The crisis in Niger and the Ukrainisation of West Africa

Paul Biya in Cameroon is lording it royally over his subjects 41 years after he took office. Picture: Mike Segar/Reuters

Paul Biya in Cameroon is lording it royally over his subjects 41 years after he took office. Picture: Mike Segar/Reuters

Published Aug 27, 2023


Bheki Gila

THE age of permanent war is upon us. And so are the evolving psyop warfare tactics and their constantly changing theatres. Niger, to our collective chagrin, as well as the warlike noises emerging deep from the belly of a bellicose Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), are sad reminders.

It would not be otherworldly to suggest that post the Iraqi invasion, no war has a reason. They just beg for excuses. And the catch-all phrase, “democracy”, stands in to justify all wars, including the looming one.

When powerful people are beating drums of war, it would be unwise to discount the possibility of an internecine conflict descending on the horizons, whose long-term meaning and purpose remains unclear to so many.

The crisis in Niger has come to give true identity to the farcical and illusory concept called democracy. Its mercurial and elusive nature, manifesting its dark side whether on January 6 in the US or somewhere in the constitutional hallways of Ivory Coast, tends to test the foundations that undergird its vast and magnanimous socio-economic promise.

So mysterious is its true nature that it does not mean the same thing to everyone. And right from the beginning, it stole its guise and mantra from a far more grounded political system that it is implacably opposed to.

A government of the people for the people by the people describes socialism at its robust poise. Democracy has no such pretensions. Besides, no Western-type capitalist-sponsored democracy can ever suffer the indignity of being ruled by the people without selecting those people themselves.

The selectors would determine for whom they should profitably govern. And they must govern profitably for those who paid for their political ticket. For that extravagant privilege, they are given oppressive instrumentalities by which they should govern, which are beyond the reach of the plebeians, or the so-called people.

The countries that are whipping themselves up to a war frenzy, readying to attack Niger, are fairly schooled in the dark arts of democracy. Their leaders strut an impressive set of credentials of always making democracy in their countries mean what only they want it to mean, thereby achieving the ends of a coup d’état without staging a military coup d’état.

In short, political witchcraft! The cases of Togo, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, to name a few, present a curious ghoul of democracy. Indeed, for democracy to exist, it must, as of necessity, circle the ever-spinning pivot of hypocrisy.

In Togo, the incumbent Gnassingbe and his father before him ruled the country, the one succeeding the other, for about 56 unbroken years. Paul Biya in Cameroon is lording it royally over his subjects 41 years after he took office.

As for the war-mongering Ouattara in Ivory Coast, he has changed the constitution just so he could run for the third term.

The wily construct of the ways of democracy always has to pass through some money alley. For some reason, democracy always needs money, so much so that with their natural attraction for each other, most democratic processes, if not all, create special opportunities for money to speak.

In some countries, it is called the primaries, while in these parts, it is called the national conference. There would probably be other more fancier names for the gatherings.

Money has to vote first before the popular plebiscite. Therefore, on the day of voting, the people only place their crosses to endorse Big Money’s choice. This leaves one to wonder whether democracy is not just another illusory trick dealt to all by the dexterous hand of capitalism.

It is bewildering how insistent the spokespersons of Ecowas sound, suggesting with vehemence that membership in that august body surrenders the member’s sovereignty to the group, to do with it militarily as they may choose.

They may not do it against everyone. But upon whomsoever such fate befalls, shall bear the full brunt of their wrath. Ecowas, it would seem, is some cannibalistic version of Nato. It can voraciously devour even one of its own.

The famed Alice could have been in Wonderland or Ecowas, no matter. For, the saga gets curioser and curioser. What, pray tell, is the mandate of the Ecowas Liberation Task Force or whatever moniker they have arrogated to themselves?

What limits to murder, maiming and destruction must they be restricted to? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Four things must be accomplished.

First, the junta must be eliminated by whatever means necessary. Second, the uranium contracts for France must be protected. Third, the American and French military bases must be guaranteed continuity. And fourth, The Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline from Nigeria via Niger and Algeria to Europe meant to replace the blown-up Nordstream I & II pipelines must not be perturbed. Mission accomplished!

From afar, it almost feels as if the geopolitical power construct is like a black hole. It can bend light, the truth and the reality on which all our perceptions are dependent.

To boot, even what is termed diplomacy is so transient that it is dished in small laminates. So small that even before trying, some war hawks inside the West African trade union of sovereigns, were pronouncing that diplomacy has failed.

To be sure, for thousands of years, no war has concluded outside the rubrics of a diplomatic stricture. And why would we start one if we could proceed straight to diplomacy?

When it is said that all diplomatic means have been exhausted, it may surreptitiously carry the connotation that all the threats have been ignored.

There are complications, however, which are apparent to all well-meaning and reasonable people. Accounting to their complexity, any decision to attack militarily would be an incendiary to a massive powder keg whose explosion would reverberate beyond the confines of the proposed theatre of conflict.

But Ecowas decision-makers have this down to the last prescient detail. The prosecution of this war will be simple from beginning to end. Very easy, we are told!

Pity that in times like these, we cannot learn from the genius of General Vo Nguyen Giap, of the brave Vietnamese people, that no amount of superiority of weapons can ever prevail over a people determined to fight for their liberation.

Ambassador Bheki Gila is a barrister-at-law. The views expressed here are his own.