August 8, 2023

Niger, France, And The Ever Looming Presence of Hard Power


The West can learn from China. 

In Africa, France prints money, while China makes money, both for itself and African economies. China builds infrastructure and invests in regional states, France takes resources at dirt cheap prices and invests nothing. It has had to resort to assassinations, coups, terrorism, currency manipulation and economic intimidation to hold its sway over its former colonies. But its power is waning because the fear of its military is gone. 


An excerpt from, "Hard Power Is Still King" By Allison Fedirka, Geopolitical Futures, July 20, 2017:

Nevertheless, many remain fixated on soft power. Just this week, a U.K.-based consultancy firm called Portland, in cooperation with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, published a report ranking the world’s top 30 countries by soft power. The ranking is based on the composite score of soft power elements: culture, digital footprint, government, engagement, education and business/enterprise. The first thing that stands out is that European countries dominate the list, and these countries outrank others that are geopolitical heavyweights. Ireland outranks Russia, and Greece is above China. In fact, Russia, China and Turkey are all in the bottom six of this top-30 ranking. That two small European countries are considered more powerful than three much larger countries – countries that are major geopolitical centers of gravity – should automatically raise questions about the credibility of soft power.

A second observation is that most of the countries at the top of the soft power ranking – France, the U.K., the U.S. and Germany – are also among the world leaders in hard power. The U.S. has regularly demonstrated that through hard power measures such as sanctions or military activity, it can coerce other countries to change their behavior. Germany is the economic powerhouse of the European Union and has threatened economic measures against smaller EU countries, especially Greece, to coerce them into supporting EU regulations. France’s cultural influence – a component of soft power – does have global reach, but the foundation for this cultural influence was colonization, a product of hard power.

Soft power reads well on paper, but its dependence on persuasion makes it largely inconsequential in the world of geopolitics, whereas hard power dictates reality and the course of events.

An excerpt from, "Nigeria’s Democracy Promotion in Africa: Hard, Soft or Smart Power Stratagem?" By Oluwaseun Tella, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Volume 57, Issue 6, February 1, 2022: 

Hard power refers to an actor’s (state or non-state) capacity to determine the behaviour of other actors through its coercive resources, especially military and economic (Nye, 2004). A hard power state is well positioned to deploy these resources to threaten or coerce other states to achieve its foreign policy objectives. This can manifest in a number of ways including waging war, the threat of war, gun boat diplomacy, economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Globally, the United States and China are the most important hard power states in light of their status as the largest economies and the fact that they have the largest military budgets in the world (SIPRI, 2021; World Bank, 2021). It is partly for this reason that Washington and Beijing are the most powerful states in contemporary international politics. In Africa, Nigeria derives its influence on the continent partly from its hard power capacity, which is evident in its status as the largest economy and the fourth strongest military power on the continent (Global Fire Power, 2021; World Bank, 2021). This has found practical expression in Abuja’s economic sanctions against states such as Niger and Togo and peacekeeping in conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Sudan. Tables 1 and 2 illustrate how Nigeria fares among other African states with respect to economic capacity and military strength, respectively. As Table 1 shows, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy ahead of Egypt and South Africa which are second and third, respectively, and Abuja is the fourth strongest state militarily behind Egypt, Algeria and South Africa. It is thus no wonder that Nigeria is a major aid donor (seen in its economic and financial assistance across Africa and beyond) and peacekeeper (evident in its peace mission in Liberia and Sierra Leone where Abuja was responsible for 80% of the troops and 90% of the budget) on the continent.

. . .

An early sign of Nigeria’s hard power approach to the Sierra Leonean conflict was the Nigeria-led ECOMOG’s failed military strikes including aerial bombardments in Freetown to reverse the coup a week after the putschists plotted the coup (Francis, 1999). Abuja hoped that a quick surgical operation would restore the constitutional order in Freetown. As it turned out, the AFRC was resilient but this did not deter Nigeria. Abuja initially adopted a policy of containment and issued an ultimatum to the coupists to restore the democratic administration. However, following the breakdown in negotiations, government policy shifted to a hawkish approach as its military began to attack Freetown (Human Rights Watch, 1997) without consulting ECOWAS member states or ECOMOG and without securing a UN Security Council mandate for decisive military action (McGregor, 1999). This reflects an ultimate display of hard power as negotiations, consultation and diplomacy were shelved in favour of offensive operations against the Junta. Although the attacks were seemingly well orchestrated, the Nigerian government maintained that it was a spontaneous response to an attack by the forces of the coup plotters (McGregor, 1999).

Indeed, Nigeria was so resolute in its hard power approach that it adopted a unilateral stance in some of its operations as some of its military strikes were not endorsed by ECOWAS and the UN Security Council (Bangura, 2010). Berman and Sams (2000) observes that, ‘Whereas in Liberia, Nigeria had sought some form of ECOWAS authorization prior to intervening, in Sierra Leone, Nigeria responded militarily first and sought ECOWAS approval only after it had intervened’ (p. 114). Global condemnation of the coup partly contributed to the significant influence Nigeria wielded to achieve its desired outcomes in Sierra Leone.

An excerpt from, "Niger and the collapse of France’s empire" By Thomas Fazi, UnHerd, August 8, 2023:

And more than any other imperial power, France has continued to exercise a huge influence over its former outposts, replacing outright colonial rule with more subtle forms of neocolonial control — first and foremost with currency.

Before Africa’s decolonisation in the Fifties and Sixties, it was common among Western powers to impose forms of monetary subservience on their respective colonies. The latter were generally forced to use currencies issued and controlled by the imperial centres, to ensure the European countries’ economic control and financial benefit. France was no exception; rather, what set France apart from other imperial powers was the fact that its monetary empire survived decolonisation. While most African colonies, upon becoming independent, adopted national currencies, France managed to cajole most of its former outposts in Central and Western Africa into maintaining the colonial currency: the CFA franc.

In the decades that followed, various countries tried to abandon the CFA system, but very few succeeded. As the Senegalese economist Ndongo Samba Sylla and the French journalist Fanny Pigeaud write in their book Africa’s Last Colonial Currency (which I translated), France did everything it could to discourage countries from leaving the CFA: “Intimidations, destabilisation campaigns and even assassinations and coups d’état marked this period, testifying to the permanent and unequal power relations on which the relationship between France and its ‘partners’ in Africa was based — and is still based today.”

The CFA franc, as a result, continues to be used by 14 countries, mostly former French colonies, throughout Central and Western Africa — including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Together, they form the so-called “franc zone”, with France still playing a central role. Despite the formal “Africanisation” of this group, which involved transferring the headquarters of the CFA franc’s two central banks to the African continent, France continues to enjoy far-reaching control over the system — and the countries that employ it.