COP27 and the Imperatives for a Renewed African Security Framework

United Nations Climate Conference will be hosted by Egypt amid growing uncertainties on the continent related to military interventions and the continuing economic dependency on the West

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By Abayomi Azikiwe

Note: These remarks were prepared and delivered in part for a webinar sponsored by the Canadian section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The webinar was held in preparation for the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) taking place in Egypt during November. WILFP has organized a delegation to COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh which will include some of the participants in this webinar. This panel discussion was held under the theme: “A Climate of Insecurity for COP27” and featured in addition to this author, Mpiwa Mangwiro (WILPF South Africa), Edwick Madzimure (WILPF Zimbabwe) and Jasmine Burnett (Black Alliance for Peace). The webinar was moderated by Tamara Lorincz (WILPF Canada) and WILPF International Environment Working Group convener. There were opening remarks by Katrin Geyer of WILPF in London. 

During the month of November, the North African state of Egypt will be the scene of the United Nations Climate Conference, known as COP27.

This conference of world leaders and non-governmental organizations are convening at a time when the very future of the international security framework is at stake.

The Russian military intervention in neighboring Ukraine has its origins in the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the foreign policy orientation of the United States and its allies within the UK, European Union (EU) and NATO over the last three decades. Rather than shift the thrust of international relations towards sustainable peace and development, successive U.S. administration from both ruling class parties have consistently engaged in acts of destabilization and regime change.

Events in Ukraine during February 2014 when the administration of former President Barack Obama engineered the overthrow of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and installed a right-wing regime which utilized the armed elements within the fascist movement inside the country, the relations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation have been volatile. The administration of President Joe Biden could have prevented the current escalation to a full-fledged ground war in Ukraine by utilizing the diplomatic prowess of Washington while respecting the previously negotiated Minsk Accords of 2015.

This unilateral approach by Washington created instability in Ukraine and heightened tensions between Kiev and Moscow. Russian speaking communities in Ukraine were subjected to national discrimination and state-sponsored ethnic violence. The regions of Donbass have been shelled on a daily basis for the last eight years.

The legitimate security and economic concerns of the Russian Federation and other states are disregarded when they conflict with the interests of the U.S. A recent provocative trip to Taiwan led by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has inflamed the already contentious relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Biden’s foreign policy orientation towards Eastern Europe, the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America is geared toward reinforcing U.S. global hegemony. A controversial bill labeled as the “Countering Russian Malign Influence in Africa” has been rejected by the 55 member-states African Union (AU) representing 1.4 billion people living on the continent.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during his mid-September official visit to the White House remained adamant about the negative consequences if such legislation was made into an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. This bill would be tantamount to imposing an economic blockade on the entire continent. The enactment of this measure would be reminiscent of the U.S. embargo against the socialist Republic of Cuba for more than six decades.

The failure of the Biden administration to allow a diplomatic resolution to the war in Ukraine has created havoc within international markets. Inflation has negatively impacted working and impoverished peoples in the industrial and underdeveloped geo-political regions as resources needed to maintain a decent life are becoming even more elusive.

Although the burgeoning energy crisis affecting the EU countries along with the U.S. and Canada is being blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin, within corporate media networks, there is no analysis of the impact of runaway military spending engendered by Washington’s international war drive. The U.S. spends more on defense than all other countries in the world combined.

With the priorities being placed on the production, distribution and utilization of weaponry, the peoples of the Global South are becoming imperiled by the ongoing internal and external warfare in Africa and other parts of the globe. This emphasis on defense spending is inextricably linked to climate change and its concomitant impact on populations who are dislocated, injured and killed by the extreme weather events occurring from the southeast regions of the U.S. to East Africa and South Asia.

At the same time leading up to the COP27 gathering in Egypt, increasing threats of a wider conventional war which ultimately could ignite a nuclear exchange between Moscow and Washington, pose an extreme impediment to reaching the goals set out by the Paris Agreements many years ago. Obviously, the Biden administration’s foreign policy is a reflection of a deeper malady within the world capitalist system.

As regional entities such as the: Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa (BRICS) Summit; the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC); the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which remains in operation since its founding members met in a series of conferences from 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia and culminating in a permanent organization in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1961; the Africa-South America Summit; the AU, among others, represent a major thrust towards multi-polarity. In the 21st century, the unilateralism of Washington is being rejected by billions across the globe.

