The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

French Troops Have Been Forced To Withdraw From Three African Sahel Countries In the Last Two Years

France has been forced to withdraw its troops from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. All three countries have forged closer ties with Moscow.

Every since de-colonization France has been the primary power in these countries. When France left most of its colonies it charged them for what it had built during colonial times and has made them pay those debts back. With interest, the debts are still being paid.

Beautiful that, “we conquered you and occupied you and you’re going to pay for that.” France also had a great deal of trade with its former colonial subjects. But that hasn’t been going so well lately.

I’m a bit of a broken record on this, but almost anything you can buy from the West, you can now buy from China. If you’re an African country who needs hydrocarbons or wheat, military equipment or mercenaries, well, Russia is happy to supply those.

And African countries are huge resource exporters, as a rule. China’s deals for resources are better, too. Want a railroad, hospitals, ports, even an entire city? They’ll build it for you, faster and for less than the West, and if you want to borrow money to pay for it, their rates are lower.

Same thing with internet. Want to buy cell phones or computers? China’s are cheaper and essentially as good. Want a telecom network? China’s prices are cheaper and the build faster.

The West doesn’t have a good reputation in Africa. We conquered them, colonized them, and post colonization we have treated them like garbage and with serious disrespect, as if they’re morons, not a region suffering from what we did to them.

On an individual level there’s a fair bit of Chinese racism against Africans, but not at the diplomatic level. Russia and China have a fairly simple policy towards African countries: their internal affairs are their business.

The best quote is from a Kenyan official, “Every time China visits we get a hospital, every time Britain visits we get a lecture.”

This goes back to what I’ve been saying about Europe, they think their shit doesn’t smell. They believe they are the peak of civilization, with the best government and organization and that they have the right to tell everyone else what to do, because obviously, they’re right, not the inheritors of five hundred years of colonization and looting, currently protected by America as satrapies, occupied after WWII, but no longer even (when lumped all together) in the top four creators of new scientific advances. (Those are China, America, Japan and South Korea.)

This delusional view of their virtues and everyone else’s flaws doesn’t go over well, but Africa and everyone else didn’t have any choice but to put up with it: after the USSR fell and until recently, the West and its conquered subjects (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) were the only game in town. If you wanted anything remotely advanced, you had to buy it from the West and if you didn’t play by the West’s rules, they would coup you or punish you in various ways you couldn’t resist.

Those times are ending. America can’t even coerce or bribe a country as fundamentally weak and poor as Yemen.

So the Africans are turning to China and Russia, who treat them with a great deal more respect and give them far better terms.

France’s evening glory is ending. Soon they’ll be out everywhere or almost everywhere. The same is true of Europe as a whole. And even the US is being kicked out (most recently out of Niger.)

And Europe will return to it’s normal state: a backwards and largely unimportant peninsula on the periphery of Asia.

Oh, and those colonial debts for being conquered and ruled: about the time the Western financial system becomes one of only two financial systems, the ex-colonies will just stop paying.

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  1. France is in big time trouble. Household energy prices are going to soar as the way below market price paid for Niger’s uranium readjusts.
    I think that France would be wise to cancel African debt. That might preserve the willingness of African nations to export raw materials to France.
    Of course, there is the question of what exactly France possesses that Africans need. Louis Vuitton?

  2. Willy

    France provides a place to escape to, should the worst happen to these Africans. To China, maybe not so much. That’s about the only advantage.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much of a role hubris, wishful thinking, and organizational power dynamics plays in large group decisions, in spite of the experts and the evidence. On much smaller scales both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters were avoidable incidents, had the experts grounded in evidence been listened to by their own PTB. I remember the amazement NASA management expressed at the hole left behind when test engineers shot a blob of insulation foam at composite structure.

    An impact test had never been done when somebody presented the numbers? Not when PTB hubris, wishful thinking, and organizational power dynamics were involved.

    Seems the French PTB are now going through their own stupid time. Disaster to follow.

  3. Purple Library Guy

    As to that uranium price, “way below market” is an understatement. France was paying 0.80 Euros/kg for uranium from Niger, as opposed to 200 Euros/kg on normal markets. And people say colonialism is a thing of the past.

  4. Mark Level

    Shorter Ian: when you are a Rentier seller who consistently rips off the marks, they eventually get wise & find another source.

    Also, the arrogant EU Brussels elite said the quiet part out loud about how they feel regarding their former colonies, Josep Borrel’s infamous crowing about how “Europe is a garden. . . Everything works.” And “the rest of the world is a jungle” is just spitting in the face of 85% of the world’s population. (If unfamiliar, link at

    It seems that the Biden Team is committed to strapping the US tightly to Israel while it is committing a furious and open genocide, which will further isolate the US with it, even if the Palestinian populace are mass-expelled or entirely eliminated. (I’m unsure if the latter is entirely possible, but Israel is clearly committed to that goal.) I was shocked to hear recently that Canada, a country whose Parliament gave 2 standing ovations to a 98 year old Waffen SS retired soldier who helped slaughter thousands in Poland, has cut off military aid to Israel.

    As to Macron he is an arrogant & vicious little prick– he caused his own citizens to massively rebel with crowds in the hundreds of thousands for weeks & massive property damage just to make the French work longer. He was chased by French Farmers protesting his policies with his bodyguards & had to run for his life (just as J6 fist-pump ally Josh Hawley had to run from the cosplay MAGA insurgents). Lastly he mouthed off about sending French troops into Ukraine to provoke a war with NATO v. Russia.

    “Pride goeth before a fall,” and “The West’s” insane pride (among the leadership class) is Wiley Coyote, already past the cliff end & still spouting threats & lies.

