Professor Nic Cheeseman, the Director of the Centre for Elections, Democracy, Accountability and Representation (CEDAR) at the University of Birmingham has written for the BBC on the recent spate of coups in West Africa, asking what role France has played – if any – in the recent political instability. Writing with Leonard Mbulle-Nziege, Professor Cheeseman notes:
Since 1990, a striking 78% of the 27 coups in sub-Saharan Africa have occurred in Francophone states, leading some commentators to ask whether France - or the legacy of French colonialism - is to blame?Professor Nic Cheeseman
The article documents many of the criticisms of French engagement in Africa that have been made by those in its former colonies. These include the authoritarian political structured created under colonial rule and the lack of investment in either state infrastructure or development. Cheeseman and Mbulle-Nziege also explain how French engagement did not end with the political independence of African states, but instead evolved into “a neocolonial relationship hidden by "the secret criminality in the upper echelons of French politics and economy."
The article concludes, however, that “for all of the mistakes France has made in its dealings with its former colonies in Africa over the years, the instability Francophone states are currently experiencing cannot be solely laid at its door.” As evidence for this conclusion, the article points to the fact that other colonial governments have propped up authoritarian leaders without this leading to a series of coups, and the fact that the recent military takeovers were driven by predominantly domestic considerations. The trigger for the coup in Niger, for example, “appears to have been President Bazoum's plans to reform the military high command and remove Gen Tchiani from his position.”
This suggests that the coup was as much about protecting the privileges of the military elite as it was about re-asserting national sovereignty. Further evidence for this interpretation comes from the willingness of junta leaders from countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali to align themselves with Russia, despite the human rights abuses committed by its troops and those of Wagner not only in Ukraine but also now in Mali. Cheeseman and Mbulle-Nziege thus argue that “As in the past, the beneficiaries of these global alliances are likely to be the political elite rather than ordinary citizens.”
On this basis, they conclude that changing a partnership with France for a partnership with Russia is “unlikely to be a straightforward boon for political stability, and in decades to come we may well see a new generation of military leaders attempting to legitimise further coups on the basis of the need to rid their countries of malign Russian influence.”
Read the full article on the BBC website