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Marziyeh Hashemi (Host): Hello and welcome to Press Spotlight. I’m Marzieh Hashemi. Thanks so much for being with us. It appears the clock is ticking down on France being able to take advantage of Niger from the colonial tax that Niger has been paying the French treasury to usurp the country’s natural resources. There seems to be a new game in town after Niger’s July 26th coup.
Nigerians are asking for the French to leave their country from the French ambassador to the 1,500 French troops on the ground there. The ruling military leaders want to see the French out of the country. However, it’s a difficult choice for Paris as Niamey has continued to help fill the French treasury with its wealth. Can Niger hold on and exert its sovereignty to bring about a change needed for this country to have a better future?
We’ll be looking at all of this in this spotlight. I’d like to welcome my guests, though, now to the program. Netfa Freeman Coordinating Committee member, the Black Alliance for Peace out of Washington, DC and Jeff Brown, a geo-political analyst out of Chicago. Welcome, both of you. Thanks so much for being with me. Well, let’s start it off with Netfa in D.C. What is your assessment so far of the rulers of Niger since the coup?
Nefta: Well, the people that have taken over have taken a pretty anti-imperialist position and anti-French imperialism at the very least and it is in line with clearly, the sentiments of the people because the people are in the streets cheering on this anti-French and what we would refer to as the decolonization or the de new colonization of Niger and all its colonies. And I think to me it’s also something promising.
It says something for the unity of Africa that some of the countries like Mali and Burkina Faso have pledged to come to the assistance in the event of a military invasion. I think it also says something about the leadership that they have rejected all inferences to stay under the thumb of the Western powers, particularly France, and that they didn’t expect or France and the other powers didn’t expect for ECOWAS to have to back down in terms of this at least the participation in a military operation, but Ecowars as a regional body seems to be working for the interest of the colonizers, neo colonizers.
Marziyeh: Okay. Well, Jeff, Paris says it won’t recognize the coup and that it was illegal and carried out against a democratically elected government. But isn’t this ironic for the French to say that when Paris and other Western countries have for decades overthrown democratically elected African leaders killed them and supported coups and dictatorships?
Jeff: In fact, France does not deny assassinating 22 African presidents or national leaders. The president who was deposed as a puppet of Paris, all of the presidents, the governments in Mali and Burkina Faso and Gabon and Central African Republic and Chad, all of these governments were stooges of the West of NATO, et cetera.
So, they can call it illegal but of course, any revolution is considered to be illegal in the eyes of the elites. I mean, the Iranian revolution was considered illegal in the eyes of the West. So, it’s basically to me it’s the pot calling the kettle black. And it’s really irrelevant that France says that, of course, they want their puppet president back in power so that they can continue to rape and pillage the country. I would like to point out that. Go ahead. Go on. Go ahead.
Marziyeh: You wanted to make a point. Go ahead.
Jeff: Well, I just wanted to point out that for 70 years, these countries have been supposedly getting aid and help from the West and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and Europe and the European Commission, et cetera. Yet after 70 years, 20% of them have electricity, 20% of them have running water, and 20% of them have plumbing. The literacy rate is somewhere between 20 and 40%. Infrastructure has barely been built over the last 70 years except to carry out hole-off the natural resources that the West is exploiting.
Marziyeh: Right. You’re going to get into that a little bit more. Jeff, stay with me. Well, Nefta, the French ambassador has been asked to leave the country and even supplies as well as water and electricity have been cut off. The ambassador refuses to leave. Your assessment of this? It seems a very imperialistic way of how they’re dealing with this. And is it that really because Paris knows that in the long run, it can’t afford in its own imperialistic perspective to let Niger go in that way? I mean, how do you see it?
Nefta: I mean, that’s exactly right. They really because of the fact that ECOWAS also failed and even convinced the leaders of the takeover to acquiesce and that they even started talking about putting in positions of some sort of transition to a civilian government and nine months or something like that. But any of that for France means a threat, the jeopardizing of its neocolonial disposition.
One of the other guests was about to outline all of the ways in which France and the colonizers, but even France seems to posit itself as this benefactor or a benefactor to the African countries. But in fact, we probably going to get to was the fact that the uranium of Niger and other natural resources but the uranium particular powers a lot of Europe, a lot of France. It also serves in the construction of nuclear weapons and all these kinds of things.
And so, with all of the other countries falling and kicking out France, Niger had to be a line in the sand. They don’t really know what else to do. What I’m concerned about and what we should also be concerned about is that without them being able to use, even though they’re not able to use a black what we would call imperialism and black face with these regional bodies to do a military invasion, it still not beneath them to do it.
They are desperate. And for them, decolonization represents death as they know it, the nonexistence of they know it. So, they’re not beyond invading. They even tried it. And then Algeria rejected them. They’re using their airspace. And so, it’s a dangerous situation that we’re in right now.
