NATO is preparing its “2022 strategic concept“. It will be officially presented at the Madrid summit in June. The movements and pressures of the states follow one after the other to outline the “novelties”. The most disturbing of them: a new “Russian front” in the Sahel with strong reverberations and possibilities of destabilization in the Maghreb and the whole of West Africa. Great Britain, Germany and Spain are leading the push that promises to open a new imperialist battle for the control of Africa.
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Where did all this come from?
The first news were confusing. The Spanish peninsular press and its local echoes in its African regions, picked up messages from the government according to which Spain was pressuring NATO to consider a “deployment on the southern flank”, the name given to the Maghreb by the European military.
Subsequent statements by the Spanish and British defense ministers, but also by Scholz on his current tour of Niger, Senegal and South Africa, made it clear: the primary objective is not the southern flank but the “deep south flank”, i.e. the Sahel and the whole of West Africa. The main enemies? Russia… and China.
In response to what?
The reorientation of NATO towards Africa responds to the reorganization of the African imperialist map. On the one hand China, after displacing the US and Europe, is already established as the main commercial and financial partner of a large part of the continent. A position which, despite the expectations of its rivals, has been strengthened by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the European strategy to displace Beijing has failed to the point that France has to turn to Beijing in order to participate in major projects in its former colonies. A situation that is not to the liking of any European capital at a time when British and French finance capital are moving out of countries that until recently seemed to be impregnable strongholds.
But if China is a competitor to be displaced, Russia now appears as the direct enemy. The Ukrainian war began at the very moment at which France and its troops were being evicted from Mali by the local government, propped up after a coup d’état in 2020, by Russia. It was a hard blow for French imperialism which, after having been displaced from the Central African Republic and Sudan by Moscow’s strategies, now finds it untenable to maintain its positions in the last ex-colonies where it maintained its hegemonic power.
The French exit has not been kind to either side. The Malian government accused French troops of war crimes, espionage and subversion before denouncing its defense agreements with France and the entire EU. The EU responded with a package of sanctions that is further sinking the fragile Malian economy. But it did not stop there, despite the withdrawal from the military treaties and the open animosity of the local government, Germany declared that it was prepared to increase its military contingent in the country.
The Bamako government then decided to leave the group of Sahel countries created by France and the EU while giving the green light to its courts to summon the French foreign minister to testify in the case on human rights violations by the intervention troops.
The escalation resulted in a coup attempt, which after failing miserably less than 10 days ago and prompting the government to dismantle what was left of the French network of influence on the local ruling class, left the French secret services embarrassed across the continent.
Now, with Mali lost and Burkina and Niger becoming the “pivots” of the French military “recomposition” strategy, Germany is already reinforcing its mission in Niger, where French troops are already beginning to feel the local rejection after shooting young anti-government demonstrators. However, President Bazoum need not worry, he has been encouraging the Europeans for weeks “not to let themselves be tormented” by the coming casualties and “take more risks”. For Bazoum, anything that helps to prop him up in power is fine.
What is the danger?
1 Opening a horizon of war in the Maghreb. If the Sahel is considered as a “hot” border with Russia and Mali as an enemy country, the echoes in the Maghreb will be inevitable.
Mauritania is today little more than a Moroccan protectorate; Niger is the country with the largest number of European soldiers; and Mali is a circumstantial but necessary ally of Algeria to prevent the consolidation of the Tuareg Islamist quasi-state against which France began its intervention in the region but on which it ended up relying and imposing itself on Bamako.
Let us not forget either the change of position of Germany and Spain on the Sahara and the tensions between France and Algeria. And to all the above, let us add the constant Moroccan pressure on Algeria and its rearmament hand in hand with Israel and the Emirates in all fields.
Morocco is now threatening the Algiers regime’s strategic project: the gas pipeline to Nigeria. The project has always been dependent on the goodwill of the European powers in control in Niger. Algiers, aware, lowered the tension with Paris as soon as the war in Ukraine started…. Only to discover that Morocco is trying to get ahead of it. Rabat already has an alternative route and is trying to trade its support for the new NATO presence in the region for the financial support it would need to build it.
In short: Algeria’s ruling class is seeing its imperialist prospects being undermined while its “vital interests” are being called into question with impunity by its more bellicose rival. It is in a situation increasingly similar to that of its old ally, Russia, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. If not already worse from an imperialist point of view. The development of increasingly violent imperialist tensions between the two great Maghreb states seems inevitable.
2 A string of proxy wars with Russia and China. The combination of military reinforcement and access to mines and extractive sources has been a low-investment, high-return way for Russia.
But China has long been trying out imperialist models involving massive capital investments: “special economic zones” with extractive logic -and no positive impact on local capital-, ad hoc factories to exploit low local wages and huge credits refinanced over and over again to build large infrastructures.
All these investments will not be abandoned. On the contrary, the increased pressure from its imperialist rivals only serves to remind Beijing that it needs to “protect” them. Hence Beijing is negotiating with Malabo to open its second military base abroad. The first was opened in Djibouti.
But even if China is preparing to be able to minimally counter its rivals, it is not in a position to fight a war in Africa. It needs to “deepen the relationship” with its economic allies, especially with regional powers. It is no accident that China is now engaged in rearming its main allies on the continent.
Nor is it by chance that Scholz has chosen as his three African destinations Niger – base of the European armies in the Sahel – Senegal, which has invited China to enter as an alternative military reference in the Sahelian imperialist fight, and South Africa, an important financial and commercial partner of Beijing, a pioneer of military cooperation and an ally “against hegemonism”.
Once again, NATO’s entry into Africa can only accelerate the process of decantation of states and governments into military-economic blocs that the US is pushing in Asia and Europe. Its outcome in Africa will not be different from what we are seeing in Ukraine or from what the continent has experienced every time the European powers and the US rebalanced their forces and tried to express it on the African chessboard. The prospect is a string of proxy wars.
Where are we headed?
The analysis and critique of imperialism was born of the shock created at the time in the European workers’ movement by the imperialist division of Africa in 1885. Since then, a capitalism that has become a burden for the human species has turned the continent into a gigantic slaughterhouse on several occasions. Some of the powers in contention now were already there in 1885. Others are relatively new to organizing slaughter on the continent, such as China.
Now comes a new onslaught that threatens to upset the already tense balances between local national capitals and wipe out entire countries. There is no room for complacency.