The U.S. has recently set up a permanent drone base in the west African country of Niger, as well as deployed at least 100 troops to this country for logistical support. This has been done to assist French imperialists and their neocolonial African puppets in their intervention in Mali. The establishment of this base shows signs of more permanent presence in this part of Africa to further entrench imperialist dominance in Africa.
The deployment began in January 2013 when the U.S. signed a status of forces agreement with Issoufou Mahamadou, the president of Niger, to allow U.S. troops into the country.(1) On February 22, Obama signed an executive order announcing the final deployment of Air Force personnel to the country to establish the drone base under vague “ furtherance of U.S. national security interests.”(2). In fact the head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, visited Niger last year to solidify continued cooperation between the two countries.(3) It has been stated that the Predator drones deployed from Niger will be unarmed and used only for surveillance, but officials say they could be weaponized and used for aerial assassinations as they have been used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places.(4)
The base in Niger gives the U.S. a strategic advantage in West Africa. Niger is a mostly desert country that borders Mali, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya, all countries the U.S. and France are currently intervening in. The base now is at the capital of Niamey but the U.S. wants one based at the northern city of Agadez, closer to the border of Mali. Even as France declares it will withdraw from Mali in April, there is talk the base would also potentially be used next against Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. As of now the U.S.’ only military base in Africa is in Djibouti in eastern Africa, where drone strikes have been conducted from. The U.S. also utilizes a network of air strips throughout the region, as has been reported before (5). The base is just another way for AFRICOM to expand its presence in Africa.
The expansion into western Africa is not anything new. Back in 2002 the United States initiated the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI).(6) Named after the Sahel bioregion, the PSI was a program “designed to protect borders, track movement of people, combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability.” It described PSI as “a State [Department]-led effort to assist Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation. Its goals support two U.S. national security interests in Africa: waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security.” It brought technical assistance from the U.S. and expanded cooperation with civilian and military personnel in all these countries. It laid the basis for the formation of AFRICOM in 2007 and the current U.S. military expansion in Africa culminating in its presence in Niger. The steps to the recolonization of Africa are being laid.
Niger, Neocolonialism and Resource Wars
Niger has long been devastated by western imperialism. France colonized the majority of West Africa, constantly exploiting its people, land and resources. Niger gained independence in 1960, albeit only a “flag independence,” as it became under the dominance of neocolonialism and unable to create independent development. Today Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most of the population lives on less than $1 a day. On one development index ranking,it ranks 186 out of 187 countries (7)
Yet despite its poverty in human terms, the country itself, along with other countries in the region, is not poor itself. It has vast resources that, due to neocolonialism, has not gone to benefit the people but to western imperial interests. One of those resources is uranium. Niger is the 3rd largest producer of uranium in the world. The ore makes up 5 percent of the country’s national budget. Others have pointed out the imperialists interest in the uranium from Niger (8)
The imperialists have used Nigerien uranium for their own purposes, even the idea of it. It is well known that over ten years ago, 2002, then President W. Bush used the story that Iraq was obtaining uranium ore from Niger. The story was widely discredited, with their own intelligence showing Iraq did not need any uranium from Niger. Yet it and other deceptions helped shift public opinion to favor the war in Iraq.
The uranium industry in Niger has a neocolonial establishment. The uranium industry is under near-monopoly control by the French company Areva. It ensures that the uranium from Niger goes to benefit not the people of Niger but those of France, which is heavily dependent on nuclear power, providing 75 percent of its electricity grid. The majority shares of Areva are owned by the French public sector, so it is not surprising that the French people would support imperialist intervention on their part. Back in February 2013 French special forces deployed to Arlit in Niger to protect mines owned by Areva, after an attack by Islamic militants in Algeria at a gas plant in Arenas.(9) The presence of Areva in Niger has not been peaceful, as in 2010 seven employees were kidnapped. Recent news reports state that President Issoufou, while overall operating as a neocolonial puppet, has been pushing for a greater share of the uranium profits so that it brings in 20 percent of the country’s revenues.(10) Furthermore, the uranium mining by foreign companies has created many environmental and health effects in company towns around the mines. Rights groups have documented surges of mysterious illnesses in communities such as Arlit and Akokan, which have been downplayed by hospitals funded by the company. There has also been illegal dumping of radioactive scrap, and sicknesses by employees exposed to radioactive dust.(11) As in every conflict over resources the imperialist countries, including its majority populations, reap the benefits while the people in the Third World reap the costs.
The imperialist intervention in West Africa is one that has many players. All of them are not completely on the same page. As France is taking the lead in its interventions in the region mainly out of self-interest in keeping resources flowing to the country, the U.S. wants to maintain influence in this region also. Along with securing uranium and other resources, it wants to create more garrisons in this region to keep a hold on its neocolonial empire and further expand its influence on the continent before the other imperial powers do. With this it wants to check the power and influence France will have, and is why it is rushing into the region albeit at a cautious pace.