Marziyeh: Right. Well, Jeff, you were pointing out some of the ways that France has been exploiting Niger and other African countries. I want to look at some of this because we know that Niger gained its independence allegedly or supposedly from France in 1960. But the reality is that France has basically been sucking it dry.
Of course, the colonial tax is one way with 85% of the revenue, not only from, of course, Niger, but we know other countries that France has been exploiting and 85% of the revenue being deposited in the French Central Bank. I want to look at how this has affected that country. You were pointing out some issues as far as education and the overall development of these countries, But I’d like for you to expand on that now.
Jeff: Well, I’ve traveled in most of the countries in West Africa. And they are huge. They’re like the size of Texas several times the size of Alaska. They’re massively huge countries with very, very poor infrastructure. And 150 years of colonialism, France and Britain, for that matter, in East Africa, it’s no different. Only built the infrastructure that was useful to haul off all of the resources.
So, all these countries got their official independence in the late 50s and early 60s, and they got a flag and they got a seat at the UN, but they were still completely under the control of France. And it’s not just France, it’s also Britain and East Africa, the United States all over Africa. They’re not really independent. Although the French colonies are some of the worst because of the currency that they were forced to take on after independence in the 60s, the CFA franc. And so, the people who are sick of it.
There has not been any improvement in their lives in 70 years and the people are just tired of it and they’re standing up. I wrote an article recently where I said that in four years at Thomas Sankara, the communist leader in Burkina Faso, and the 80s and I think it was like 82 to 87, something like that. And those four years, he built more roads, more hospitals, more schools, more bridges, and more infrastructure to help the people in those four years and also increased literacy dramatically than France ever did all across West Africa in 150 years.
Marziyeh: And that’s why he was assassinated, I’m sure.
Jeff: Well, of course, that’s why he was assassinated. He was one of the 22 that they gunned down.
Marziyeh: Right. I want to look at that Netfa if we look at, I mean, going back to the Berlin conference in the 19th century and this whole divide, how the Europeans felt that the African continent belonged to them and divided these countries and how that has played in all of this because we had natural allies. It was one tribe or whatever, all of a sudden arbitrary line to divide them, basically to keep the Africans from being united, to keep them divided. Are we looking at transcending that divide when we see now you mentioned earlier about Burkina Faso? You mentioned about Mali and the solidarity now that they have with Niger. Do you think that we’re getting to that point where African unity is becoming more of a priority for Africans?
Nefta: Yeah, I think that’s what’s happening. I think it’s actually a material requirement for survival because with the neoliberal agenda dominating the global economy and that also those who are trying to enforce that neoliberal agenda have resorted to things that are really destroying the planet and that the increasing what you call economic disparity and the poverty and everything and the fact it’s all making people realize we have to unite.
One of the things, I think imperialism does and the rulers of imperialism do is underestimate because they also think of and we know we have as we referred to the lack of formal education that people have illiteracy and whatnot. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t aware of something and that we can’t transfer information. They underestimated the impact of hindsight that France, the U.S., led by the US and NATO, destroyed Libya.
It was the destruction of Libya in 2011 and the Libyan Jamahiriya that was actually trying to do something good for the continent of Africa that destruction of Libya was also what dispersed the violent extremism that’s across the continent. That’s even in affecting Burkina Faso and Mali with the French Foreign Legion and the US Africa Command, Africom, their military uses as an excuse to be in these countries and has failed miserably and trying to save this off.
So, you see a younger generation, and then we have to talk about Burkina Faso, I think, and this hindsight thing, because we also have the legacy of Thomas—the legacy, even in the Congo of knowing about Patrice Lumumba. You don’t have to have a whole lot of formal education. These things have reparations that imperialism underestimates. So, before these coups happened, there were young people, like if you think of Congo.
They were actually doing political education work and now these other people who have assumed positions in the military, while they may be trained by Africom and the French Foreign Legion and whatnot, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that are impacting also their mentality and what their considerations are. So, we’re seeing things coming ahead, I think.
Marziyeh: Well, Jeff, you heard Nefta just talking about the French forces and American forces that are on the continent. I want to look at that this Niger because we know that the French have at least 1,500 troops on the ground there. And the US also has troops on the ground there. And they say that they are fighting insurgency and terrorism. Now, the new government in Niger is saying that they’re the source of a lot of this instability and terrorism. Your thoughts on that?
Jeff: Well, this is I mean, this goes back to Afghanistan in the 1990s, shipping out of all of these extremist groups, al Qaeda and all the others across Africa, West Asia, the Middle East, Asia, and even Russia, et cetera. All of these are financed, supplied, and trained by NATO. They have the group Boko Haram in Nigeria. They’ve got brand-new trucks and brand-new machine guns. And this is all being paid for by NATO.
They want to create chaos because it creates a perceived need for Westerners to be saved by the West and Burkina Faso, at least Burkina Faso for sure. And I think Niger has just come out and said it. I mean, the French have been there now for what, what, 9 or 10 years. They were there making sure that there were terrorist attacks so that they could justify staying in West Africa. So as far as I’m concerned, al Qaeda and all the other offshoots all across the world, they’re just subsets of the CIA and NATO. That’s a fact.
