IF WE want to understand what’s happening now in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and other places in West Africa that are rising up against colonialism, we could do worse than starting with the work of the great Walter Rodney.
Rodney argued that core colonial activities such as the mining of resources for the benefit of the colonial powers sped up the erosion of “traditional” African life.
Not only did the colonial powers steal the natural resources by ruthlessly exploiting the labour of colonised people, they also stripped away the connection of those people with the past.
The colonised were taught to see themselves in the same way as the colonisers saw them: not just inferior, but less than human.
The Tunisian writer and activist Albert Memmi once said: “The most serious blow suffered by the colonised is being removed from history and from the community.”
As the old brutal colonialism was always resisted, even as much of the history of resistance has been erased or left to the African griots to keep alive, the legacy of the exploitative system continues for both the colonisers and the colonised.
The winning of independence across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere never meant freedom. So-called independence certainly never tackled the deep and lasting psychological attack on the formerly colonised peoples.
Colonisation continues to oppress nations attempting to develop economically and politically. But still the former colonisers believe that they have a divine right to interfere in the former colonies.
Of course, much of their meddling has been made possible by compliant leaders prepared to take the many pieces of silver and gold on offer from their former colonial masters to sell their country down the river.
Recent events in Niger and the general uprising in West Africa against the former colonial ruler France have also prompted me to re-read The Wretched of the Earth by the brilliant Frantz Fanon.
In this landmark book, Fanon makes the case for the right of colonised peoples to fight for their freedom by, in the words of Malcolm X, “any means necessary,” including violence.
This right, Fanon argues, is based on the notion that as colonisers generally consider the colonised to be subhuman they should not be bound by principles that apply to humanity in the way that they conduct their fight against the coloniser.
For Fanon, violent resistance to colonialism is inevitable as the presence of the coloniser is largely based on military strength. In fact, more than an inevitability, violence is something of a necessity imposed on the colonised by the colonisers.
As a descendant of colonised and, before that, enslaved people, I have every sympathy with people who live under the boot of oppression using force to remove the iron heel of their oppressor.
A glance through examples of colonial rule provides enough evidence of the vicious use of violence to enforce colonialism and the unfortunate need of the colonised to use force to resist their oppression and win their freedom.
The resistance to the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and their treatment of the Palestinians provides an obvious example.
I do not point the use of violence out with any glee. Far from it. But I have not been able to find a single instance where any country colonising another land has voluntarily given up that land out of the goodness of their heart.
Factors external to the colonised land, such as domestic troubles in the land of the colonisers or occupying forces being needed to quell attacks against their interests elsewhere, are amongst the reasons they might leave.
Usually, as far as I can see, colonisers leave because the colonised no longer co-operate with them and have made their lands ungovernable.
Given the response to non-co-operation to colonial rule is always, without exception, violent, that seems to me to leave oppressed people with little choice but to either take the violent response or resist it.
So, in many respects, the only surprising things about events in Niger are that it didn't happen sooner and that it is not more widespread given the way that colonial powers such as France still continue to profit off the backs of people in Niger.
Many people in Niger live in the sort of gut-wrenching poverty that many in the global North can only ever imagine. But they know their country possesses vast resources of gold and uranium that makes the global North, particularly their former colonial ruler France, both rich and powerful.
They also realise that “Fortress Europe” bars them from moving northwards to get a slice of the wealth that they helped to produce.
They see their country being talked of as an important strategic place where space-age drone stations are built from which attacks can be launched against anyone seen as an opponent of an empire many thousands of miles away — but not necessarily a foe of theirs.
They can easily see themselves being used as a pawn in someone else’s global game of dominance. But mostly they see themselves struggling to survive while others just get richer and more powerful off their backs.
France, in common with other European states, depends heavily on the uranium produced in Niger to fuel its domestic electricity supply.
Around a third of France’s electricity supply depends on uranium.
While the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris and many parts of France can afford to keep their lights on for show or even for security purposes, just 18 per cent of Nigeriens have access to the electricity that their hard labour has produced.
Niger is the world’s fifth-largest uranium producer.
Figures in 2021 showed that Niger provided nearly a quarter of the European Union’s uranium supplies.
The French nuclear company, formerly Areva and now Orano, began mining in Niger in the 1970s.
In 2021 one of the four pits, in the northern town of Arlit, closed down leaving thousands unemployed and the local population having to live next to around 20 million tonnes of radioactive mud on the site.
The soil and underground water tables are severely contaminated, but the local population of around 100,000 have little alternative but to continue drinking the polluted water leading to cancer and birth defects amongst other things.
It escapes me why anyone would think this sort of treatment in Niger, or the exploitation of people for cobalt, gold, diamonds and so much more in Africa will go unchallenged.
People always eventually rise up against exploitation and this is essentially what we are saying across parts of West Africa — the land of my ancestors.
The colonisers are still exploiting Africa; they need to remove themselves and allow any problems, within the artificial borders created by them, to be dealt with by the people of the continent themselves.
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