A study published by Neta C. Crawford draws the correlation between Pentagon war policy and the frequency of disastrous weather conditions. Promotional language for this book says:

“The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War shows how the U.S. economy and military together have created a deep and long-term cycle of economic growth, fossil fuel use, and dependency. This cycle has shaped U.S. military doctrine and, over the past fifty years, has driven the mission to protect access to Persian Gulf oil. Crawford shows that even as the U.S. military acknowledged and adapted to human-caused climate change, it resisted reporting its own greenhouse gas emissions. Examining the idea of climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ in national security, she argues that the United States faces more risk from climate change than from lost access to Persian Gulf oil—or from most military conflicts. The most effective way to cut military emissions, Crawford suggests provocatively, is to rethink U.S. grand strategy, which would enable the United States to reduce the size and operations of the military.”

These Pentagon-induced crises of insecurity and climate change have left large swaths of African territory incapable of producing sufficient goods and services for their populations. Most often the presence of Washington and Paris are characterized by military deployments as in the proliferation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Operation Barkhane, EU Forces, all of which operate within the NATO military alliance.

Imperialist states typically rationalize their presence in Africa and other geopolitical regions by emphasizing threats from armed rebel groupings, many of which have cloaked their ideological positions in religious dogmas. Despite the purported concern for the security and stability of post-colonial African states, the existence of these organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS can be traced to the counterintelligence operations led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1980s to the aftermath of the Pentagon occupations of Iraq and Syria in West Asia since 2003 and 2011 respectively.

Large scale displacements of people due to imperialist invasions and CIA-sponsored psychological warfare and disruption campaigns has resulted in the largest number of refugees and migrants since the conclusion of World War II. Extreme weather events such as flooding, cyclones and the lack of rainfall contribute immensely to the food deficits and famine which are threatening greater levels of insecurity in the Horn of Africa.

The sheer numbers of migrants from Africa and Asia seeking admission into Western and Southern Europe has resulted in the rapid reemergence of neo-fascist political parties and militias which target people of color fleeing from the imperialist wars of the NATO governments operating at the beckoning of the Pentagon and State Department. Prior to the beginning weeks of 2022, most European governments when asked favored a diplomatic resolution to the Ukrainian situation. There was even the Minsk Agreements which provided a framework for co-existence between the aspirations of the Russian Federation and its allies on the one hand and the efforts by NATO to expand its control of ever larger territories in Eastern Europe on the other.

From Italy, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands and France all the way to the United Kingdom (UK), ultra conservative and neo-fascist political programs have gained substantial electoral support where the general domestic and foreign policy trajectories inevitably result in the rapid increase in military spending. A recent election in Italy resulted in a neo-fascist politician being placed in a position to form a right-wing dominated administration. Within the western corporate and governmental media there was some trepidation expressed over the political character of a far-right Italian administration in regard to its potential stance on the Pentagon-NATO proxy war against Russia. The candidate in question soon announced that they were in favor of the imperialist preoccupation and hostility against Moscow. Not much has been said from the leading imperialist states since the ostensible “unity” of the EU-NATO governments is not being threatened in any meaningful way.

These political attitudes within the EU and UK may soon change in light of the energy crisis stemming from the anti-Russian proxy war characterized by massive military spending and draconian sanctions against Moscow. Demonstrations against the precipitous rise in energy and commodity prices are taking place on the European continent and in the UK. Consequently, the predominance of U.S. foreign policy within the EU states, is worsening the social conditions within the allied capitalist countries.

Therefore, NATO’s war threats against the Russian Federation have deflected attention away from the necessity of addressing climate change. In Africa, the deteriorating political and security situation internationally threatens even worsening levels of impoverishment and societal underdevelopment.

In the subcontinent severe storms, cyclones and drought have hampered the realization of the objectives established by the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Pan-African projects such as the 2063 goals and priorities aimed at industrial, agricultural and educational growth along with self-sufficiency will not occur absent the reconfiguration of the overall international divisions of labor and economic power.

