From the Ivory Coast to Niger, from Libya to Crete, and from Ethiopia to Egypt, the northern half of Africa is being torn apart by a violent reshuffling of forces between imperialist powers that is threatening to overwhelm the continent’s borders and lead to war in Europe and the Middle East.
The Gordian knot: Libya. The latest phase of the war in Libya confronted the Cyrenaica army, led by Haftar, with the government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli. But that was only the most superficial layer. As the war became more open it turned into a direct confrontation between imperialist powers through air strikes and mercenary troops on the ground. The Tripoli government relied militarily on Turkey – whose imperialist strategy under Erdogan focused on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood– and politically on an Italy whose priority was to stem the flow of refugees fleeing the Sahelian wars. Haftar relied on France – which holds its own crusade against the Muslim Brotherhood -, Egypt – home country of the Islamist organization whose regime has been in violent equilibrium with them for more than half a century -, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – other longtime enemies of the Islamist organization – and Russia.
As we have been reporting over the past few weeks, Turkish air strikes have decided the war during the covid crisis and today the Islamist government is on the verge of recovering Sirte, that is, of restoring the battle fronts to their original state before the Haftar’s offensive in April last year. But even if the borders return to their former location, the balances of power have shifted. Today, the powers in charge in Libya are Turkey and Russia, which negotiate at a high level in Ankara the distribution of areas of influence and business in Libya, Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean as a package and without the slightest modesty.
The transformation of half the Mediterranean into a “Russian-Turkish question” can only revive the interventionism of the other powers. France has answered the rumors of permanent Turkish military bases on Libyan ground with a real call to make a common anti-Turkish front. The media associated with the oil powers and Egypt continue to warn about the tacit alliance between Russians and Turks to divide North Africa and the Mediterranean in an attempt to mobilize the United States. And the US falters, hesitating whether to passively support Turkey in order to stop Russia or to align with Egypt in a forward position against Russians and Turks. In any case, the US has made it clear that it will not allow Turkish influence to continue to grow in Tunisia, where it is already sending out military advisors.
And in reality, for both Turkey and Greece, Libya is strategic for something even more important than the fossil fuel business or military contracts. Erdogan needs to rely on Libya and on a certain passivity of the US to undertake the next phase of his expansionist plan. The strategy, pompously titled “Blue Turkey”, seeks to impose the maritime borders signed with the Tripoli government to explore and exploit the hydrocarbon reserves of Crete’s continental shelf, also claimed by Greece.
Greece has signed a maritime border treaty with Italy under the promise to jointly exploit the same resources and has subsequently made public its military response plans to the presence of Turkish ships. The governments of Ankara and Athens speak openly of war and there seems to be no bluff on either side.
And if for Turkey the perspective moves from Libya to Crete, for Russia it does so towards the Sahel, where it hopes to be the winner – and already is in good measure – of France’s endless war to secure control of the region.
A war that barely appears in the European media, but which results in weekly killings in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast … and of course confrontations between French troops and jihadists with a regular trickle of deaths among soldiers of multinational forces.
The incompetence demonstrated by France – and Germany, which accompanies it financially – in this endless war, is causing Italy and the United States to once again take the limelight and presence, actually more against the Russian shadow than against the Jihadist militias.
It is not a “forgotten war”, it is a war in which a lot of effort and money is put in from the EU to render it invisible and to appear only as a set of quasi-police actions and attacks. The French press already acknowledges that the schizophrenic story it has told so far is a nonsense: “inter-community” killings and military deployments are an inseparable part of the same horror. What’s worse, what was originally a “Sahelian” problem, basically the last episode of the old war between French and Tuareg interests, evolved into a war against Jihadism – the Tuaregs have been France’s allies for years – and continues to spread, connecting the Algerian Islamist maquis, the clans of the Libyan desert and taking root in countries as far south as the Ivory Coast.
