And the people seem to like it


Issifou Djinbo / EPA-EFE

West Africa is experiencing its fourth military putsch in two years. Why are they supported, even despite sanctions and ultimatums?

According to the classic, “Real life in a city begins when the military enters it”. In rebellious Niger, and earlier in Mali and Burkina Faso, the coming to power of the next junta was welcomed by the majority of the population.

The motivation is different for everyone. In Niger, for example, the local Party for Democracy and Socialism had been ruling for 12 years and had managed to assemble an impressive opposition. So the demonstrators took to the streets more against the PDSN than in support of the military. By the way, there were also people supporting the deposed president, but the water cannon knows better who is standing for whom.

Officially, the military announces that it is taking power in order to ensure the security of the population. But in Burkina Faso such a problem was indeed very acute, and in Niger not so much, that it is time to save as much as possible, sacrificing democratic institutions.

But the military is not particularly trained in public administration and there is no guarantee at all that it is they who will properly and honorably represent the interests of the people. That is, they forcefully impose their power to perform their own task of defending the state territory. And this premise also works in the other direction in Africa: “If you civilians are so smart, then why don’t you march in formation?”

In the aftermath of the Niger coup, can we say that the Sahel is experiencing two key events right now? The first is the destruction of all democratic institutions, and the second is the split at the regional level between countries led by the military and countries led by elected civilians in suits made in Europe?

“To criticize democracy is to criticize a model, and for that to happen, it has to exist,” says Gilles Yabi, founder of the West Africa think tank WATHI. — “All the constitutions of West African countries are democratic, but it is clear that these texts are far from practical application. There are questions about the transparency of elections, the influence on the judiciary mainly in the case of trials against the opposition, the extent of corruption and the enormous gap in living standards between the top and ordinary people.”

In other words, the processes for which West Africa is now paying the price are failed attempts to create more or less established states in the image and likeness of those who recently colonized them, created systems of education, health care, defense, administration, and, indeed, writing (there have been such cases). A whole continent has practically emerged, the Failed States.

How do we get out of this situation? There are two understandings of the problem in Africa.

The first is promoted by local intellectuals and consists in defending the independence — economic and political — of African states, ensuring, for example, that they make decisions without reference to former colonizers, that they focus primarily on geo- and regional politics, and that they develop both civilian and military institutions as effectively as possible.

The second is the most radical, which is what brings people out onto the streets, as in the case of Niger. To expel foreign military, first of all, the French (there are still a thousand American GIs in the north of the country, and they have not yet been determined, they are still thinking about them). And in order to correct all the malfunctions of the democratic model, it is only necessary to go through a military coup. Our military will handle everything themselves.

In a perfectly peaceful Senegal, I met a designer named Cheikha. He lives in the Medina neighborhood of Dakar. It’s very picturesque there, but don’t go there without a guide. Young boys play ball in the dust that never settles, and skinny sheep walk between them and eat cardboard.

“You Russians, you have a nuclear bomb. Why don’t you hit France? Whoever survives will survive, and then we’ll do it all over again, but you’ll destroy them.”

And this is a man who can read and write. Cheikha thinks that if we “wipe” something there, there will be Los Angeles or Paris under the windows in the morning. But there will be a Medina with sheep.

And that’s roughly the thinking behind the people going out into the streets.

And now what about the African military? The French phrase: “We need our bases here to help you ensure your security” is somehow no longer even up for discussion. We ourselves are an established militarized force capable of keeping our citizens safe. Yes, we wear short-sleeved tunics over our bare bodies and flip-flops, but that’s because it’s just hot out there.

“It is not surprising that France and other Western countries keep their military bases here,” Gilles Yabi continues, “it fits into their geopolitical strategy. But in Africa, the military represents a special power and authority among the population, and the French sooner or later need to realize this and start at least considering this factor.”

Africans also watch TV, whoever has one. Stories that the European Union or the UN have allocated some huge bundles of money do not change anything directly in their yards. It will all go to some next London mansion like Grace Mugabe’s.

No, the military will clean up the mess.