The Impact of French Colonialism on Instability in West Africa

In recent years, several countries in West Africa, including Niger, have experienced military coups, leading to questions about the role of France in these instances. Many of the coup leaders and citizens of these countries have expressed anti-French sentiments, blaming France for neocolonialist policies and interference in their politics and economies. The historical record suggests that French colonial rule in Africa established political systems that prioritized resource extraction and repressive strategies to maintain control. France’s continued engagement in its former colonies after independence, including economic policies and defense agreements, further contributed to the perception of French influence and manipulation. The relationship between French political leaders and African allies was often corrupt, leading to the misappropriation of funds and the enrichment of a powerful elite at the expense of African citizens. While recent French governments have attempted to distance themselves from these practices, corruption cases and problematic relations persist.

However, it is important to note that France is not the only former colonial power to prop up authoritarian leaders abroad. During the Cold War, the United Kingdom and the United States also supported dictators in exchange for their loyalty. Additionally, coups in West Africa cannot be solely attributed to French influence. Insecurity caused by armed groups, violent extremists, and criminal networks has undermined public confidence in civilian governments across the region. Each coup in the past three years has been driven by specific domestic factors and the agency of African political and military leaders.

While reducing French influence may seem like a solution for political stability, it is not without its challenges. The withdrawal of French support may create a power vacuum that could be exploited by other global actors, such as Russia. Recent alliances between leaders from Burkina Faso and Mali with Russian President Vladimir Putin indicate the potential for a new generation of military leaders to legitimize coups on the pretext of removing malign Russian influence. The beneficiaries of these alliances are likely to be the political elite rather than ordinary citizens, further deepening existing power imbalances.

In conclusion, the impact of French colonialism on instability in West Africa is a complex issue. While France’s historical actions and continued engagement have played a role in shaping the region’s political dynamics, it is not the sole factor responsible for the recent wave of coups. Insecurity, domestic factors, and the agency of African leaders also contribute to political instability. Reducing French influence may not guarantee political stability, as other global actors may fill the void and exacerbate existing power imbalances. A comprehensive approach that addresses both internal and external factors is necessary to promote democracy and stability in West Africa.