Turkey: The imperialist scramble in Africa and Erdoğan's position

niger coup leader

First published at Evrensel Daily.

The coup d'état in Niger, which resulted in the ouster of pro-French President Mohamed Bazoum, confirms the observation that the war in Ukraine has sharpened and made more visible the struggle for domination/share between the imperialists in other areas of this struggle.

The appearance of Russia's 'private military organization' Wagner on the stage after the coup, the Russia-Africa summit held in St. Petersburg on the same days as the coup, the attitude of the western imperialists, especially France, which lost an important collaborator, towards this coup, make it easier to understand the reality behind what is happening in Niger.

The Erdoğan administration in Turkey, which has been seeking to increase its economic, military and political influence in Africa in recent years, is also trying to grab a new role through these developments.

Before moving on to the consequences of the coup d'état in Niger, it should be noted that in the name of military coups and the defence of democracy against them, all imperialists, including the Erdoğan administration, are pursuing a hypocritical policy.

Hypocritical attitude towards coups

The western imperialists, especially the USA and France, were not disturbed by the military coup d'état of Sisi in Egypt and quickly developed political relations with the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi government. Erdoğan, who at the time strongly objected to the coup in Egypt because it was carried out against the Ikhwanist Morsi, was in close co-operation with another coup plotter, the bloody dictator of Sudan, al-Bashir. As a consequence of his political entrapment, Erdoğan has recently been trying to "normalise" relations with Egypt and is preparing to host Sisi in Ankara in the coming days. In other words, the attitude of these powers towards coups is determined not by the hypocritical defence of democracy, but by their interests.

Niger, located in the Sahel belt south of the Sahara desert in Africa and one of the poorest countries in the world despite its resources such as uranium, gold and oil, was ranked 189th among 191 countries according to the UN's 2022 "human development index". Niger, a former French colony, had serious dependency (neo-colonial) relations with France until the recent coup. Niger was one of the most important uranium suppliers of France, which has 18 nuclear power plants and largely supplies its electricity needs from nuclear power plants. On the other hand, Niger was one of the most important centres of France's policy to combat radical Islamist organisations in Africa.

Imperialist intervention and the deception of the 'fight against radical Islamists'

It is necessary to open a parenthesis about France's deployment of troops and operations in the Sahel belt in the name of fighting radical Islamists in Africa.

As is well known, the United States and France were at the forefront of the NATO forces operating in the North African country of Libya in 2011 to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. NATO's air operations led to the overthrow of Gaddafi and the establishment of the Islamist forces that have been dragging Libya into conflict and chaos ever since. This intervention increased the power and influence of radical Islamists in Africa, similar to the consequences of the Syrian intervention in the Middle East (the strengthening of ISIS in Iraq and the capture of Mosul).

In this process, France, together with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, launched a policy of intervention under the name of Operation Barkhane against radical Islamist forces such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS in order to re-establish its weakening authority in Africa. Although it did not yield the desired results, it is possible to liken France's Operation Barkhane to the 'fight against ISIS' strategy developed by the US against the growing influence of Russia and Iran in the Middle East. However, in this process, France's dominance in the region was severely damaged by the military coups first in Mali and then in Burkina Faso. The recent coup in Niger deepened this wound.
There is no doubt that the coup in Niger has dealt a blow to the imperialist ambitions of the USA, which has 2 military bases and 1100 troops in this country, and Germany, which has 100 troops for "training" purposes.

Russian imperialism, Wagner and the exploitation of anti-colonialism

At this point, it is necessary to look at the position of Russia, which is on the other side of the imperialist confrontation in Africa (China is also another prominent power in Africa with investments totalling 380 billion dollars).

In the chaotic environment that emerged after NATO's intervention in Libya, forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a soldier trained in the USSR, took control of eastern Libya (centred in Tobruk), and these forces were cooperating with Russia's private warfare company Wagner. After Libya, Wagner became the biggest supporter of the forces opposing the western imperialists in Africa, including the coup plotters in Mali and Burkina Faso.

During this period, Wagner became the most important instrument/backing for Russian imperialism to increase its influence in Africa and gave Russia an important share in the gold, oil and diamond mines and agricultural lands in the region. This alone explains why Yevgeniy Prigozhin , the commander of the Wagner forces who recently rebelled against Moscow, is still in Moscow. Prigozhin attended the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg at the end of July and held talks with some African leaders.

At the Russia-Africa summit, which began on 27 July with the participation of 49 African countries and 17 presidents, Putin emphasised the colonial past of the Western imperialists and promised to donate thousands of tonnes of grain to the poorest countries of Africa, as well as cancelling the debts of these countries amounting to 23 billion dollars.

Putin is trying to pretend to be the heir of the USSR, which once supported national liberation movements on the continent, in order to exploit the African reaction against the colonisers for his own imperialist ambitions. Wagner leader Prigozhin said of the coup in Niger: "What is happening is the struggle of the Niger people against the colonisers. This is actually a movement for gaining independence and getting rid of the colonialists" summarises this policy very well.

Erdoğan seeks new manoeuvres

Erdoğan's government is among the regimes that are trying to use the reactions against colonialism in Africa (especially in Muslim countries) and the struggle for domination between imperialists, as an opportunity for their own expansionist ambitions.  As it is known, Erdoğan often confronts Macron because of his statements against colonialism with an exploitative understanding, just like in the Palestinian issue. Last week, Erdoğan responded to a question about the coup d'état in Niger after the Friday prayers by saying "We are in line with Russia on this issue".

The latest statement of Erdoğan, who approved Sweden's membership at the NATO summit and declared his support for Ukraine's membership, points to a new manoeuvre in which the rudder is turned towards Russia. Erdoğan, who is looking forward to Putin's visit, wants to turn the developments in Africa into an opportunity to return to the "Black Sea grain corridor agreement". Because the escalating tension in the Black Sea after the expiry of this agreement not only severely limits Erdoğan's room for manoeuvre, but also prevents him from obtaining cheap grain at a time when he is in a very tight economic situation.

Let us leave the last word to Dragoss Ouédraogo, an anthropologist, film-maker and human rights defender from Burkina Faso, who was recently interviewed by our friend Elif Görgü: "Because of the important mineral and agricultural resources, all imperialist countries want to take part in these regions. The reactionary wars in various countries of Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, etc.) are developments that represent a plan to control the land and plunder the resources (...) Perhaps some have illusions about Russia and think that this imperialist country can support the revolutionary struggles of the African peoples. But revolutionary parties have to explain to them the principles of the anti-imperialist struggle: You cannot rely on one imperialist power to fight another imperialist power."