. I mentioned earlier that France has concentrated in recent years on Mali before they were expelled and then they moved even more into Niger.
They were always everywhere but Mali was like the French headquarters. Niger was really like the US headquarters in terms of the US strategic military interest. Not to say that they aren’t all everywhere but the base was biggest for the US within Niger. I’ve seen, especially on the Nigerian side of things, that there is a little bit less of this exclusive French focus. There have been mobilizations that have been very clearly saying we need the US to get out. We need AFRICOM to get out. And people recognize it’s increasingly… It’s a question of the West, a question of NATO, seeing that at the end of the day, their interests tend to always align.
People are very clear that the countries they want to work with are not at all in that camp. They want to leave that… The US, France, and Germany are also present in the Sahel. They want to leave all those players behind. They recognize this history of exploitation. People know about the history of the CIA in Africa and they’re really looking to partner with countries that for once can actually be a partnership. Not a neo-colonial relationship but countries that are willing to work in a way that’s mutually beneficial and talks of technology transfers that the US or France never ever put on the table.
Ju-Hyun Park: Yeah, that point you raised about technology transfers is really important. As we’ve been saying, Niger as well as Burkina Faso and Mali are really important sources of minerals and other primary commodities to the global economy. I believe that Niger is something like the second-largest provider of uranium to the EU and most of the… There are French multinationals that hold very important stakes in a lot of the mining companies that own and exploit the mineral resources of Niger. So I’m wondering, looking ahead to questions beyond the immediate moment, beyond the struggle to expel the French, beyond the struggle to expand people’s political understanding, beyond the French military presence, what future is being charted by the three governments that we’ve seen in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger? Is there a common vision that’s being strove towards and implemented? And what are the real prospects of seeing progress on that in the next few years?
Inemesit Richardson: That’s a good question. So on the grassroots level, what the people have called for is Pan-Africanism and that’s being taken up now and it’s actually being taken quite seriously by some of these heads of state. I really think especially here in Burkina Faso, the Traoré administration, and Prime Minister Kyélem de Tambèla, seem to be taking this question of Pan-Africanism quite seriously. And what do people mean by that? A lot of people right now are turning to this vision of people like Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, and Modibo Keita. Modibo Keita was a Pan-African leader out of Mali. The three of those leaders signed an agreement saying that they would start the creation of a United States of Africa. They call it the Union of African States: the Ghana, Guinea, Mali Alliance. And there’s a long history of this call for a totally unified Africa and people are interested more and more in this history of Pan-Africanism and then more and more exploring what it could have looked like.
Thomas Sankara of course, is a huge inspiration across Burkina, the Sahel, and the African continent as a whole. He’s also evoked as a Pan-African leader who stood up for African Unity. Cheikh Anta Diop is lesser known maybe outside of this region, but he’s talked about a lot. He has some great books that he’s written about Pan-Africanism that I see more and more people are interested in. There have been calls for and mobilizations for this totally unified Africa, this United States of Africa vision. There’s also been… Some of this has translated into what’s talked about federation and there are questions about what a federation could look like. But I know on the people-to-people level, the idea of the federation is inspired by the Mali Federation, which was a federation that existed between what is now Senegal, Mali at Burkina Faso – At the time it was upper Volta and then Benin, at Daomem – Were invited to join though it never really concretized.
But this again was this idea of a federal government linking together several African states that were divided through this colonial history and process. So people really want this unified Africa. Muammar Gaddafi also talked about a lot as somebody who called for this, who confronted the currency question head-on, so that Africa needs a universal currency. And so people really want to live in an Africa where there is a shared currency, where there’s shared citizenship, freedom of movement, there’s transportation to get around and navigate a shared passport. Everything that we would understand a federal government to look like and encompass: shared foreign policy, et cetera, militarily even that’s a big question. Why is it that we have countries like… Nigeria has had problems with Boko Haram for how many years now? Then Mali is fighting against these terrorist paramilitary organizations and then we have hyper-militarism and intervention in the Horn of Africa. And the way we operate is like every African for himself or herself.
And so this is really being called into question, why are we operating in this way? And then we see NATO for example, they have a shared military unit and even though we disagree with their politics and their analysis and where they present themselves, at least the idea of NATO is this touch one, touch all idea. It’s like if the people who are exploiting Africa have that mentality, it’s only normal that Africa moves more and more and more towards the closest forms of unity that we can arrive at.
