Distress in the Sahel and Imperialism

Bharat Dogra

The Sahel region in Africa has experienced some of the worst distress in the world in recent times caused by violence, insecurity, hunger and deprivation. The recent crisis in Niger and the possibilities of its escalation have added to a situation that was already full of simmering tensions as seen in various countries of this region.

The problems of this region have been increasing steadily since the events of 2011-12 in a key neighbouring country Libya. Libya was the most prosperous and oil-rich country in the region ruled for several decades by the dictator Muammar Gaddafi who may not have provided any democracy to his country but certainly provided a long period of stability. He cared for his people well enough, as is evident from the fact that under his rule Libya could top the Human Development Index in Africa. The prosperity of Libya also provided several migrants from Sahel countries good opportunities for earnings.

The USA, UK and France collaborated to help rebels in Libya to create civil war conditions leading subsequently to the torture and killing of Gaddafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared with undisguised arrogance, “We came, we saw, he died.”

The western armed intervention was sought to be justified by claiming that but for this a large number of civilians would have been massacred. The killing of Gaddafi was not followed by any new stability in Libya but instead by prolonged civil-war type conditions in which several rival forces fought each other and were used as their proxies by others.

 During a much earlier phase there had been a lot of criticism that in the garb of humanitarian intervention, the US led western powers had in fact attempted and conducted a regime change, but this criticism largely from the Global South was ignored by the west at that time. In fact even leaders of certain human rights organisations in the west had come out strongly in favour of this regime change which actually caused immense distress to local people.

 At a time of climate change when protective actions are needed, disruption of government functions has led to increasing distress and even today, as this is being written, huge floods are devastating Libya with over 5000 feared killed, with thousands reported missing, and this loss of lives would have been much lesser if essential protective tasks had not been neglected.

Meanwhile, those from Sahel countries who were earning their livelihood in Libya as migrant workers had to return, adding to the burden in their villages already suffering from much deprivation. What is more, mercenary soldiers also returned with their arms, and in addition there was a big boom in illegal trafficking of weapons. All this led to increased violence and deprivation in Sahel countries.

This is in line with the history of the Sahel region in which the colonial rule of France in particular was responsible for a lot of the exploitation and deprivation of this region and its people. Even after this region became formally free from colonial rule, powerful agribusiness companies continued to flourish in ways that increased the distress of people. Commercial export crops were extended to many areas neglecting local food and livelihood needs. This led to highly unjust situations like vegetables and fruits being exported from this region in vast quantities while much of the Sahel region suffered from famine like conditions.

While the French have promised security and aid, these promises have not been fulfilled in any satisfactory way, leading to increasing discontent with French military presence in the Sahel region.

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Vol 56, No. 14, Oct 1 - 7, 2023