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What next for the Sahel region?

While recognising that Africans must chart their own course for the future, we must not fall into the trap of believing that throwing the French and United States out of the region will mean the people will automatically benefit, cautions ROGER McKENZIE

THE global North has already lost to the global South. It is over.

Things will never return to the days of a load of (mainly) white blokes from a handful of rich countries sitting around a table and passing judgement on more than 80 per cent of the world.

Even the most sycophantic of global majority nation leaders have realised that the zero-sum game of complete subservience to the United States and its posse will no longer play at home.

The era of instant social media news means that virtually everyone can get to hear quickly that the old colonial powers and their modern-day leader, the US, are now being told to get out of countries they have exploited for decades, if not centuries.

Of course the fact that these exploiters are at last being kicked out on their rear ends does not mean the end of exploitation.

We must always support the end of exploitation by these colonial powers wherever it takes place. But we should never confuse what is happening as being automatically a step towards socialism.

Sometimes it no doubt is, but many times it decidedly is not.

I see the ousting of subservient-to-the-North regimes in places like the Sahel region of Africa as something that socialists should support without hesitation.

But we must be clear about the nature of these regime changes and none of them, as far as I can see, are socialist.

None of the military leaders that have seized power in the Sahel have, to my knowledge, declared the socialist nature of their changes.

Ibrahim Traore, the 36-year-old who became Africa’s youngest leader after a coup in Burkino Faso during September 2022, is no Thomas Sankara.

Sankara is sometimes referred to as Africa’s Che Guevara. I think this is wrong. 

Sankara was a unique Marxist and pan-Africanist revolutionary who deserves to be remembered in his own right as someone who had the appropriate class politics for the working class and peasants of Burkina Faso.

Sankara took over in a military coup in 1983 before being assassinated in 1987 by troops under the command of Western-backed military officer Blaise Compaore, who remained in power until an uprising in the country in 2014.

In 2021 Compaore was charged with the murder of Sankara but the fingerprints of the former colonial powers seem to many observers to be all over the killing.

He never faced any jail time for the murder, as he was spirited away to the Cote d’Ivoire to live in the lap of luxury that he had grown accustomed to as president for life — he thought — of Burkina Faso.

Sankara’s revolutionary programmes for African self-reliance mean that to this day he remains extremely popular with the poverty-stricken people of Burkina Faso.

No doubt Traore and the other military leaders in Mali, Chad and Niger mean well. I have no doubt that they are people who have simply had enough of the corrupt practices. But we need to make common cause with socialists and communists in the region who do not just want to replace the old boss with the new boss but with no change in the material conditions of the people.

To be fair there has already been a significant change in the conditions in Niger. Niger is, after the Caribbean nation of Guyana, the second-fastest growing economy on the planet.

No longer are the valuable natural resources of Niger — uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, petroleum, salt, calcium, cassiterite and gypsum — serving the people of the global North. They can now go towards serving the people.

But we must not fall into the trap of believing that throwing the French and United States out of the region will mean the people will automatically benefit. 

Any benefits from removing the fat cats who for years took their orders from the colonial powers can only be guaranteed by a move to socialism and pan-Africanism across the mother continent.

Simply expecting new faces administering the old system to redistribute power to the working-class and peasant communities of this region is worse than foolhardy.

I believe we should welcome the removal of the fat cats happy to exploit their own people to benefit the global North and to line their own pockets.

We need to identify and work with the revolutionary forces in the region to bring about socialist change.

I have never believed that we should be in the business of criticising people who are engaged in the revolutionary struggle against imperialism. 

The left in the global North often seems to be particularly eager to tell people involved in revolutionary struggle the exact error of their ways and how what they are doing deviates from their own dogmatic or romantic view of what should be happening.

I have heard this too often from some elements on the left in relation to Cuba, Nicaragua and China, to name but a few, for it to be more than just an isolated occurrence.

It is in fact an arrogance born of an innate feeling of superiority or racism. 

I know words like these are guaranteed to raise hackles and to bring out a recitation of every anti-racist campaign these folks have ever been involved in.

I think the left should certainly be prepared to enter into a dialogue with African socialists — there is absolutely nothing wrong with that — but there has often seemed to me to be an assumption that the global North left knows better than the planet’s majority in the South.

This does not mean that we just accept whatever replaces the former exploitative regimes. Far from it.

The need for a rapid return to democracy in the Sahel and elsewhere where the military have taken control is something that the African trade union movement has been absolutely clear about.

No matter how excited we might get about the removal of Western puppet regimes and the popularity with the people enjoyed by coups such as in Niger, I believe the continent’s trade union movement is absolutely correct on this point.

We should not be relying on the military to bring about change in Africa. That should be for the people to do.

Our role is to offer whatever comradely assistance the revolutionary socialist movements in the region ask of us.

The last thing Africans need are any more know-it-all revolutionaries telling them what to do and when to do it. I think the continent has really had its fill of missionaries.

Africans, from wherever they are on that vast and beautiful continent, are well capable of charting their own course and deciding what socialism and pan-Africanism looks like to them.


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