  5. Jan Wiklund

    “Every since de-colonization France has been the primary power in these countries. When France left most of its colonies it charged them for what it had built during colonial times and has made them pay those debts back. With interest, the debts are still being paid.”

    – It’s too good to be true…. Where do I read more about this?

  6. Purple Library Guy

    Not just colonies in Africa. For ages, Haiti was paying France reparations for, when they had their revolution, stealing a ton of France’s property–specifically, the previously-enslaved Haitians. Although, looking it up, I find that weirdly in the late 1800s the Americans kind of took over the debt, so up until 1947 Haiti was making payments for long dead ex-slaves to what is now called “Citibank”.

  7. bruce wilder

    In this apparent craziness there are big elements of top leaders simply not knowing how things work, what the original deal was, and what is essential or foundational.

    The rich in any society are always enbubbled by the privileges of their class, but I imagine it matters whether you were educated as an engineer, say, as opposed to a financier / “management consultant”. It matters if you served time in the military at low or middling rank.

    Econ 101/neoliberalism, which provides much of the ideological vocabulary encourages ignorance, as Ian and other commenters have written from time-to-time.

    I remember Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” from 1988 — well-received, widely read and, of course, timely. I cannot discern any effect. It makes me wonder whether people “collectively” ever make choices from reflective thinking.

  8. Kfish

    @ Mark: It’s not that people didn’t know better before, it’s that they didn’t have any choice even when they knew they were getting ripped off. Now, with the industrial rise of China and the financial independence of Russia, the West has lost its monopoly over advanced technology and international finance.

  9. Imagine if the USSR had invaded all of Africa, the Americas, and Southern Asia. Imagine they then Committed genocide against too many ethnic groups to count, killed several hundred million people (a recent analysis put India’s death toll from British imperialism at over 100 million), and stole tens of trillions in wealth. Compared to the West the brutality of Stalin is a footnote that was almost deleted by the editor.
    Now imagine if the Chinese Communists hadn’t removed the west completely and had followed the neo-liberal economic miracles of Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 1950 China was as poor as Africa. I repeat in 1950 China was as poor as Africa. Now China is so rich it’s building infrastructure all around the world.
    China by becoming economically developed is proof that the west and its economic ideology has impoverished the Global south. The west is flailing because they see the writing on the wall.

  10. Jan Wiklund


    China wasn’t that exceptional. They followed the Japanese prescripion, Japan followed the German and US. The prescription is favour the most modern way of production, and let the government purchase the impossible. Some people credit the first US minister of finance, Alexander Hamilton with the idea, but in reality it’s much older.

    For example, how did the British become invincible in textile production? In the 17th and 18th centuries the Indians flooded Europe with god and cheap textiles. Most countries tried to protect their industries with customs walls, but the British were smarter. Thei induced their technicians to make more efficient machinery, and paid them well for it. In the mid 18th there were an astounding suite of inventions in tectile machinery – the technicians had responded. And by the 1770s the British could beat the Indians.

    In contrast, the Ottoman empire was neoliberal. Their politicians thought that cheap import is good for the customers, and that’s that. Their industri went bankrupt and they couldn’t take part in the development of the 19th century. The Ottoman empire ended up poor.

    This story is told by Prasannan Parthasarati in Why Europe grew rich and Asia did not, Cambridge 2013. He also told the story about how the British destroyed the Indian industry with export duties and import subsidies – and actual violence against educantional institutions and libraries.

    In fact, this is the “normal” behaviour. Neoliberalism is a fruit of hubris, and of rentier power. Industrialists need to take the customers into consideration, rentiers don’t.

  11. different clue

    @Jan Wiklund,

    I read somewhere ( can’t remember where or when) that part of how Britain outdid India in textiles was by occupying Bengal and perhaps other centers of Indian textile production and staying in Bengal and those other areas ( maybe) long enough to physically break the hands and fingers of all the Bengali women who made those textiles.

    If we have any Indian ( specifically Bengali) readers, perhaps they can comment on whether this actually happened or not the way I remember having once read that it did.

  12. Jan Wiklund

    @different clue

    The Brits did that too, wrote Prasannan Parthasarati. But that was afterwards, when they had already got the upper hand in textile production, which they did in the 1770s – thanks to a skillful protectionism not much different from the one the Chinese are practicing today.

  13. Jan Wiklund

    @different clue

    And do you know how they managed to get hold of India? P.J. Marshall told the story as early as 1987, in Bengal – the British bridgehead, New Cambridge History of India II.2.

    It all was a result of privatization. The government of Bengal didn’t manage the public affairs itself, but rented it out in private-public partnerships, or worse, private ventures. The public finances had for example been rented out to a private bank, Jagath Seth. So those people who managed the business of Bengal had no loyalties to the government, they just saw to their own pockets.

    Seems familiar?

    And as the British East India Company was richly endowed with silver, thanks to access to the plunder of South America, the Company could outbid the government. In the final battle at Plassey, all the businesses that run the state affairs sided with the Company, because they thought it would pay them better.

    It didn’t. The Company was a bureaucratic organization that had no need for Indian business corporations. And because it was a bureaucracy it could organize plunder of the peasants much better than the Indians could.

  14. Ian Welsh

    Almost everyone (I believe there were three exceptions) industrializes behind protectionist mercantalism. Then, especially if a hegemonic power, they go laissez-faire and de-industrialize.

    We know how to industrialize, it’s been done many time. Usually involves some fool like the Netherlands helping Britain, or Britain helping the US, or the US helping China (which they did for a couple decades) then realizing “oops”.

    Don’t help a country with more population than you industrialize. (Most of the time, of course, such help is actually “help.”)

    Oh, and the Brits helped the Japanese, the Japs then beat the Russians, invaded Korea and China and eventually turned on the Brits and if the US hadn’t also been involved, that would have been that, since Britain was in serious overstretch.

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