The presence of Russia and her influence keep increasing in Africa, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It is difficult to see this as a maneuver by Moscow to turn the world’s attention away from the atrocities caused by that conflict since several countries have suddenly called for agreements with Russia. Each of those African countries has experienced a coup d’état or series of coups. So, trying to establish a link between the political events in the West African countries and the Russia-Ukraine war is hard. One speculation made by many people is around a kind of historical coincidence that led to the “golden age” of Russia in West Africa.
Since 2020, four West African countries have entered or re-entered the context of coups, a phenomenon that apparently was halted for some time, since “Western democracy” was the predominant political approach. Indeed, all African countries, especially the so-called developing ones had literally been forced to embrace or copy the Western governance model. That awkward act led to other blunders like corruption, democratic dictatorship since certain elections were visibly rigged but accepted, a military subjugation of Africa to Europe and the USA, especially to former colonial powers like Britain, France mostly and Spain and Portugal to a minor extent. The debacle caused by that blind imposition of the Western political model led some scholars to a call for the assertion and implementation of an African paradigm, a governance system that is endogenous to Africa, an Afromorphous one, and that governance system already exists – which Nana Kobina Nketsia V (2013) calls the Ghana Paradigm. History records that one of the first constitutions in the world was written in the Mali Empire in the thirteenth century. Therefore, democracy and the prosperous transparent political system is not new to Africa. Pre-colonial Africa boasted of a dynamic and admirable governance system.
Some analysts would say that ideologies or political inclinations like capitalism, socialism and communism were all harmoniously concentrated at the heart of the pre-colonial African political machinery. Afrocentric scholars would add that Greece or European nations, in general, imitated the African political systems, especially that of West Africa in citadels of knowledge and good practices like Timbuktu or Tombouctou in today’s Mali. So, what happened around the 1990s in Africa, which is the imposition of foreign leadership model is the opposite of one of the main political events that occurred centuries ago, when the nations of Aristotle and Socrates learned the art of leadership from West Africa. As every foreign imposed or hurriedly applied procedure or measure, especially an important and delicate one like political governance, the Western democracies failed Africans, favoured Europe and America (to some extent). The game of America in this narrative is mentioned with less emphasis since that country which is rightly called the “New World” did not take part in the colonization process of Africa. It rather designed and practiced an imperialistic system that implanted American hegemony onto Africa, developing nations in the world and the whole world to some extent. The discontent of Africans with the flails of the “democracies” adopted in the 1990s ultimately led to a cascade of violent military take overs between 2020 and 2023 in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Gabon. The last two are problematic since many see them as simple Western manipulations, while the first four are the product of real anger of the masses against one colonial master, France. Trying to find out why all those countries that experienced coups are former French colonies would lead to another lengthy and passionate debate or reflection.
In Burkina Faso, three major coups have occurred since Blaise Compaoré, the main artisan behind the protection of French interests and the solid control of France over the country was ousted in 2014. The military officers that led those shake ups are Lieutenant Colonels Zida, Damiba and Captain Traoré. The third one is the current ruling junta and, as it happened in all the other three countries where pro-France regimes were toppled, Burkina Faso opted to sever all ties with France and rather strengthen relations with Russia. Mali and Guinea also openly made the same choice and Mali is said to have adopted that path in the search for a vigorous fight against the terrorist groups and Wagner, the Russian militia is said to be efficient in that task. Burkina Faso acquired impressive military equipment from Russia in order to defeat the terrorist movements, and also struck other agreements with Moscow in the fields of the military obviously, education, and economy. The one that can be called “the talk of the moment” in West Africa is the nuclear energy deal that was signed between Russia and Burkina, right after the Russia-Africa summit in July. The transitional government in Ouagadougou took a bold step in an area which is pivotal and sensitive. South Africa is, until now, the only country in Africa that produces commercial nuclear energy.
This agreement between Burkina Faso and Russia will enable the Russian state-owned nuclear company Rosatom to build a nuclear power plant in Burkina, and the country explains that move, with several reasons: Burkina is one of least electrified countries in the world with roughly 23 per cent of the population having access to electricity. The location of the country at the “heart” of West Africa, an area which is generally deficient in electricity makes it very important for Burkina to be a big producer of electricity that supplies her neighbours. Sadly enough, Burkina has one of highest electricity costs in Africa, according to the US development agency, USAID. Uranium from Niger, which was being unjustly exploited by France will contribute immensely in this electricity project. This cooperation will help Burkina achieve one of her main goals: to reach 90 per cent electricity access in urban areas and 50 per cent in rural areas by the year 2030. Burkina Faso currently buys electricity from neighbouring countries like Ghana and others, and most of the electricity in the country comes from biofuels like charcoal and wood and oil products account for one-third of the energy supply. This agreement requires the training of qualified personnel and according to certain sources, a batch of Burkinabè students and young scholars will be trained in Russia every year in thermal energy “science” and at some point, those ones will train specialists (in the same domain) from Burkina and other countries in the subregion. The new energy policy has a subregional dimension, and a Pan-African one as well. Since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Burkina and Rosatom, many African nations like Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda have decided to build nuclear power plants with the cooperation of Russia or other countries. Most of the military juntas in West Africa are proving to be innovative and visionary.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.