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Expanding war in West Africa

The war against Boko Haram has expanded significantly as a range of regional forces and South African mercenaries have entered the fray in alliance with the Nigerian government and a coterie of imperialist backers.

Just weeks away from the March 28 elections, postponed from Feb. 14, the war threatens to throw the northern part of the country deeper into chaos and expand the war regionally. The backdrop to all these issues is the sclerotic kleptocracy that is the Nigerian capitalist system. Based primarily on oil-rents with other expanding sectors the Nigerian economy is a warren of corruption with almost all the wealth flowing to a tiny elite that works in league with the West.

As we have written about many times before, this has created a set of serious imbalances in the nation. Poverty stands at roughly 70 percent, and at least 92 percent of people live on less than $2 a day. These inequalities also have a regional bifurcation, with the northern part of the country facing impoverished conditions to a greater degree.

This is essentially what stands behind Boko Haram, to quote a previous article:

Oppression—as they say—breeds resistance; poverty and marginalization overlaid with brutal state repression create a steady stream of recruits for causes offering some sort of alternative. The cultural and religious history provides a fertile ground for political movements drawing on particular elements of Islam. There are actually several Islamically-tinged opposition groups many of which operate in cell structures so that often times their recruits are not fully sure which organization they may be working with. Further in the North (and also, for that matter the South) politicians are known not only to stoke the flames of conflict for their narrow piece of the pie, but also to be involved in “terrorist attacks” by “Boko Haram” to forward their agenda.

This also alerts us to the fact that violence is not always strictly politically motivated. For example many times disputes that turn violent may on the surface be between Muslims and Christians, but are really struggles over land between pastoralists and herders.

The intervention first of Chad—and now of Niger, Benin and Cameroon—has turned this into a major regional conflict. West Africa has become a tinderbox of late. The crushing poverty and regional and ethnic conflicts have turned wide swaths of the region into potential and actual bases for oppositional forces, primarily those claiming the mantle of Islam, allthough not exclusively Islam. In many cases, such forces are cynically using Islam as a cover for simple power-politics.

This creates serious issues for the West and for West African elites who—to a country—are on excellent terms with the Western-led imperialist alliance. This situation provides a base for the key force perceived to be challenging U.S. imperialism: the so-called “Islamic radicalism.”

What really is at stake is two-fold. Similarly to the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, the mere specter of enemies of the West of whatever stripe percolating in large parts of West Africa (something like the Taliban in Afghanistan) raises fears in Western capitals.

Further, and much more importantly,  any sort of significant conflict could provoke destabilization and refugee crises across the region in countries ill-equipped to handle them, which of course threatens the stability needed for profit extraction. In addition, there is the further possibility of social unrest erupting, such as the mass uprisings recent in Burkina Faso that could crystallize into radical uprisings and left-wing governments. The status quo in West Africa, as mentioned above, is very favorable to the West, and the destabilization and rise of regimes whose future is an “unknown unknown” (in Rumsfeldian terms) is a significant threat. Better the comprador devil you know.

As such, the United States and France have been pursuing a strategy of combining U.S. logistical support with deployment of French soldiers and airmen ready to actively fight. This is backed up by the occasional training mission from both the U.S. and the European Union on one hand with African Union-sanctioned forces of West and Central African countries on the other working in coalition with each other. The United States uses a similar strategy to keep a hammerlock on the strategic Horn of Africa region as well.

This strategy has the advantage of creating stronger ties to the West and further strengthening pro-Western regimes militarily, which has further rebounded on popular movements who are often viciously repressed by said governments.

This attempt to provide military solutions to social problems is essentially the same as attempting to hold a lid on a boiling pot of water. U.S. imperialism used a similar strategy in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. The result was, first the creation of powerful popular movements; second, the wave of anti-imperialist governments that have come to power in the past decade or so.

In Africa today, the almost undoubted result of the expansion of war in Nigeria and the surrounding region will be dueling atrocities between Boko Haram and various militaries and an increasing social dislocation. The hope of the Latin American example is that it will also lead to sustained mass uprisings of the people seeking justice.

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