A United Nations publication, African Renewal, noted that:

“If the global mean temperature reaches 2° C of global warming, it will cause significant changes in the occurrence and intensity of temperature extremes in all sub-Saharan regions. West and Central Africa will see particularly large increases in the number of hot days at both 1.5° C and 2° C. Over Southern Africa, temperatures are expected to rise faster at 2° C, and areas of the southwestern region, especially in South Africa and parts of Namibia and Botswana, are expected to experience the greatest increases in temperature. Perhaps no region in the world has been affected as much as the Sahel, which is experiencing rapid population growth, estimated at 2.8% per year, in an environment of shrinking natural resources, including land and water resources.”

At a time when the multilateral institutions, mass organizations and other concerned sectors of modern society should be working towards lowering the levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the world has been thrust into taking sides in a conflagration in Eastern Europe and an escalating Cold War in West Asia and the Asia-Pacific geopolitical regions. The war policies of the imperialist governments are coinciding with a recession in the West and threatened depression in the Global South.

This connection between imperialist war, economic distress and climate change has resulted in strong opposition to the presence and influence of the EU and the U.S. in Africa. Based upon the declining security and economic situations in the Sahel and other West African territories, many workers and youth are accusing the French and the U.S. of being the source of instability within their countries.

Instability in West Africa and the Role of the Pentagon and NATO

Since the advent of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the security situation in various regions of the continent has grown substantially worse. There was the bombing of Libya and the assassination of its leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi during 2011. This was the first major military project by AFRICOM working in collaboration with NATO and its allies.

Libya today is the source of much of the instability in North and West Africa. Western imperialist governments which led the campaign to destroy Libya have never taken any responsibility related to its disastrous consequences.

Sectional violence spread after the Libyan war of regime-change in 2012. Armed groupings based upon sectional and religious approaches to national politics began to attack state institutions and civilian communities. Some of the most impoverished and marginalized people have suffered from the escalation of violence.

Mali became the first country to experience the fallout from the Pentagon-NATO war against Jamahiriya Libya. Several armed groups emerged claiming the right to establish separate governments and spheres of influence. Who is really behind the emergence of these Islamic rebel groups operating in Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, among other states?

The origins of these groupings have been attributed to several factors. Some suggest that the class character of governance within numerous West African states impede the creation of a democratic society. Others claim that the ruling circles are geared towards foreign based multinational corporations and investment banks leaving the majority of working people exploited and without the necessary resources to build independent lives.

Nonetheless, in various sections of the antiwar, antiimperialist and social justice movements there have been assertions that the so-called Islamist organizations associated with the existing rebel insurgencies were indeed funded and armed by the imperialist governments. This in part explains the burgeoning anti-French and anti-U.S. sentiment in many of the former colonies and now neo-colonies of Paris and Washington.

Developments in Burkina Faso during the weekend of September 30-October 2 was a reflection of the rising tensions between Ouagadougou and Paris. There have been two military coups since January when officers from the armed forces overthrew Roch Christian Kabore. The reasoning for the coup was that Kabore was ineffective in combating the encroachment of the rebels which reports have stated controls 40% of Burkinabe territory.

One source says of the present situation that:

“Violence has raged in Burkina Faso since Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a coup in January, toppling the West African country’s elected leader and promising to rein in the armed groups. As in neighboring countries, fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have stoked the unrest, even after Damiba earlier this month sacked his defense minister and assumed the role himself. In the northern Soum province, armed groups have blockaded several areas, so government convoys and airdrops have delivered essential goods to trapped civilians. Monday’s attack was the latest targeting army-escorted resupply convoys.”

On September 30, a faction within the Burkinabe armed forces overthrew Damiba saying his administration was ineffective as well in containing the insurgency. The following day on October 1, allegations apparently emanating from the new military leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, accused the personnel from the French armed forces stationed inside Burkina Faso of sheltering Damiba in preparation to reinstall him to the head of government.

Later during the day on October 1, demonstrations erupted in Ouagadougou and other cities in support of Capt. Traore. The protesters, mainly youth, began to violently target the French embassy in the capital along with an institute representing the interests of this former colonial power. The embassy was vandalized and later set alight burning the building down to the ground. Police and military elements in Burkina Faso did not respond with force or any crowd-control mechanism as the French installations were attacked.

The following day on October 2, Capt. Traore made a public announcement asking the Burkinabe masses to refrain from targeting French interests inside the country. Nonetheless, they maintained that they would not surrender their authority back to the previous regime.