Egypt, Ethiopia and the “Renaissance Dam”. As we can see in the video above, depending on whether the filling times of the “Renaissance Dam” in Ethiopia stretch from five to ten years, Egypt may lose between 18 and 50% of its agricultural land. The negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been going on for a long time and from the beginning they have been of a warlike nature. But the entry of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into the Horn of Africa and Sudan – originally to stop the growing influence of Turkey – has poured credit into Ethiopia and accelerated the construction of a dam which, like Aswan in its day for Egypt, has become a symbol of the promise of the new regime’s renewed capacity to attract capital.
It may seem paradoxical that one of the main reasons for the war is the expansion of Egypt’s allies and the consequent regime changes in Sudan and Ethiopia. But the reality is that all national capitals have imperialist interests and it is precisely the absence of larger rivals further away which allows conflicts between neighboring states to emerge. In any case, Ethiopia does not expect political support from its Arab investors in this dispute either, so it has sought South Africa’s help in the face of a potential conflict, with South Africa always seeking to gain political weight, investment opportunities and markets in the North of the continent.
Egypt, for its part, has not ceased to spur on Sudan, which is already mobilized for war raising the tone from behind the scenes to direct military threat. The Ethiopian army, for its part, has not remained silent either. Today, Ethiopia is preparing the immediate filling of the dam and there is an atmosphere of warlike mobilization.
China and African debt. China is Africa’s largest lender. Between 2000 and 2018, it lent at least $150 billion to various countries in the continent. According to the World Bank, the total accumulated debt would represent almost 18% of the continent’s total. But, given the opacity of the “New Silk Road” practices, the actual figure could even be twice as high. China depends on the continent for a good part of its over-accumulation of capital.
It is no coincidence that China’s first overseas military base is in a Djibouti overcrowded with military bases of its rivals, nor that the US has received the gigantic Chinese investments in the country with unusual aggressiveness. Africa has been a target of Chinese imperialism since the late 1950s when it began to support friendly dictatorial regimes outside Asia.
Now, the covid crisis and the intensification of the economic war with the United States have led China to redouble its commitment deriving industrial production to the continent and disputing the political hegemony of France and the United States. The weak point: debt sustainability. The US weapon: pushing over-indebted African states to restructure all foreign debt under similar conditions, leading China into a trap like the one already in place in Zambia. What for the US would be a sacrifice of low-quality debt, for China it could lead to financial disaster. In other words, Chinese debt has become a motive for regime changes, coups d’état and internal conflicts. For both the US and China.
The war in Africa and an alternative for Humanity
The northern half of Africa once again risks becoming a global imperialist battleground. This time, however, it seems difficult for the continent to contain its development. The war in the Sahel and Libya is immediately projected onto the European Mediterranean and the Near East. The Horn of Africa and Egypt project the ongoing wars on the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. The prospect of a continuum of increasingly violent conflicts from the South China Sea to Mauritania is greater than ever.
Television and the press present Africa and Asia as distant continents whose problems, if any, come in the form of desperate refugees or terrorist attacks. Spanish television routinely represents the country’s territory by directly erasing the African continent of which three Spanish autonomous communities are part. Brussels speaks of Cyprus (Asia) and Malta (Africa) as European countries with the same blatant disregard with which it conceals Turkish influence in the Balkans. Syria or Libya are far from Europe in the narrative but not in the geography. To think that the northern shore of the Mediterranean could remain on the sidelines of a development of the tendency to war in Africa, when Greece is on the front line of conflict and Italy and France are increasingly involved, does not even seem sensible.
And once again, the forces that everyday drive industrialized death on one side of the border are the same forces that make the lives of millions of workers a disaster on the other side . A future for Humanity will not come from the advance of any front of armies, mercenaries and drones, but from the frontline which in each country opposes human needs to those of the same capital that drives the wars. This other fracture, a deeper, generally bloodless and invisible but always latent one, follows other rules and strategies, but above all it presents a very different horizon from that of misery and massacre: the possible and necessary abundance.