Africa coups: Western influence waning, or just facing competition? – NBC US


The military takeover in Niger that completed a “coup belt” in the Sahel region added to alarms in some quarters about waning Western influence across Africa – and about the prospects for democratic governance on the continent.

“No question there is waning influence of the West; there is also a waning influence of Washington, but it’s not because of a rejection of Western values,” says Cameron Hudson, a former CIA Africa analyst. “What we have now is heightened competition … to play a role in Africa, where two decades ago we [the West] were the only game in town.”

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Amid Western hand-wringing about the string of coups in Africa, some experts say the moment suggests not so much the twilight of Western influence but that African countries have choices and are breaking a dependence on one power.

Moreover, tensions that surfaced between the United States and France following the July 27 coup were a clear sign that Washington, after decades of deference, is setting an independent course from Paris.

Even as it joined France in condemning the military takeover, the U.S. refrained from calling it a “coup.” The U.S. also sent a top diplomat to Niger for talks with the coup leaders – a move French diplomats called “unwise.”

“What we’re seeing is that Washington is beginning to assert its own vision and perspective into the Sahel instead of simply letting the French lead,” says Mr. Hudson. “Official circles in Washington are finally recognizing … that we are best served by cutting our own path.”

Another coup in Africa this week – this time in an oil-rich former French colony in West Africa, Gabon – follows the military takeover in Niger in late July that completed a “coup belt” stretching across six nations of the Sahel region from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.

The rash of coups over the past three years is raising fresh alarms in some quarters about waning Western influence across Africa – and about the prospects for democratic governance on a continent increasingly tempted by the siren of authoritarian rule.

The coup in Gabon was another harsh blow to France, already reeling from a succession of coups in former French African colonies that is calling into question its status as a global power worthy of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Amid Western hand-wringing about the string of coups in Africa, some experts say the moment suggests not so much the twilight of Western influence but that African countries have choices and are breaking a dependence on one power.

But the string of coups across the Sahel, culminating in the military takeover in Niger – until this summer the apple of the West’s eye in the sub-Saharan region – is also a setback for President Joe Biden’s foreign policy emphasis on promoting democracy. In some cases, the coups were fomented by Russia’s intent on supplanting Western powers in much of resource-rich Africa. But they all raise questions over who is winning between democracy and autocracy – what Mr. Biden called the century’s signature contest.

Amid the Western hand-wringing, some longtime Africa experts say the current moment suggests not so much the twilight of Western influence, but rather that for Africa, the West is no longer the only game in town.

“Yes, there is a ‘waning of Western influence’ in the sense of a decrease from where things were in the past, but what is really happening is that in Africa it’s no longer ‘our [the West’s] way or the highway,’” says J. Peter Pham, a special envoy for the Sahel in the Trump administration and now distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center in Washington.



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