LAST WEEKEND MARKED the fifth anniversary of the passing away of Kofi Atta Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat, who served as the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) from January 1997 to December 2006. He was the first from the UN staff to occupy that position. Mr. Annan died on August 18, 2018, at the age of 80. In Africa, his home continent, the anniversary of Annan’s death went unnoticed. More specifically, in West Africa where he originated from, the talk about democracy in Niger Republic overshadowed the memorials of Mr. Annan during this period. This was a man that lived a life of service to humanity. After his stint at the UN, he was still instrumental to many global initiatives. One of them having direct bearing with governance was his chairing of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security from March 2011 to September 2012. Earlier, in 2008, he led the African Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities, which mediated a peaceful resolution to post-election violence in Kenya. The Kofi Annan Foundation he established and chaired was meant to serve as a catalyst for lasting peace and inclusive governance by anticipating looming threats to security, development and human rights.
Could the post-coup responses to Niger have been handled differently if Annan were still alive? What would have changed? His handling of world affairs while in and out of office as Secretary General could provide some insight. As secretary-general, he reformed the UN bureaucracy. It was Annan who issued a call for renewing the mission of the United Nations on the 60th anniversary on October 30, 2009. During his tenure, he prioritised a comprehensive programme of reform that sought to revitalise the United Nations and make the international system more effective. The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised this in 2001, when he and the UN were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and he was praised for being “pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organisation.” After his tenure, his Kofi Annan Foundation launched projects to safeguard elections and democracy in the digital age. In 1998, as part of his wide-ranging diplomatic initiatives, Annan helped to ease the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. Annan proved that Africans are indeed capable of good leadership. Here is a paraphrase of his speech during the UN 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on March 16, 1998 in Geneva: “The reasons for the gap between rhetoric and reality — between our words and our actions — are complex. But we must address them if we are to realise the vision which our forefathers gave us through the words of the Declaration.” In his reckoning, the 50th anniversary motto of “all human rights for all” sums up the challenge we currently face. Sadly, not much progress has been made in leadership by example in Africa and by those who still remotely manipulate Africa as the continent has been through a series of transformations in the past six decades, beginning with decolonisation and the struggle against apartheid, followed by a period marked and marred by civil war and military rule. In Annan’s belief, it was “time for Africa’s third wave: a wave of peace rooted in democracy and human rights.”
Niger’s recent coup d’état has exposed many things about Africa’s progress or lack of it. In particular, it has exposed the hypocrisy and double standard of the global north on the application of the concepts of human rights and democracy. It has heightened the perennial doubts about deceptions inherent in democracy, particularly as the system has been called to question in the US lately because of alleged electoral frauds. The ferocity of response from France to the Niger coup was not only unusual but it was as suspect as it was threadbare. France that was trying hard to defend and protect democracy in Niger has held on to the jugular of Niger and seven other francophone West African countries for well over five decades, dictating terms of engagement to them and exploiting them to selfish ends. Now, the fortune of France in Africa was already diminishing as former colonies were beginning to question the nature of their relationship with France. Desperate and worried that Niger’s coup was tending towards the now familiar direction from the experiences in Mali and Burkina Faso, France began to frantically rally support against the coup leaders, purporting to be keen on forcefully reinstating the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, considered to be a Western ally. And, indeed, Bazoum was a Western ally in the sense that suited and benefitted France and the US mainly, and the EU.
Everisto Benyera, a professor of African Politics, was on point as he observed four aspects of nationhood that France retained and withheld from their former colonies after what was referred to as independence. These are their military affairs, their finances, their natural resources and their international relations. According to him, the francophone countries were granted independence minus these four aspects which constitute the core of independence for any country. Over the past six decades, resources from those former colonies, particularly West Africa, have been underwriting the French economy. And, because that is about to end, the same France that tacitly supported Alassane Ouattara’s unconstitutional third term bid in Côte d’Ivoire could come up with plausible democratic rhetorics to condemn the Niger coup, claiming it lacked legitimacy. The proxy war engineered through the ECOWAS executive leadership ran into crisis as there were divisions among member countries on the choice of military invasion of Niger. The legislative branch of ECOWAS has been a bit reluctant, choosing rather to use diplomatic means to meditate. The legislative arm of some governments, notably Nigeria, were unequivocal in their rejection of military invasion, describing it as a last resort which is unlikely because of the vehemence of the legislators from the states that share border with Niger. The US that initially exposed itself as an interested party in the proxy war against Niger through the ECOWAS has issued a statement, denying such involvement. In diplomatic circles, such a statement may be more about face saving than capitulation as the interest of the US in Niger may be a bit similar to that of France, although probably narrowed down to natural resources.