Ju-Hyun Park: That’s a really excellent and cogent point that you’re offering there: If the world is going to be shaped by the Pan-Europeanism that’s embodied within NATO, why should there not also be a Pan-Africanism that is in opposition to that operating for the purpose of achieving real independence, sovereignty, and truly wellbeing for African people within the continent and arguably around the world? You’ve raised a lot of really important points. It’s a really beautiful and significant thing that there are people looking back to the very recent revolutionary history of the continent for inspiration in terms of a chart to a path forward. And we’re already seeing some of those foundations being laid. Last week, The Alliance of Sahel States, the AES, was announced between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea. I’m wondering if you can provide our audience with a little bit of context as to what this new security and mutual assistance alliance really is, where it’s coming from, and what goals it intends to accomplish.
Inemesit Richardson: Okay. Burkina Faso and Mali were the first states to begin to disentangle themselves from France, beginning militarily. And I believe the currency question is really what’s on the table in the immediate future. And very early on once Burkina Faso started to follow in this direction that Mali charted, immediately the prime ministers and the heads of states got together to begin talking about this federation. It’s so popular that people walk on foot from Bamako to Ouagadougou. I don’t want to get this wrong but it’s something like 800 kilometers to arrive from Bamako to Ouagadougou. So that’s how strongly people feel. There was another delegation that I believe set off from Mali near the border of Mauritania. I don’t know how long that route was but people really were walking on foot to express how deeply they believed in this cause of African unity in the creation of a federation that would unite African people.
And the heads of state did take this up. The prime ministers took this up. There was a meeting earlier in the year between the prime ministers of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea, where they first announced that they were working on this question of creating a federation and that any African country that wants to join is welcome to join it. Again, at the Russia-Africa summit that happened in July of this year, President Ibrahim Traore revoked this and said we are still working on this federation and we want to unify with Mali. Then, more recently, as you mentioned, there’s this new alliance of Sahelian states, which I believe is really following in the same direction. If you read what the charter said, it is actually exactly what I was referring to with this touch-one, touch-all mentality.
It says that any attack on the sovereignty of any one of the states that are in this alliance will be considered an attack on all of the states. They really started to form into this block and people are going to keep encouraging the states to push further and further and further until we can get as close as possible. As I said, it’s a devastating time when people who have families on different sides of the border cannot even cross those borders to see their loved ones. This is the context of a part of the world where these borders were drawn so arbitrarily, really a competition between European states largely, especially with the Ghana-Burkina border but within the French border.
France has reconstituted these small sub-regional administrative units so many times and one of the conditions for achieving independence was that states could not unify that independence and decide to overcome these colonial divisions. It was one of the conditions that they respect these boundaries. I know so many people whose villages are practically cutting across these borders. It’s like the people in the eastern side of Burkina Faso, the western side of Burkina Faso, they speak the same language as the majority of people in Mali.
It’s really like this all over every border area you get to. So people really feel strongly about the position these heads of states are taking in favor of having a greater and greater unity.
Ju-Hyun Park: Thank you so much for that overview. And a really important element in pushing these four nations to come together has also been the level of backlash that they’ve experienced, not only from France and the US but also from the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS, which quite significantly was threatening an invasion of Niger and up to, I believe, an expiration date of August 6. But there still continued to be some discussion around that. And of course, there’s been all manner of sanctions, particularly harsh against Niger, which I believe has had 70% of its electricity production cutoff from neighboring Nigeria.
I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about what you believe might be the future development of these threats against the AES, particularly given that France is announcing its withdrawal, does this mean that from here on out things are going to improve? Is there a possibility that there could be even more pressure applied from within ECOWAS to either stage some military intervention or to increase sanctions and other coercive measures against these countries?
Inemesit Richardson: It’s amazing that France is retreating from Niger. They’ve really been forced out. They’ve been pushed out. They have no choice the people of Niger don’t want them there. I also think there’s going to be consequences and backlash that we are anticipating and the people know there’s going to be backlash and there’s a mentality here that we’re preparing for what that will look like on the ground across these states. As you mentioned, the sanctions in Niger are already quite severe and have already impacted a lot of regular working people. The prices of a lot of basic goods have increased overnight and that’s the result of ECOWAS sanctions. The problem with the ECOWAS dynamic within the Sahel is that it’s so unpopular already within the other ECOWAS states, we’ve seen protests in Benin, we’ve seen protests in Nigeria, we’ve seen protests in Senegal.
