West African Sahel, Colonial Echoes, Migration, Ukraine, & a Whiff Franco-Russian Proxy Wars
It's Coup Season in the Beret Belt
We should probably start out defining the nations in the opening graphic.
Those are the nations of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Member states are Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo.
With the exception of Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria (English), and Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese), these nations have as their primary language French.
Though all these nations have their own stability problems, in 2023 the Francophone nations are creating more stability than can be consumed locally.
Never forget, without stability there can be no economic progress. Without economic progress, you have a decreasing quality of life in a growing population. That leads to violence and migration. For thousands of years, that’s the pattern.
For the Coup Belt update; Mali had her second coup in less than a year in May of 2021. Guinea had a coup a few months later, followed a few months after that by a coup in Burkina-Faso. Niger’s latest coup popped this week.
In the last few days, these three nations have agreed to defend each other from any intervention by the other ECOWAS nation. That would be a messy war.
The expanding Islamic insurgencies in the Sahel are worthy of a week’s series of posts themselves.
Just to add more fuel to the instability, Russian mercenaries in the Sahel continue to expand their influence in spite of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
For reasons at the intersection of post-colonial spheres of influence, uranium, habit, and a desire to bring stability to decrease migration pressures to Europe, France has a decades long military presence in many of the Francophone ECOWAS nations.
ECOWAS means more than many appreciate.
ECOWAS as an aggregate has a population ~17% greater than the USA. Those three suspended nations, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, have a combined population of 55 million of the 387 million souls in ECOWAS. Nigeria is the largest at ~230 million.
That would not be a small war should it devolve in to one - and there are threats going both ways between the suspended and non-suspended members.
Yes, we live in a complicated world, and this is an important part of it. The future belongs to those who show up, and Africa will be more and more important each passing year.
The stability problem is not just localized to the nations of West Africa. As mentioned above, part of France’s motivation is to create stable conditions so the local economies can support the rapidly growing populations. Wars do not add stability, but they do promote pressure towards migration.
Migration is a constant in all of human history and it caused most often by two things; escaping conflict and escaping economic condition that cannot support an expanding population.
Yes, I am repeating myself … for a reason.
The primary migration path out of this part of Africa is north to Europe. The number one destabilizing factor in the modern European civil society is … pressures from illegal migration, mostly from Africa. If you have war, economic instability, and food insecurity in West Africa, it will have a destabilizing impact from Cape Town in the south to Bear Island in the north.
As the USA was to Iraq, so to the Sahel is France; the primary Western power trying to keep things in some stabilized state.
The wheels started to wobble for France in the Sahel a few years ago, and the latest events have put France at a crossroads - with a twist that didn’t exist a few years ago - the Russians.
France has a couple of broad options here.
COA A: Shrug: they leave their decades-long efforts in the Sahel and let fate take its course.
Upside: no more French blood and treasure expended. Minimize possible military conflict with Russian forces. Can concentrate on her influence in Europe.
Downside: Russia expands their influence, instability grows, migration increases in to Europe. A lot more non-French blood flows.
Indirect Result: the primary issue in Europe is in the east with the Russo-Ukrainian War. If France wants to increase her efforts in Europe over West Africa, she has to go there. Germany is supine, but the trend elsewhere in Europe looking for leadership - that France lusts after - is towards supporting Ukraine, so this leads France in to closer potential conflict with Russia proper in Europe as opposed to her soldiers of fortune in Africa.
COA-B: Double Down: France decides stability in Francophone Africa is in her greatest long term strategic interest. With or without other European forces, will expand partnerships and will try to bend the future of West Africa to France’s interest.
Upside: France does not lose face and has an opportunity to shape the economic future of West Africa and control migration. Will mitigate Russian influence in her traditional sphere of influence.
Downside: more blood and treasure from France to Africa. With each year, the power differential shifts with France’s relative power to those nations, weakening in the face of especially Anglophone Nigeria’s growing power and influence - population, economic, and military.
Indirect Result: if Russia continues to expand, better than average chance France will come in to conflict with Russian PMC leading to a not very well hidden Franco-Russian proxy war.
Yes, WESTPAC demands your attention. Yes, the Russo-Ukrainian War demands your attention.