A new wave of the African revolution has started

Africa - Niger highlighted in red

By Martin Woodley

Contours of the African revolution

It is clear that something new is happening in Africa, as has been recognised by many observers. For one thing, the coup in Niger follows similar events in Mali and Burkina Faso, and all have adopted a virulent anti-French tone. In April last year, the New York Times carried an article entitled: ‘Down With Franceʼ: Former Colonies in Africa Demand a Reset;

“Over the past few years there has been a sharp rise in criticism of France across its former colonies in Africa, rooted in a feeling that colonialist practices and paternalistic attitudes never really ended, and propelled by a tide of social media posts, radio shows, demonstrations and conversations on the street.

In Senegal, young people attending protests last year accused the president of being a puppet of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is currently vying for a second term. They smashed the windows of French gas stations and set fire to French supermarkets.

In Burkina Faso, as a coup d’état unfolded in January, tailors tore up French flags and pieced the tricolors back together horizontally to make Russian ones.”

But the present question extends much further than hostility to France. The entire continent save for Ethiopia was colonised by European imperial powers, most resulting from the 1884 Conference of Berlin. Since decolonisation, while formal political independence was eventually achieved by virtually all African countries, the economic underdevelopment resulting from colonial domination has continued right up to the present. This applies to the African colonies of all the European powers, not just the French. Yet, Africa is possessed of a richness of material resources.

“Africa is home to an estimated 30 percent of the world’s mineral wealth, including 90 percent of its chromium and platinum—crucial to the green energy transition. Another such mineral is cobalt, of which 70 percent of the world’s supply is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the end of the century, Africa could also account for a fifth of the world’s lithium supply.

The continent also produces 65 percent of the world’s diamonds and is home to 40 percent of its gold reserves, 12 percent of its oil and 8 percent of its natural gas, while Morocco alone is home to 75 percent of the world’s phosphate rock, crucial for fertiliser.”

Therefore, why didn’t decolonisation and the attainment of formal political independence result in an economic ascent for the African continent?

The first wave of the African revolution

The first proximal task in the African revolution was the task of consolidating sovereign states – i.e. gaining political independence from the colonial powers. However, as was pointed out by Nkrumah, political independence with economic dependence is inherently contradictory. This contradiction between politics and economics produced contradictory tendencies within the governing elites between those comprador forces that were tied to their relations with the colonial powers and the nationalist forces that sought to gain economic independence by breaking the chains that bound the new states to their former colonial masters.

Ghana under Nkrumah committed a disproportionate amount of its national resources to the service of Pan-Africanism, including the financing of nationalist parties in countries across the continent. However, the immediate task of the anti-colonial revolution was the consolidation of sovereign states.

There was therefore a tension between the immediate anti-colonial tasks and the tasks of breaking the chains that bound the new states to continuing neocolonial subservience. The old colonial powers intervened in order to exploit this tension, promoting compliant elites in opposition to the pioneers of Pan-Africanism. Thus a first wave of the African revolution saw Pan-Africanist governments, for instance but not only, in Ghana, DRC and Guinea led by Nkrumah, Lumumba and Sekou Toure in the 1960s; the armed struggle of forces like the MPLA, FRELIMO and ZANU PF in the 1970s; and was brought to a close in the 1980s by the government of Thomas Sankara in Burkina-Faso – formerly Upper Volta – in the 1980s.

However, these forces had to struggle against imperialism, often indirectly via its proxy forces, but often directly through military intervention. France has intervened militarily 122 times between 1960 and the mid 1990s.Thus Nkrumah, Lumumba and Sankara were all deposed by imperialist inspired coups, Lumumba and Sankara both being murdered. Armed struggle was launched by imperialism against Pan-Africanist forces that had managed to take power, such as the RENAMO insurgency against FRELIMO in Mozambique.

Since forces compliant to imperialism were installed in most African countries the movements that adopted a Pan-Africanist perspective steadily became isolated. Moreover, since the Pan-Africanist movements were explicitly anti-imperialist they received material aid and assistance from the soviet bloc, China, and Cuba. After the collapse of the soviet bloc and China’s rapprochement with the USA that assistance and material aid dried up. There was therefore a retreat of the revolution from the 1990s until the present moments.

It is useful to understand the character of the Pan-Africanist governments in order to understand the visceral reaction of imperialism to them. Sankaraʼs government ‘initiated a string of far-reaching economic and social reforms that included nationalisations, land redistribution, reforestation, infrastructure and public housing construction, expanded access to education, vaccination campaigns, and advancing the rights of women by banning female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages’.

Indeed, while Thomas Sankara was relatively isolated within the African Union (AU) around his major campaign for debt cancellation – a campaign that was taken up by Fidel Castro within the Non-aligned Movement and the UN General Assembly – the Russia-Africa summit this year resulted in the cancellation of $23 Billion of debt by Russia.

Sankara’s debt cancellation campaign which was ignored by the West in the 1980s has been taken up by Russia today. Previously, China had already relieved the debt of more than twenty countries. In terms of assistance and material aid, China’s foreign direct investment in Africa overtook that of the USA in 2012 and has widened the gap ever since. China is now Africa’s largest bilateral lender, loaning $153 billion in the two decades to 2019, and its second largest trade partner after the European Union, bigger than any other single country.

A second wave of the African revolution begins

It is clear that with the re-engagements of both Russia and China in Africa, providing alternative options in security, investment and financing, some of the global conditions which make it possible for African countries to chart a different course and return to the next proximal task of the African revolution are making a return.