These are some of the main countries that are spearheading these threats against Niger. From what I understand, there was a French warship that pulled up to the shores of Benin; At least people believed that that was what the vehicle was, that was in Benin’s waters, and that led to even more mobilizations in Benin. It’s the same dynamic with mentioning across the African continent with some of these border areas, so like the north of Nigeria and much of the south of Niger, these are the same people who have been families on both sides of the border and are changing forever. And so there’s massive backlash and it makes the situation a little tricky for ECOWAS. These are already very unpopular leaders. Tinubu of Nigeria has already been called into question by a lot of Nigerians in regard to the election and whether or not that was legitimate.
Macky Sall in Senegal, my gosh. There’s been mobilizations and the streets of Dakar have been lit on fire in mobilizations against Macky Sall. So these are massively unpopular leaders which puts them in a tricky situation. But what we are seeing outside of these sanctions – And I don’t know if they’ll continue, what that’ll look like, and for how long – But what we are seeing is that Western countries are sanctioning the Sahel. So the US and the EU now have stations in Mali, claiming that Mali is working with Wagner, the Russian group, which the Malian government has never confirmed. They’ve always said that they haven’t. I strongly believe that African countries can work with whoever they want and that has nothing to do with the West. Their sanctions are illegal. There’s no legal process… That should be in place. We are supposed to legalize sanctions. So there are illegal sanctions that are imposed on Mali. Germany has actually been at the forefront of pushing the EU towards sanctioning Niger.
This is something that personally I anticipate, and I’m waiting to see, will Niger be sanctioned? Burkina Faso doesn’t have those Western sanctions on it yet but that’s another thing. I am waiting to see it and holding my breath anticipating that these sanctions are going to come, especially since they’ve already come and they’ve already been placed in Mali. This economic warfare will be a strategy for repressing these states. And to add real quick, these are landlocked countries. Imposing sanctions on landlocked countries is exponentially more severe because we don’t have access to the water to be able to easily connect with countries that would otherwise be open to trading with us or being friendly. There is a level of dependence where we would need ECOWAS to support in solidarity or some coastal state. We’re lucky that we have Guinea-Conakry right now who has taken a position in defense of Mali, Burkina, and Niger, but it’s really, really hard imposing sanctions on alignment countries. Very devastating.
Ju-Hyun Park: Absolutely, and we see how these sanctions are also extremely political in the sense of trying to enforce a certain agenda upon these countries. We mentioned before that in the case of Mali and Burkina, there were already junta governments in power before the current coups happened. These governments were not under sanctions because they were complying with an agenda that was amenable to the US and to the EU. But now that there are governments in power that are trying to put forward a more sovereign and more independent development path and way of relating to their neighbors and to the wider world, suddenly the hammer is coming down. Suddenly there is so much concern over the internal democracy and the state of the politics within these countries, which of course is really a smokescreen for these other agendas that have a lot more to do with the interests of multinationals within the Sahel at large.
The picture that we’re establishing is that this is really momentous that France is being forced from Niger, but the struggle is not over yet. There’s still a lot of possibility for increased repression and a lot of possibility for increased blowback, but there are also other currents and other trends that we should be looking at. You mentioned the protests that are taking place in Senegal, that have taken place in Nigeria and in Benin as well, and even from the standpoint of really uprooting the French presence in the Sahel, there’s more to be done. There’s still the permanent military base in Chad. There continues to be, as we mentioned before, French control of the CFA Frank. So I’m wondering what opportunities you see going ahead. Is there a possibility for increased resistance in any one of these countries in particular? Is this a regional situation that we need to keep an eye on in multiple places, or are there particular hotspots that could be next to break through the current moment?
Inemesit Richardson: That’s a great question. Because for me – At least from my standpoint – I felt that the coup in Niger was very predictable and from the position that I’m in, a lot of people talked about and anticipated a coup in Niger for a very long time. But it’s a little harder to see where to go from here. We do see, as I mentioned, mass mobilizations against French imperialism in Senegal, but Senegal is also a country that has a very different relationship with its military. It’s one of the few West African countries that’s never had a coup before. It’s sometimes treated like a bragging point where there’s a UA dynamic sometimes with the Senegalese protests. They’re anti [inaudible] but also pro-democracy, defining democracy in a narrow, I would say bourgeois, sometimes electoral list way. It’s fine if there’s a progressive outcome but long story short, it’s a different relationship with the military.
So it’s hard to say whether or not there’d be a coup in a place like Senegal. Patrice Talon is very unpopular in Benin. I don’t know. Again, it’s a different context a little bit because they don’t have as much of boots on the ground French military-style invasion in Benin, but he’s very unpopular. So if he was overthrown somehow, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised. There’s this context of Chad that you mentioned. It’s a good example of a coup government that the West has supported. Mohammed Dewji took power from his father, Idris Dewji, who ruled over the country for decades, in a coup.
