Françafrique: Empire Denied
To the untrained eye, a recent wave of coups in tinpot African states has precious little relevance for European politics.
However, the ousting of France from swathes of West Africa by Russian-backed juntas portends one of the most salient geopolitical battles of our era. From migration to mineral resources, West African nations an Irishman could hardly find on a map will influence the next century beyond what today’s group of failed states suggest.
Preaching liberty, equality and diversity at home while shrewdly maintaining a neocolonial empire abroad, Paris has until now maintained hegemony in her old stomping ground under the banner of the Françafrique bloc.
Using the excuse of fighting Islamic terrorism (which NATO tastefully supported by flooding the region with arms to topple Gaddafi), France had installed military garrisons across the Sahel during the 2010s.
Paddy Irishman even joined in as wingman, with a hapless deployment of our elite Army Rangers to Mali when Coveney and Iveagh House weren’t needlessly helping America to trash Ethiopian sovereignty.
Beyond what is fully appreciated in the non-Francophone West, the French military presence in the Sahel soured, with the Republic forced to consecutively withdraw from Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and maybe soon even Chad in the space of 2 years.
France’s regional partners were more gangsterish than what even locals had expected, and attempts to curtail Islamic insurgency drastically backfired.
One of the surprising benefactors from post-Ukraine invasion multipolarity, African nationalists (if the term can be used) have seized upon France’s difficulty in expelling their colonial masters and puppets in conjunction with Russia’s Wagner mercenaries.
As France regroups in Niger, the Sahel is currently a hot mess of jihadists, juntas and mercenaries as it is cleaved away from France’s “Jupiterian” orbit. Pan-African sentiment wishes not just the Sahel but the entire continent to emancipate itself from western control, a sentiment running at its highest point since the national liberation years of the 1950s.
Westerners muat have Kyiv on the brain not to notice one of the geopolitical upsets of our time on Europe’s doorstep. The success, failure and overall impact of this new order will worsen or alleviate the migrant crisis in years to come and give Russia or even China a new front to enact leverage against the West.
Whether it walls itself off with right-wing nationalist governments or tries to keep liberalism going just that bit longer, Europe will be defined by what happens in, and emerges from, the Sahel.
National Liberation in the 21st Century
A total loss of Françafrique would replicate the wound inflicted upon France after defeat in Algeria and have a direct knock-on effect for Europe at large. In a country that is battling regular riots (from Arabs and striking French), defeat comes in the context of a moribund French Fifth Republic.
The fear for French and liberal elites is of an autonomous yet chaotic Sahel under Russia’s influence to throw an African-sized spanner in the works for the global rules-based order. Imagine Islamist safe zones or unscrupulous Chinese/Russian-backed juntas turning on the tap of migration to get a sense of what could be down the line.
For Western nationalists, it sets the stage for decades’ worth of crisis migration, which could add a digit to the current asylum influx into Europe. Fears of a domino effect that could wreck adjacent Nigeria with its booming population and growing sectarian tensions are also valid.
What Germania was to the ailing Roman Empire in the 4th century, West Africa is to a decadent Europe of the 21st as the origin point for endless waves of migration. No Huns or Visigoths crossing the Danube, Europe instead has boatloads of Adidas-wearing asylum seekers arriving into Mediterranean ports while being ruled by metrosexual Eurocrats rather than Caligula.
In an increasingly Africanised society, the triumph of African anti-imperialism combined with hegemonic American racial narratives could radicalise chunks of France’s internal black population as militant Islam already does to many Arabs. If the FBI was once petrified by the Black Panthers as a radicalising force among African-Americans, so too would be the electrifying appeal of an anti-imperialist West Africa bankrolled by Russia, the Gulf or the Orient.
If the region is alien to you, you’d be forgiven. Alexander Dugin-aligned African social media stars already have millions of followers and are overt in their anti-French militancy. A new generation of local elites and pan-African radicals want to cut the cord on Western imperialism and are entering the halls of power.
For Russia, the Afro-nationalist pivot forms part of a cynical ideological wedge badly termed as Duginism. Wishing to invert what it sees as the White liberal order with a string of peripheral ideologies from aspects of White nationalism to Third Worldism, Russia has been adamant in creating an anti-imperial framework since its invasion of Crimea.
Russia once tried to topple European and American influence in the Global South with Marxist revolutionary doctrine. Today it uses peripheral ideologies that embrace religious, racial and anti-imperial outsiders combined with tactful military firepower to dislodge global liberalism.
The rights, wrongs or even vocabulary of this can be debated, but this ideological soup is perhaps what the old categories of Marxism, fascism and liberalism were to the 20th century. Lenin and Castro are in the dust, but a new era of national libertarian struggle is upon us, albeit impossible to categorise and far from what nostalgic tankies in the West would like.
Europe’s Multipolarity Moment
As shown over the past year, Europe, in real terms, is as much sovereign as these puny postcolonial African states when the Pentagon comes knocking.
Unlike Europeans, however, West Africans have crowbarred themselves out of French dependency through an alliance with Russia and explosive geopolitical conditions. Like a lot of the Global South, small nations with prudent politics can thrive in the multipolar world.
Regardless of the insincerity of Moscow’s overture towards Western nationalists while it pillages Ukraine with Islamic conscripts, Washington is attempting to bleed the entire Continent dry in a feckless proxy war as Brussels is only too happy to end European industrialism.
The fabled European strategic autonomy that many speak of may just be the Americans trying to keep the lights on before the entire continent is demographically submerged and thrown onto the scrap heap.
Brussels, the bugbear of Eurosceptics (for good reason), is but a branch office for a wider scheme of global American power and is not, contrary to some Brexitters’ rhetoric, an inchoate neo-Bismarckian empire. With real European independence ending after the 1914-45 conflagration, the continent has been the stomping ground entirely for outside powers. An attempt at pan-European unity envisioned by some as a solution has only created a glass cage to imprison nations in the form of the EU.
A pro-Russian stance is discredited by the Kremlin’s rank mendacity but a chance may yet exist for Europeans, like West Africans, to make use of the chaos should a space emerge for a new direction.
Amid all this tumult lies Ireland, the most economically Americanised of European satraps, which is cruising toward the end of history as if it was the 1990s. Wherever Ireland stands in this new global great game, Direct Provision centres from Letterkenny to Limerick will host the end results of future geopolitical turmoil in West Africa.
A reverse Roddy Doyle cliché, the Malians etc have shown themselves to be the Irish of Africa in anti-imperial agency. Fading grey men in Paris or the Samantha Powers’ of this world will now have less hold over these countries even if the resulting attempts at anti-colonialism go nowhere.
Perhaps a sovereign Africa free of imperial meddling is the best anecdote to migration into the West. Africa unfree may never well leave Europe at peace.