Lt. Col. Damiba had just returned from delivering an address before the United Nations General Assembly 77th Session in New York City in late September. In his remarks, Damiba justified the seizure of power by his regime in January saying their objectives were to restore civil authority and stability.

A report on the post-coup situation by the Associated Press on October 2 pointed out that:

“Burkina Faso’s ousted coup leader has offered his resignation as long as his security and other conditions were met, and the new junta leader who overthrew him has accepted the deal, religious leaders mediating the West African nation’s latest political crisis said Sunday (Oct. 2). A junta spokesman later announced on state television that their leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, officially has been named head of state following the Friday coup that ousted Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba…. Saturday’s (Oct. 1) violence was condemned by the French Foreign Ministry, which denied any involvement in the rapidly developing events. French Institutes in Ouagadougou and the country’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, had also been targeted and French citizens were urged to be very cautious…. To some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former colonizer France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight Islamic extremists. Some who support the new coup leader, Traore, have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.”

Several scholars have attempted to draw a nexus between climate change, poverty and military conflict. These connections are present in Burkina Faso and other states within the Sahel. The Sahel extends across some sections of the West Africa region.

In this region the increase in temperature has resulted in severe declines in rainfall, the erosion of soil and appreciably lower yields in agricultural production. Many people within these countries are suffering from abject poverty characterized by high unemployment, food deficits and the decline in the availability of potable water.

Populations which are subjected to these social conditions would be highly susceptible to recruitment by criminal elements and rebel organizations. Countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad with their predominantly Islamic populations sprawled out in the Sahel provides the social context under which appeals from these armed groupings could gain resonance. Funds for arms, vehicles, fuel, food and clothing are coming from somewhere. The level of impoverishment and malnutrition do not necessarily translate into the capacity to provide large scale resources to wage war on weakened states and their civilians.

Although the AFRICOM, French Foreign Legions and NATO forces have entered into agreements with African governments to assist in providing training aimed at enhancing the security of AU member-states, the material outcomes of these efforts indicate that they have in actual fact negatively impacted the ability of these administrations, whether civilian or military, to maintain social order and create conditions conducive to fostering economic growth and development.

Since the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2009, there has been the emergence of similar organizations which have endangered the regional security of West Africa. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proven in the recent period that it does not have the defense capability and political cohesiveness to halt the insurgencies as well as the recent rash of military coups.

The formation of the African Union (AU), which transformed itself from the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in May 1963, to at least a more theoretically cohesive continental body in 2002, has failed to establish an effective fighting force which could reverse coups and ensure the territorial security and integrity of their member-states. Even prior to the transition to the AU some two decades earlier, ECOWAS was able to intervene and restore civilian rule in both Sierra Leone and Liberia during the period between 1998 and 2003. In regard to the conflicts between the Tuareg population in northern Mali and the central and southern regions of the West African state, African states had been able through negotiations or force of arms to quell these rebellions extending from the early 1960s to the 1990s.

Ahmadou Aly Mbaye and Landry Signe in their study on the causalities and correlations of climate change, poverty and internal military conflict, emphasize:

“With the recent coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, the Sahel has once again become the focus of global attention. Even before these events, instability and insecurity were on the rise in the Sahel, exacerbated not only by poverty, inequality, and marginalization, but also by the increased impacts of climate change. To better understand the interplay of climate change and instability, in a recent paper, we take a closer look at these factors in the West African countries of the Sahel: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad.”

However, and unfortunately, one key element, the sociohistorical legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism are not addressed as causalities in the research paper by Mbaye and Signe. These are factors which cannot be ignored since the former French and British colonies in West Africa inherited the cash crops for export economies imposed by the interventions of European states between the 15th and 19th centuries.

International financial institutions based in the United States such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have in the previous decades of African independence imposed draconian measures which further weaken the ability of public institutions to function in an inclusive and democratic fashion. The export economies which have not been fundamentally altered since the 1950s and 1960s must be assessed for their role in stifling the realization of genuine economic liberation and national sovereignty.