The battle for natural resources, particularly minerals of strategic importance such as uranium, is hinged on two issues, namely politics of green energy and advanced modern warfare. And Africa has been identified as a strategic source, especially as the US embarks on decoupling from China and Russia. The diplomacy by bully tactics is a familiar style of the US that chooses which international rules to obey and which ones to spurn. It has led a number of forceful interventions in many countries in the veiled attempts to install democratic governments, whereas its motivation is completely different. Otherwise, why the tardiness and seeming indifference of the US towards the power tussle in Sudan since April 15 this year? Why not spit fire on General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo of the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces respectively, and threaten to use force against them if they don’t lay down their arms and return to the truncated process of return to civil rule?
Because the ECOWAS leaders lack democratic credentials, many of them, particularly Côte d’Ivoire’s Allasane Ouattara and the Nigeria’s Tinubu — who is still fighting for legitimacy of his government at home — are so desperate about reversing the coup d’état in Niger, purporting to protect or promote the same democracy they have both so brazenly violated in their respective countries. Both the US and France find them easy pawns in their quest for the protection of their interests in Africa. While Ouattara does the bidding of France, Tinubu will be doing that of the US, expecting the latter’s support and validation. For both Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, it plays to the advantage of France and the US. The US will particularly be delighted to hug Nigeria and bully its way through, lining up Nigeria behind itself in its economic Cold War with China and political Cold War with Russia. That is the simplistic definition framed in a politically correct expression of being a Western ally.
As African countries increasingly look eastwards for partnership and strategic diplomatic ties, the US and France are expected to be more desperate and crooked in their efforts to win them back. The acute and apparent discomfiture of Washington DC about Huawei, one of China’s most successful technologies, is a case in point. The love of the US for Africa can thus be gauged in its hardline approach to diplomacy in desperate attempts to remain globally dominant in the emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and microchip production. The fact that the US brooks no competition could be seen in how it recently pressured its allies, including South Africa, to boycott Huawei, accusing Huawei of using its technologies for spying and sabotage. In doing so, it denies the wider world an opportunity to have access to varieties of technologies, protects its own market and tends to pigeon-hole and tie the rest of the world to the apron string of the US, using various narratives — including blackmail — in various circumstances to deter anything that poses a challenge or obstacle to its strategic interests. For the US, the subject of semiconductors is high on its agenda in its defence of Taiwan against China.
South Africa has, however, spurned the US pressure to stop using Huawei technologies on its network. It remains to be seen what kind of geopolitical and economic agreements South Africa will hammer out with India, Russia and China in particular during this week’s 15th BRICS summit from Tuesday to Thursday in Johannesburg, in which any major economy from the Middle East could add to BRICS membership. Other countries in Africa have not been enjoying the same latitude or leverage and could easily be hoodwinked or cowed by the West, depending on who is leading them.
With Niger’s coup, the issue of Africa’s obscurity in the global value chain has come to the fore once again. The statements of the coup leaders in Niger as well as those from Mali and Burkina Faso about the need for Western countries desiring to invest in Africa to set up factories become all the more germane. Political leaders who are obsessed with the call for foreign direct investment (FDI) need to be more strategic and deliberate. Private sector investors from the West have been operating in Africa before the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference, yet the raw materials they have been buying cheaply from Africa have been returning to Africa as far more expensive end products. Moreover, they have erected high barriers to trade with Africa through tariff bands on raw commodities exported by African exporters while they enjoy a lot of incentives to export their own products to Africa. The West’s fight for Africa’s commodities will continue but the manner of fighting will keep changing with time and tide. As long as the West is able to set up and sustain puppets as leaders that serve their own interests anywhere in Africa, the “worst form of democracy” will continue to be tolerated as better than “the best form of military rule,” even if the latter truly caters to the needs and yearnings of the people.