February 18, 2008

Neocolonialism In Niger

Photo of an elderly Tuareg man in Agadez, Niger, by professional photographer Jason Hall, extremeboh, on Flickr.

Neocolonialism In Niger

"France has always sought to destroy the Tuaregs, for no good reason. France divided the Tuaregs between nations, and after Independence directed those she put in power in the new states to keep the Tuaregs always in the margins, and finish by exterminating them. . . . And now, in order to exploit Niger's wealth, France does everything to ignore democracy and quietly steal our uranium. France seeded hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsi, telling the Tutsi they were better and to have nothing to do with the Hutu, while at the same time giving military support to the Hutu military loyalists in power. France is a major manipulator and traitor. The people of Niger have understood France's manners, its salute "between the hands." Leave us in peace." -- SIDI mohamed, Agadez-Niger Forum.

The Tuaregs, like other Nigeriens, have embraced democracy as a way of life. Although Tuaregs in Niger are often described as "tribal," and although they fought in the past for a separate nation, they now consider themselves part of a modern state comprised of several ethnic groups encompassing many kinship-based clans and tribes.

All these peoples in fact have had a long history of interactions with one another, as part of a coherent geopolitical region, long before colonialism.

Today, they join multi-ethnic political parties, and they have come to feel it is their right to vote and elect their rulers. They believe that democracy offers a measure of equality, and a potential for development and real progress that they have not experienced since France invaded their territories a century ago and colonized them. They feel there is an opportunity for inclusion as citizens, which was denied them in the post-colonial military regimes.

They acknowledge that democracy is a new thing in Niger, and that it's had a rough start, with coup d'etats, clanism, government graft and ongoing discrimination being persistent problems up to the present. But they are also positive in their outlook, and hopeful that democracy can bring peace and progress to Niger.

Today, the Tuaregs are standing up for their rights. In a Tuareg-led, multi-ethnic political movement, the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), they have proclaimed that France has no place in sending soldiers to support local regimes that have turned into dictatorships and abused their power, destroying the fabric of democratic processes.

According to the MNJ, France wants to maintain its monopoly over valuable resources in its former colonies, and continue to reap the benefits of acquiring cheap uranium, oil and other resources, while giving nothing back to the local populations it is exploiting. France advances payments to the corrupt president of Niger, and these funds then become the carrot that keeps France's fingers in the uranium pie and the oil wells. The President and his cronies pocket the "special funds," while promising the people they will see development. The country receives no benefit. The people in Niger live in abject poverty and receive nothing in return for giving up their precious resources, while France lights up its skyscrapers and heats its homes with electricity made from the uranium they got cheaply in Niger.

Students want to know why: If African countries actually have such a wealth of crucial resources such as uranium and oil, then why are so many Africans living in terrible poverty? If the uranium and oil are worth so much, why isn't there any economic development?

Students want to know why: Why doesn't democracy seem to work in Africa? Is it because Africans are somehow so different from us that they can't understand how democracy works? Why do they let dictators come into power, and why is government corruption so rampant in Africa?

It's easy to see why:

If former colonizers put themselves into exchange relationships with Africans like they do with each other, there would be a more equitable return to Africans for their resources. But they don't do that. Niger gets only 5% of the profits from the uranium, and the Niger President and his associates pocket the money. The West takes corruption for granted and shrugs it off saying it can't be solved -- because it serves an economic purpose for the West.

If former colonizers didn't meddle in African politics and support corrupt regimes financially and militarily, the Africans would have a better chance of establishing a democracy. Africans have the same intelligence as everybody else, and they can see the value of democracy as well as anyone else. Democracy is always subject to problems, but for Africans, they have a special hurdle: Europe hinders democracy by supporting corrupt regimes, because Europe wants to keep the colonial benefit flowing for themselves. This is the essence of neocolonialism. The existence of post-colonial "modern" governments is a smokescreen for the new mode of European control over their former colonies. The parasitism continues.

Today, France has sent French soldiers into Niger -- to the Agadez region, where the MNJ Tuareg-led conflict has developed over the past year -- to help the current corrupt regime in its campaign against the MNJ, in the same way that France sent its troops to Chad last week to help the corrupt regime there.

In the case of the Niger Movement for Justice, this is the only group in Niger that has spoken out openly (on their website) against the problems of marginalization, ethnic hatred, genocide, lack of development and corruption. The only reason they are able to do so is because they are armed rebels: the Niger government refuses to discuss the issues; it has banned freedom of the press; the Niger army has gone among Tuareg civilians to rape, torture and murder them and destroy their livestock (confirmed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports Dec. 19, 2007); the Niger government has arrested and intimidated citizens across the entire population into shutting up about the gross social inequalities and corruption that are keeping the country from becoming a democracy and making progress.

In the days before the genocide in Rwanda, France was supplying the Hutu-led government with weapons, which were then used to exterminate hundreds of thousands of Tutsi men, women and children. The situation in Niger now is beginning to resemble the one in Rwanda: an insecure political elite, corruption, lack of development, overpopulation, food and water insufficiency, lack of jobs, land shortages, severe poverty, malnutrition, mounting ethnic hatred as a result of government media campaigns, and a call for citizens' brigades and extermination of the Tuaregs.

How will democracy become a reality in Africa if Europe continues to interfere in this manner?

Will France be guilty of another Rwanda?

How can we transform the double-talk of neocolonialism into a fair chance for Africans to develop democratic governments, and make some progress on their own terms?

America and the United Nations should condemn France's military intervention in yet another African conflict.

Students want to know why: Why is there so much chaos in Africa? How can it be solved?

The chaos in Africa affects us all. If we cannot promote inclusiveness, development, and democracy in Africa, it will fall on us soon. It is very clear how we must do that. For starters, we must stop supporting dictatorships, and we must start promoting economic exchange that will ensure benefit to entire populations, not to corrupt government officials.

The Tuaregs know the solution to their problem:
the door to democracy
requires inclusion, equal rights,
open discussion, freedom of the press,
and freedom from gross discrimination and genocide.