The two authors, Mbaye and Signe, in their study published by the U.S.-based Brookings Institution conclude by emphasizing:

“The relationship between climate change and conflict is the source of a great deal of controversy in the literature. While some authors see climate-induced scarcity as leading to fighting over resources, a growing body of empirical evidence points to the role of institutional failures in conflict. In this paper, we have used the Sahel as a case study showing that conflict has many interconnected factors, including state failure, demographics, and rent-seeking behaviors. By generating increased scarcity, climate change is further compounding these factors, in a context where there are little alternative options to mitigate food insecurity and support livelihoods besides natural resources. Therefore, adaptation to climate change should be central to any policy that seeks to mitigate conflict in the Sahel. Unless the effects of climate change on livelihoods are mitigated, the spread of poverty will push increasingly desperate people into the hands of opportunistic groups, such as Jihadists.”

Institutional failures are a direct result of the unsustainability of the neo-colonial constructs brought about through the continuing domination of the imperialist states in relation to economic power and the global divisions of labor. As states such as Mali, Guinea-Conakry, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya and Chad continue to provide strategic minerals such as gold, diamonds, iron ore and bauxite, along with energy resources such as oil in some countries, they will be dependent upon the whims and caprices of the global markets based in the Western industrialized nations. Since these same leading imperialist states such as the U.S., Canada, the UK and the EU, which weld far more economic influence on the financial markets than all AU member-states combined, are already involved through the IMF, the World Bank and private financial institutions in the internal affairs of continental territories, they should be held accountable for their ongoing policies which stifle qualitative growth and development.

Moreover, the large presence of AFRICOM, Operation Barkhane led by France and the NATO forces, can in no way be absolved of their responsibility for the present status-quo within the AU member-states. Of course, these same European states and their multinational corporations consistently redirect attention away from their dominant position within the world system in order to apportion blame on the post-colonial independent countries. Those imperialist states which are culpable in relation to the economic and social crises in Africa are themselves suffering from the contradictions imposed upon their own societies.

The energy crisis in Europe has compelled the government of Emmanuel Macron in France to seek increased natural gas supplies from the North African state of Algeria. In an attempt to ameliorate the people of France suffering from high inflation and the impending cold winter due to the impact of sanctions on the Russian Federation, a large supplier of natural gas, Algeria, had already secured the largest market share for natural gas.

Even with this approach by France, it has been noted that the level of foreign investment needed to expand the supply of natural gas to Europe could very well be beyond the ability of the EU countries to provide. The construction of new pipelines requires years of planning, testing and building. These challenges therefore cannot and will not be resolved in the interim period.

States in West Africa are facing the prospects of ongoing internal conflict amid the interventions of imperialist military forces. A global recession on the horizon will only make matters worse since the impact of an economic downturn in the industrialized western states can easily be more catastrophic in the Global South.

These variables should be taken into consideration by governments and mass organizations operating on the African continent. It is important to look inward, nevertheless, the internal situation in Africa is the direct outcome of continuing imperialist intrigue involving destabilization including regime change.

Which Way Forward for Africa and the World?

In evaluating the current parallels involving neo-colonialism, climate change, western military interventions and domestic internecine conflicts which have regional implications, it will require the organization and mobilization of the 1.4 billion people on the continent along with their allies within the broader international community. These problems facing the continent must be resolved by the majority populations composed of workers, farmers and youth.

An expanding presence of Pentagon, French Foreign Legion and NATO-allied forces in West Africa and other regions of the continent, has to be confronted by governments, political parties and mass organizations. Within the western countries, the social justice formations, trade unions and organizations of the nationally oppressed along with a revived peace movement have an important role to play in not only transforming their own societies, it remains essential that these tendencies act in solidarity with the progressive governments and popular organizations operating within the Global South.

The upcoming COP27 Summit in Egypt will provide a platform for the global community, both those inside and outside of state structures, to intervene in the ongoing debate over the future of the environment and its relationship to sustainable peace, development and security. Climate researchers and activists have warned that the time is running out for the implementation of bold, decisive and binding measures aimed at ending the environmental crisis. There is no alternative to this approach since the failure to take action will ultimately lead to the destruction of human society and nature as they have been known over the last untold millennia.

Let us utilize this period of crisis to move forward towards a world guided by peace and social justice as opposed to exploitation and war. Those groupings working to end war must realize that the U.S. continues to pose the greatest threat to regional and global stability.

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