Geopolitical Competition Is Reshaping West Africa

Geopolitical Competition Is Reshaping West Africa
Supporters of Niger’s ruling junta hold a Russian flag at a protest called to fight for the country’s freedom and push back against foreign interference, in Niamey, Niger, Aug. 3, 2023 (AP photo by Sam Mednick).

The recent decision by the military junta ruling Niger to revoke the country’s security partnership with the United States was the latest in a series of developments that have remade the geopolitical landscape of West Africa. Earlier in February, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had announced their intentions to leave the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, and they are now discussing plans to turn their bloc, the Alliance of Sahel States, or AES, into a confederation.

More recently, following a postponed election that tested Senegal’s democratic resilience, newly inaugurated President Bassirou Faye named his mentor and ally, Ousmane Sonko, as prime minister, making the firebrand leader with a record of anti-French sentiment No. 2 in Senegal’s government. The combined result of all these shifts is a more competitive playing field for the outside powers seeking influence in a volatile region that is still facing security challenges from extremist jihadists and uncontrolled migration.

Over the past four years, each of the successful coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger have been followed by frayed ties with former colonial power France, resulting in a decline of French influence in the region overall. Prior to that, civilian-led nominally democratic governments in all these countries had for decades been reliable partners for Paris in managing access to valuable resources and ensuring that French interests were considered in dealing with the region’s ongoing economic and security challenges. By the same token, France extended unwritten guarantees of regime security, with French forces playing key roles in resolving succession crises in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali in the 2010s, and battling jihadist insurgencies across the region for the past decade.

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