Another potential source of conflict in the imperialist camp is Russia. Russia is rightly concerned about the expansion of U.S. and European powers in the region, and has correctly blamed the conflict in Mali coming from the NATO attack on Libya and the ousting of Qaddafi. With this it has spoken out against U.S.-NATO intervention in Syria.
Another player in the region is China, but on a different level. As a growing world power China is expanding its influence in Africa. Yet their influence is on a different level, bringing more economic assistance than military intervention. Although it is still one of an encroaching power, their assistance is contrasted to that of the U.S. and Europe, and gives more room for self-determination. In Niger itself China operates several uranium mines, many that have plagued by strikes.(12) More U.S. involvement in the region can be seen as a check on the influence of China.
All of these show that different imperialist powers will be competing for dominance in the region, with the people living there on the receiving end. All of these inter-imperialist conflicts can help the peoples struggles in dividing the imperialist camp. Overall all the imperialists will have to be driven out of the continent so the African people can resolve their internal affairs on their own.
Expansion of Drone Warfare
The establishment of the drone base in Niger points to the wider use of the strategy of drones for imperialist dominance. This is done to use technology to gain full spectrum dominance over areas to be dominated. It also reduces human costs of war that create backlash of public opinion inside the imperialist countries.
In the conflict in Mali documents allegedly produced by an Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen were obtained in buildings in Timbuktu, Mali that outline strategies for its fighters to go up against the drones. It is worth quoting at length one of the introductory paragraphs from this document (13):
To start with, we have to know that the Americans did not resort to this approach _ The War of the Drone _ because they have shortages in the combat jets like the F16 and other types or they don’t possess enough troops, but because it is the most suitable approach for them now. The Americans fully realize that they are in the 10th year of war and that they were economically exhausted and suffered human losses and they were confronted with public pressure backed by the Congress in a way that it made the honorable and responsible withdrawal from the war as a prime goal of the White House. But this does not mean that abandoning the war, rather, they pushed them to seek alternative military strategies that enable them to continue the war without being economically depleted or suffer human losses and avoid the American public opinion pressure. Here the war of the drone appeared as a perfect solution. The drone is unmanned and cost nothing compared to the manned jets and it does not create public exasperation when it crashes because the increase of human losses in the past pushed the American people to go to the streets shouting “bring back our sons” and if a drone crashes, no one will shout “bring back our planes.”
While not implying agreement on all their ideology, the analysis of the group that created this document is correct. Opposition to imperialist wars in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Europe is based on concern for “our troops” getting in harms way and not one of internationalist solidarity. Thus when there is less costs in blood and treasure to imperialist militaries, the opposition to those conflicts drops, now to almost non-existent. This is seen by the near absence of an anti-war movement under Obama, who has expanded the strategy of drone warfare. What this means to the peoples struggles around the world against imperialism is that they must not rely on support from inside the imperialist countries to help bring an end to its aggression. The people of the world must continue in a protracted struggle to bring about the end to imperialism and to establish independent governance. Those revolutionary internationalists in the imperialist countries must design their strategies of solidarity upon this factual basis.
The Tuaregs and National Liberation Struggles
As reported before in news on Mali, one of the main factors driving recent conflict is the national liberation struggle of the Tuareg people in this region. Many Tuaregs also reside in Niger, making up 10 percent of the population, and have often been in conflict with the central government. In Mali the MLNA the main national liberation force, seemingly has been coopted by Islamist groups. In response it has been reported that the MLNA has been cooperating with the French imperialists against the Islamists. It is difficult to ascertain from the mainstream press the accuracy of these statements, but armed conflicts often bring unlikely alliances.
Yet the principal contradiction is no fiction. The main enemy of the people of the world is imperialism led by the United States, and more often than not implemented by western powers such as France. The Tuareg struggle is rooted in the colonialism of the European powers, and afterwards through neocolonialism. It brought about flag independence, yet those flags were of countries carved up by the former colonialists which the African peoples had no say in. Dependent on western aid and suffering from corrupt and weak governments, these countries became fodder for the imperialists to play against each other in order to divide and rule. In response to the crisis of neocolonialism Kwame Nkrumah the former president of Ghana advocated political unity of Africa as a whole. This dream is yet unrealized, but a necessary one to bring about the end to the exploitation of the continent.
The national liberation struggle of the Tuaregs and other oppressed nations in Africa will find a solution when Africa as a whole unites against imperialism, whose only purpose in Africa is to steal its resources and exploit its land and labor. It must replace the borders imposed by the colonialists with ones, if any, decided on by and for the African peoples. The imperialist powers have targeted Africa as a whole in the next stage of conquest. It is up to the peoples of the world to bring and end to it.