Red flags: There is more than meets the eye in West Africa coups d'tat

Residents of Niger’s capital, Niamey, gather to protest the coup that ousted President Mohammed Bazoum. [Niger Presidential Office Facebook]

France is having problems with its former colonies in Africa. The troubles are historic but have taken an unexpected twist in the recent past. The former colonies, francophone countries, mostly in West Africa are up in arms over what they call interference by Paris on domestic matters.

France in turn has pushed back, saying its intentions are good and acceded to some demands. According to the French, the countries no longer deposit with the Banque de Paris, the French central bank. They took control of their currency, which for the eight states has been the French Franc or CFA Franc. All these have been done through diplomacy.

However, the recent coups in the countries are raising a red flag. When the Burkina Faso government was overthrown on January 22, 2022 there was a curious spectacle. Residents, in support of the change of regime, poured onto the streets as soon as the announcement was made and instead of waving the Burkinabe flag, the streets were awash with fairly new Russian flags.

Incidentally, on July 26, 2023, when General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced he had taken the reins in Niamey, the locals quickly started waving the same Russian flags. They say they want the French out and Russians in. Interestingly mercenary group Wagner Group has dispatched fighters to Mali and Niger to defend the coup leaders. 

In the Central Africa Republic, the group dispatched mercenaries ahead of a referendum where the country was supposed to do away with the presidential term limit that would see Faustin-Archange Touadéra extend his term. Why he needed mercenaries in anticipation of protests is anyone’s guess.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was spotted at the recent Russia-Africa summit in Russia where he was supposed to market his group to the African leaders. Wagner is exploring business opportunities in Africa - and their business is to fight. Mali's military leader Assimi Goïta thinks shunning the UN and French forces and embracing the mercenaries who have been accused of massacres in the country is the way to go.

Ecowas is expected to send troops to Niger on Sunday to put an end to the government siege. On hand are mercenaries supposed to repulse the regional forces and protect the new leadership. Nigeria President Bola Tinubu, who chairs Ecowas, announced a raft of sanctions against the junta in Niger putting his foot down that the president must be reinstated. 

We wait to see how that will go. These developments are precarious. The events are worrying. Whereas there is no evidence to point at outside interference, it is not a coincidence that all these things have a pattern. We are not in the Cold War, Africans should be waving their flags, not Russian or Franch ones in this time and age.

Africa must stand for Africa and Africa’s problems need African solutions. Promotion of good governance, respect of territorial integrity, rule of law and human rights will earn us a seat there. Upstanding African leaders should emphasise the importance of respecting our constitutions.