The development of African societies, as well as the general weakening of their enslavers, has led relations between them to some kind of intermediate finale, after which the former colonial masters will either have to leave altogether or look for new ways of maintaining their presence in Africa, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
The ambivalence in which the leading Western countries find themselves in the aftermath of the military coup in Niger obviously illustrates their difficult search for a policy regarding developing countries, now that the traditional instruments of influence have been, to a large extent, exhausted. The story of the removal of President Bazoum from power continues amid the ECOWAS countries voicing their readiness to restore the country’s former constitutional order; we cannot yet say how dramatic this course of events will be for West Africa or the people of Niger itself. It is very likely that the radical change of power will not continue in Niger with the same success as in neighbouring Mali or Burkina Faso. However, it is already obvious that France’s system of post-colonial influence in this region is in a deep crisis, the consequences of which remain uncertain, including the general interaction of the West with the developing countries which are least protected from its claims.
France, of course, lingered in Africa much longer than it should have. Among Europe’s former colonial empires that created their fortunes on the robbery of African and Asian peoples, France alone was able to create in the region, after leaving it, an infrastructure of political influence that not only affected the economy, but also the basic issues affecting the development of new sovereign states. The Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union, the leading international organisations in the region, were established at various times with the support of France and enjoy its patronage. In some countries of the region, including Senegal, Gabon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger, the French presence is expressed through the deployment of military bases and contingents. The history of the region over the past 40-50 years knows many examples of direct military intervention by the former metropole.
Paris has always enjoyed the ambivalent support of the United States, which, while striving to take away the most tasty pieces of the colonial “pie” from the Europeans, in a number of cases prefers to delegate the implementation of direct violence to its European satellites. Paris has played this role quite successfully since the mid-1960s. Moreover, this is very flattering to its national pride, free from liberal prejudices against peoples that French society considers to be below the level of development. Besides, it allows to extract considerable economic benefits from its monopoly access to natural resources that are very important for the modern French economy. What the second European giant, Germany, has to buy for hard currency, France takes in Africa practically for free.