And that coup was not denounced and Chad was not sanctioned in this way, and there was no we’re going to invade Chad. It was pretty much like all, cool, we know this family. This is the Dewjis, they’ve allied with us for a long time. And so it’s a country that has a lot of potential to follow this trend. The problem is that Mohammed Dewji has proved himself to be very, very, what’s the word? It’s a dangerous situation to mobilize in and that makes it harder.
Protestors came out on the streets last year and they were gunned down. It’s a very repressive situation but it’s still a situation where there’s a lot of potential, especially because it’s really in this same region that’s having these massive uprisings, and people are fed up with France and are fed up with the Western countries. We’re seeing coups in Central Africa now. I would say that so far the one that happened in Gabon is a very different character than the ones that have happened in the Sahel. Unfortunately, it seems like the new administration in Gabon is one that was closely allied with the Bongo leaders in that history of what we call Françafrique. But the fact that it happened is very interesting.
It remains to see if he will be able to hold onto power, what’s going to happen? Burkina Faso had a more reactionary coup before we got the progressive one. It’s a little bit difficult, different in Central Africa but again, people are seeing what’s happening across the pond in the West Africa region and maybe there is potential for that to erupt into a bigger anti-imperialist movement that could be calling into question France’s role. And then hopefully it’s happening, this expanding into a question of AFRICOM and NATO as well.
Ju-Hyun Park: Excellent. Thank you so much for that overview. What we’re clearly seeing is that there are bright spots, there are opportunities, and there is some hope to be seen in these other situations, but of course, the situation is very complex and the challenges are very real. The repression you mentioned in Chad is something that really has gone uncommented on. I was reading recently, that I believe more than 100 people were killed at that protest that you mentioned last year, and up to 1,000 people have also been arrested in the crackdown that followed.
There is a real danger that people are facing on the ground but of course, we want to lend all our support for the bravery that they’re demonstrating and for their continued struggle. I do want to be respectful of your time. You’ve given so much of it. I also wanted to ask one final question, particularly given your specific background. You’ve come to Burkina Faso from the US. You are a member of the AAPRP, which is a party that operates internationally for a Pan-Africanist horizon. So I was wondering, as you’ve been in the context of Burkina Faso during this really historically transformative experience, what inspiration and lessons do you think African people beyond the Sahel and even beyond the continent, can take from these struggles?
Inemesit Richardson: One of the things that Burkina Faso taught me is that sovereignty is possible and that Pan-Africanism is possible. Sometimes I talk to African people who live in various parts of the world and it seems like this is such a far-off thing. It’s such a huge ambitious goal but is it really realistic? And if there’s something that’s so fulfilling and inspirational to be on the ground somewhere where people really believe in the unity of African people worldwide, believe that we can be sovereign, believe that we can overthrow neocolonialism and all forms of imperialism, and that Africa can really defend itself and represent something on the world stage in a dignified way. It’s hard to live in the context of after the slave trade ends, then there’s the colonial period, and then after the colonial period, it’s like neocolonialism.
It’s been hundreds and hundreds of years of various iterations of exploitation so I understand why a lot of people feel like, okay, this is it, and we’re not getting off the plantation, as some people would say. But being here, I really, really feel like it’s possible. And not even possible, it’s inevitable. I witnessed… And to say Burkina Faso is a context where it’s like I am around people who are 16, 17, 18 years old saying, I would give my life to defend Africa. There’s such a heightened level of consciousness among people who are so young and there’s this mentality of we have everything, we have nothing to lose, and we have everything to gain.
So being on the ground here, it’s really transformative. I really encourage African people and all oppressed and colonized people worldwide, to get involved with organizations that are fighting for liberation, and to stand up to the empire. And African people, like I said, we should all be in Pan-African organizations. We should all join organizations, Pan-Africanism is possible, and it’s not something that was happening in the ’60s and is over. It’s something that people are willing to live and die for on the ground in multiple parts of the African continent and around the world.
Ju-Hyun Park: Well, that’s incredible. And Inemesit, thank you so much for your time. This has been in Inemesit Richardson from the Thomas Sankara Center for Liberation and African Unity here on The Real News. We’ll be signing off now but are looking forward to staying up to date with developments on the ground in the Sahel and with the broader vision towards a United Socialist Pan-African State. Thank you so much.
Inemesit Richardson: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.