Among the latest spate of military coups in the Sahel, specifically those in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, there has been a common appraisal that the imperialist military presence – ostensibly to counter the terrorist threat which they themselves created as a result of their destruction of Libya – has failed to stem the rising tide of terrorism in the region; that imperialist domination is impoverishing the people of the Sahel; and that new partnerships with China and Russia are both possible and desirable. Of course, there have been many military coups right across the ‘coup belt’ of the Sahel, together with numerous civil wars, all of which attest to the current very unstable political situation in Africa generally.

Moreover, many African countries have entered into military partnerships and agreements with Russia, particularly in terms of countering the terrorist and security threats. Contrary to this approach, the Westaims to thwart and push back against China’s growing influence in Africa. As Chinese private and public commercial interests have increased on the African continent, and as Chinese firms have consistently outbid Western firms, US pressure to contain China on the continent has increased.” Speaking about the US military presence in Somalia which has contributed to 250,000 Somali deaths since the 1990s, the authors of a 1994 policy paper were blunt: “Throughout our involvement with Somalia, our overriding strategic objective was simply to acquire and maintain the capability to respond to any military contingency that could threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and the Red Sea area.

It can be seen that there are diametrically opposed approaches to Africa being pursued by the West on the one hand and China and Russia on the other. The West seeks to achieve geostrategic advantage against its global competitors, while at the same time maintaining the apparatus of neocolonialism which enables the unrestrained plunder of the continent’s resources. China, and increasingly Russia, seek win-win relationships with African states which benefit both sides.

These competing approaches between imperialism on one side and China/Russia on the other increasingly resolves itself locally into conflicts between comprador forces compliant to imperialism on one side, and nationalist forces which seek to break the chains that bind states to imperialist domination on the other.

China is currently winning the lion’s share of construction projects in Africa, whereas as recently as the 1990s, about eight out of ten contracts to build infrastructure in Africa were won by Western companies. Chinese companies accounted for 31% of African infrastructure contracts valued at US$50 million or more in 2022, compared with 12% for Western firms. In sub-Saharan Africa Chinese infrastructure projects totaled US$155 billion over the past two years. By contrast, total US foreign direct investment in Africa came to US$44.8 billion in 2021.

The result is that the comprador forces that reinforce dependency on imperialism must adopt ever more desperate measures to remain in power, such as the various attempted constitutional coups by incumbent presidents as they try to extend their rule beyond term limits; attempts to ban and dissolve opposition political forces, etc.

In the Sahel, where French imperialism is the most rapacious, where terrorism and insurgencies are the most extreme, where Pan-Africanism was first put into practice in Ghana and Guinea, is now seeing the nucleation of a second wave of the African revolution. At the time of writing ECOWAS have determined to and have set a time for the launch of a military intervention aimed at overturning the transfer of power in Niger and returning the former president, Mohamed Bazoum. However, in Nigeria there have been large and ongoing protests against a military intervention. Ghana’s Trade Union Congress has advised against ECOWAS taking military action, as did Ghana’s parliamentary opposition. In Senegal, there have been continuous protests and civil unrest since the government of Macky Sall brought bogus charges against the main opposition politician Ousmane Sonko – who has adopted a nationalist orientation on France’s continued exploitation of Senegal’s economy, jailed him and dissolved his party PASTEF. Since the threats of military intervention these protests have adopted an anti-intervention stance.

The coup in Niger, which has been widely seen as a coup too far by the West, has been turned into a point of inflection. Either the coup is overturned and the nucleation of a second wave of the African revolution is killed at birth, or it prevails and leads to a wider upsurge against imperialism. As such, it has become a vital element of the global class struggle. It is interesting therefore that MI-6 has prepared a Ukrainian sabotage group for missions in Africa, principally aimed at countering the growing influence of Russia, including through assassinations of pro-Russian African leaders. In effect, this aspect is an extension of the proxy war against Russia in Ukraine onto the African continent.

The meaning of Pan-Africanism

There are two interlocking themes within Pan-Africanism; that of liberation and that of integration. Liberation because the source of Africa’s backwardness is the national oppression of the individual African states by global imperialism in general, and by their former colonial masters in particular. Integration, because liberation involves breaking the chains that bind individual African states to global imperialism and their former colonial masters – chains of dependence – and replacing those chains with new bonds of solidarity, cooperation and good neighbourliness between African states – bonds which were previously severed by colonisation. Together with the return of the land and resources to the control of Africans (because political independence with economic dependence is inherently contradictory and just leads to the negation of political independence – called neo colonialism by Nkrumah), these themes will lead to development.

While the chains of dependency mean that the individual African states rely on markets in the imperialist countries for their raw materials, seizing the land and resources and returning them to the control of Africans enables the possibility of adding value and trading finished goods between African states. This possibility enables economic integration and development of the forces of production, the development of an interlinked transport and communication system, etc.

Before the era of colonisation Africa had self-reliant socio-economic systems which underwent creative growth, blending agriculture and commerce. During the era of colonialism creative growth and development was replaced by growth without development. Africans acquired no new technical capacity, and even lost the capacity for self-sufficiency in food.

After independence, much of Africa has continued along the path established by the colonial period, because the economic structure established by colonialism was left largely intact. All that was achieved was the Africanisation of the state, with the addition of a Foreign Office and military establishment.

Africa remains largely extractive and dependent on foreign markets, and surpluses rather than being invested in the transformation of industries are repatriated abroad. The current proximal task therefore of the African revolution is for Africans to take possession of the land and resources of Africa and the surpluses generated there from, and to deploy them to the cause of creative development and industrial transformation.

The most economically powerful developing nations are China and to a lesser extent India. Both have enormous populations of 1.4 billion people. This gives them an enormous advantage of scale that few other countries can match. Africa has 1.3 billion people, and a median age of 18.8 years. In other words, it too collectively possesses both an enormous and young population. Its primary problem once liberated from imperialist domination is the balkanisation which resulted from its 1884 division. With its natural resources mobilised it too can become a powerhouse of the future.