Marziyeh: Well, Nefta, Niger is trying to flex its muscle and has changed now the price of uranium that it sells to match international markets. I have to say I’m enjoying this, to be honest. As opposed to what the French have been paying, the market price of uranium is around €200 per kilo. Niger had been selling uranium to France for $0.80 a kilo less than €1. I want to look at that. The level of exploitation is quite unbelievable. And can I say, the girl even now using the words democracy and equality and human rights to try to justify this unbelievable exploitation?
Nefta: Yeah, I mean, it is a goal. I mean, they have to even when they apply the word democracy really makes no sense on the ground. You hear a lot of the population of the people, the analysts on the ground refer to constitutional coups as a way to look at the contradiction or the hypocrisy in the West, saying, oh, you have to have this democratically elected government, what they call democratically elected, and turning a blind eye to those leaders who have changed the Constitution and tried to change, make reforms, impose forms that will have them in for life or and have them have and indefinitely be able to run for office.
The hype, the super-exploitation of Africa, and the resources go all it’s a colonial legacy where the colonizers felt like this is our property. It even speaks to back and you can think remember back in King Leopold had a Belgium had the Congo as his own personal backyard, this whole country. And so that mentality has not gone anywhere ever, despite the fact of all the flowery language and things that they use to say what are the missions of the IMF and World Bank and all or even the United Nations, which we see these bodies, and particularly the undemocratic nature of the United Nations, the Security Council, with all the Western powers being able to have veto votes on everything.
And so, but what I think is a promising thing and I’ll end on this is that the world is waking up. They’re all moves like the BRICs formation, like the G77 that goes back to reconstituting itself, back from the time of the nonaligned movement and that and the emerging multipolarity or counterbalance from I’m sorry, China and Russia and other emerging economies that don’t enforce, don’t impose themselves on Africa, but are engaged in some or some type of bilateral agreements. And so, this desperation. But anyway, I might be digressing from your original question, but the arrogance really is a colonial legacy.
Marziyeh: Indeed. Well, Jeff French originally said it would not talk to the new military government in Niger. However, the people on the ground have surrounded both the French embassy and the French military base. Now, Paris has agreed to start the process of withdrawing its forces from the country. Your take on this? What does that mean and do you think that they will actually do it?
Jeff: I would like to support what my colleague just said and I’ll even go it just pure racism. This is just classical racism that goes back hundreds of years. It’s nothing less than that. And so, I just want to say that I mean, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism are all founded on racism. And yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see what they do. I think we need to bring if France going to try to start talking to them.
I think the fact that Mali and Burkina Faso are willing to send troops into Niger has probably and the fact that Algeria is not cooperating with France is making it extremely difficult for the French to try to do something militarily. ECOWAS’s if we go back to the slave days, the slave days in the United States, I mean, I look at ECOWAS like the house Negroes who are a step above the poor slaves out on the plantation in Nigeria. I mean, ECOWAS is just a prostitute for NATO. And so, they’re an embarrassment.
They’re an embarrassment to the peoples of Africa. So, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. The 800-pound gorilla in all of this is the United States. We cannot forget that the United States has a massive footprint in Niger. They have a brand new $100 million drone port in Niger. And no one’s talking about the United States, not even the Nigerian government. And it’s going to be interesting. Obviously, they want to get rid of the French first. But at that point, are they going to be able to try if they even can get the French out of there?
And then after that, they still have several American bases with I read an article, something like $500 million have been spent in Niger in the last nine years by the United States. So, they’re going to be hard to push out and the French are, too. It’s not going to be easy. This is not Ho Chi Minh people’s war with jungles that they can hide in. This is a vast desert. If anybody tries to approach the military bases, they can see them coming from kilometers away. It’s extremely difficult to get the French and the Americans out.
Marziyeh: Now for one minute. Final thoughts. What do you see this going?
Nefta: Oh, it’s hard to say where it’s going. I don’t think that we can say it’s on it still should be heartening and we should be gratified to see this type of anti-decolonization move even though the war might be the end. And we don’t want war, but we do have to stand up. It’s the first it’s what you call a prerequisite to decolonization. And I do agree with the colleague that Africom and the United States in general is the one we have to look at.
They’re actually the top dog of the US, EU, NATO, and Axis of domination. And I think they’re playing their cards right not to talk about them right now because once that goes on, then the US will be forced to treat this much more hostile, and if we can avoid that, that is the best thing. But it would be nice if they would just do what they should do the right thing and leave and go home. But unfortunately, decolonization is a messy process.
Marziyeh: Okay. And on that note, thank you both for being with me. Nefta Freeman, coordinating committee member of Black Alliance for Peace out of DC. Jeff Brown, a geopolitical analyst out of Chicago. Thank you, viewers, for being with us on another spotlight on Marziyeh Hashemi signing off for myself and all the group right here in Tehran. See you next time.
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