Thursday, 21 April 2011


Three African countries, Nigeria the most populous African nation with more than 156 million, Uganda with 35 million, and Burkina Faso with 17 million people are experiencing sociopolitical unrest that could explode into a situation similar to what has been taking place in Muslim countries. Although Africans south of the Sahara are aware of what has been happening in the Muslim north, the causes of social unrest in each country are unique to its conditions, no matter how inspired they may feel from Muslim rebels.

As in the Muslim north ruled by regimes that are corrupt and use repression, regimes in Nigeria, Uganda and Burkina Faso are not much different. As in the Muslim north, the three sub-Saharan countries have large segments of the population under abject poverty. Recently there have been large increases in basic consumer necessities.

Is there a return to Nigeria's 'Biafra conflict' in 2011, or is the current situation symptomatic of the sociopolitical turmoil in the Muslim countries? In July 1966, British-backed colonel Yakubu Gowon staged a coup, prompting the cessation by the Ibos who seceded and created the state of Biafra. More than 30,000 were killed and two million were displaced during the civil war in which the French supported Biafra and UK were behind colonel Gowon.

In the last few days, there have been riots that have resulted in killings and injuries of several dozen people, and in tens of thousands of displaced people in a north (Muslim)-south (Christian) conflict that has deep historical roots. Although 14 states are in some manner impacted, the clash centering in the northern state of Kadunaare supposedly over the Muslim population's dissatisfaction with the victory of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian who took power in May 2010, after Umaru Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, died.

While the Christian south is rich in oil, the Muslim north is near the Sahara and it is immersed in abject poverty. While religion and ethnicity stick out as possible causes of the conflict, economics and politics are the root causes.

In October 1969, the State Department informed the British Foreign Office that the Nigerian civil war (Biafra) was more deadly than Vietnam, as casualties mounted from famine (200,000) and dislocation (700,000 minimum). The Biafra conflict was about Anglo-French desire to gain access to oil. After the civil war, the winners were US, UK, and French corporations that were given lucrative contracts to 'contribute to Nigeria's development' and modernize it. That promise of development was made 40 years ago by US, UK and France.

The West tried to convince the Gowon regime that by following IMF monetary and fiscal policies, and free trade and foreign investment practices Nigeria would join the community of developed nations.  
In 1970, Nigeria's annual per capita income was $343, while in 2010 it stands at $2,400 or 180th in the world. In short, after 40 years of promises by IMF, World Bank, US and Europe that their only interests is to help develop Nigeria and raise income levels, the result is greater poverty today than when Biafra ended. 

It is true that Nigeria has suffered under corrupt authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes that have failed to diversify the economy and kept the majority of the population impoverished where life expectancy is 47 years. But the governments of Nigeria are mere puppets of the West and western corporations that buy influence and merely exploit the country's resources and labor.

Failure of economic diversification and policies geared toward inward development intended to meet the material needs of the population now ranking 8th in the world is a very serious problem that at some point will explode as it did during Biafra. Goldman Sachs has Nigeria listed as one of the strongest 'emerging economies', but the wealth mostly in oil is a resource that has not translated into broad economic development in the last half century.

As a regional and relatively stable military power, Uganda, although a heavily agrarian economy, has experienced some economic growth. However, its annual per capita GDP is half that of Nigeria, and more than a third lives below the poverty level - so much for the Poverty Eradication Action Plan for Uganda and Africa! 

As is the case in Nigeria, Uganda has been operating under neo-liberal policies that include privatization intended to create a stronger private sector with an export-oriented economy that rests on coffee and other agricultural products. In short, Uganda and Nigeria operating under IMF policy recommendations have failed to create economies that eradicate poverty and raise living standards.

One of the smaller countries, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), north of Ghana and south of Mali, has been subject to social turmoil that stems from students clashing with police, soldiers that have not been paid, and merchants protesting that soldiers are looting. These developments started in February 2011 and continue unabated.

French involvement in the coup of 1987 that Blaise Compaore carried out was intended to stop Thomas Sankara from trying to pursue a democratic path of inward development. Like authoritarian leaders who stay in power for life, Compaore has been in office for almost a quarter of a century in a country whose annual per capita GDP is the same as Uganda's, and poverty level is above 50% and illiteracy is at 68%.

Despite monumental economic and social problems, Compaore has been more interested in keeping the status quo in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and in the Cote d’lvoire where Alassane Ouattara and Guillaume Soro have been vying for power against Laurent Gbagbo. There seems to be a French and Western connection to Compaore and to all the authoritarian regimes that Compaore is trying to sustain in Africa.

It is simplistic and an insult to the intelligent political observer that the sociopolitical upheavals in sub-Saharan Africa are all about elections and personalities, as the western media has been projecting. The issues are about not only in the rejection of authoritarianism and repression, but about chronic social injustice and continued Western neo-imperialism that prevents African countries from developing economically and realizing their potential.

In August 2009, Hilary Clinton visited several African countries to promote US corporate and military interests. After the Bush administration had focused primarily on Africa in pursuit of 'the war on terrorism', the Obama administration turned its attention more on economic issues. However, the uprisings of Muslims across the Middle East and North Africa have eclipsed the otherwise ignored sub-Saharan region that is struggling with its own issues of social injustice under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes carrying out Western interests competing for neo-colonial spheres of influence. As a new player in sub-Sahara Africa, China has only recently joined the neo-colonial race and it has justly earned the stigma of neo-colonialism by none other than the old and very experienced Europeans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It appears that a regional West/East dyad might be developing and the Nile a great boundary line.

But, unlike historical factors that might provide insight, evidence of China in this western area, as you pointed out, presents with food (for thought).

Men of the East west of the Nile, Iran, and southern Arabia: everyone dig in.