Resurgence of Cold War geo-economics in Africa


The resurgence of Cold War dynamics in Africa, marked by recent political upheaval and coups, raises concerns globally, especially for European nations. Africa plays a pivotal role in the supply of raw materials, energy resources, capital, and young labor amidst contemporary geopolitical confrontations.

The recent turmoil in Niger, where a military coup ousted the president with support from neighboring nations Burkina Faso and Somalia, has sent shockwaves through the Western world. European countries, notably France, with extensive economic and strategic interests in the region, are particularly perturbed. The coup plotters made a symbolic gesture of waving Russian flags and chanting pro-Russian slogans, in stark contrast to their removal of French flags. This gesture underscores Russia’s growing influence in Africa, fueled by President Putin’s ambitious and covert expansion strategy.

In a summit involving Russia and African heads of state preceding the coup, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former rebel leader of the Wagner group, made his first public appearance since the rebellion. This meeting underscored the significance of mercenary groups like Wagner in Russia’s African policy.

During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled US$23 billion of African debt owed to Russia and offered an additional US$90 million in aid. He also made a bold promise to supply free grain to Africans should the deal to transport grain through the Black Sea falter.

Russia, embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Ukraine, seeks to open new fronts of confrontation with the West, making Africa a new battleground for great power competition. Russia employs KGB-style hybrid methods reminiscent of the Cold War era, utilizing proxies like the Wagner mercenary group to exploit Africa’s turmoil and fragility for its own benefit. By providing financial and military support to African leaders and promoting pro-Moscow regimes, Russia aims to secure a foothold in this strategically vital region for the West. Russia’s strategy in Africa is multifaceted, involving the creation of multiple militias similar to Wagner to diversify its operations.

This Russian policy in Africa undermines Western interests, particularly those of Europe, and poses a significant concern for France. The Niger coup could potentially trigger political changes in the region that might lead to France’s withdrawal from the Sahel region. Last year, after nine years of military intervention in Mali, France withdrew its forces from the country. If the 1,500 French soldiers in Niger are forced to leave, Chad would be the sole Sahel country hosting a French military base.

France has vital interests in the region, primarily driven by nuclear energy and migration policy. Niger supplies France with 10 percent of the uranium required to power its nuclear reactors, which generate 75 percent of its electricity.

Additionally, Niger plays a crucial role as a transit country for migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. France has supported Niger’s border security efforts to curb this migration flow. Losing influence in Niger would significantly impede France’s interests. The coup in Niger has also tarnished the image of Emmanuel Macron and French military and intelligence agencies. France’s failure to predict the coup, despite boasting of foreseeing the Wagner coup, has raised doubts about its stabilization strategy in Africa, both in Europe and within France. Consequently, many observers believe that African countries are increasingly seeking closer ties with China and Russia.

The United States did not take a particularly strong stance against the coup, despite condemning it and evacuating its citizens from Niger. Washington is content with seeing the influence of European powers, notably France, diminish in Africa. It seeks to reduce the export of mineral resources from African countries to Europe and increase Africa’s reliance on the United States.

Russia faces several challenges in its bid to expand influence in Africa. A significant portion of Africans view China as their primary partner, while Russia lacks popularity on the continent. Moscow also lacks substantial investment and trade in Africa, with its trade volume totaling only US$18 billion, in stark contrast to China’s US$282 billion and the United States’ US$72 billion. Russia relies on pro-military forces in Africa to further its interests, recruiting from rebel and terrorist groups to orchestrate and support coups in favor of pro-Russian elements.

As Russia faces mounting pressure from the United States and its allies, particularly in Europe, over the Ukraine conflict, it seeks to divert attention by opening new fronts of confrontation, including Africa and the Middle East.

Russia also employs rhetoric, such as the specter of war in Africa, to send a message to the West and Europe, warning them that Moscow’s capacity for disruption and escalation extends beyond Europe. The Niger coup underscores Europe’s need to recognize that it cannot solely depend on the United States to safeguard its security and economic interests, as Washington has its own priorities and resources will not be invested on Europe’s behalf. The mere issuance of a condemning statement by the United States in response to the Niger coup serves as evidence of this reality.


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