Before the desiccation of Sahara, archeological discoveries have proved the existence of lush green environment with abundance of flora and fauna in the Sahara area. Across the expanse of the desert environment there were ancient human habitations with complex socio-cultural activities in the form of sedentary agrarian communities, pastoralist and nomadic modes of life that have since disappeared with the irreversible desiccation of the Sahara. As patterns of rainfall gradually thinned out and the Sahara desert itself completed its total annihilation of arable land, as it forces human settlements to retreat to the fringes of the voracious desert. Human activities began to be concentrated in the Sahel belt millennia of years B.C. after the extinction of life across the Sahara. Pre-colonial history of Sahel West Africa has indeed recorded important events such as the network of trans-Saharan trade routes and their tremendous influence on society, culture, politics and economy of those ancient dwellings. The development of rich cultures and civilizations produced mainly in the Sahel West Africa owes itself greatly to the civilizational flows that came along with trans-Saharan trade.
In case we have forgotten, the Sahel region is that area between River Senegal in the west and Lake Chad region in the east, with Sahara desert in its northern borders and Savannah belt to the south. The Sahel is once the hub of the renowned ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai that flourished and declined about 1000 years ago. All other kingdoms that have succeeded those empires in the Sahel have one way or the other bearings with them.
The coming of Islam has immeasurably added to the fortunes of state and society in the region. Subsequently, there indeed emerged other 19th century great empires in Senegambia, Masina, Kanem Borno and Hausaland that have been fundamentally inspired by Islam as their driving ideology. However, the fate of all these states were sealed by European colonialism that conquered the lands and peoples of the Sahel, and restructured the society into colonial holdings based on the vested interests of the different European powers that parceled Africa into their colonies. A number of communities in the Sahel with the exception of Hausaland and Kanem Borno (whose territories were grabbed by United Kingdom) were all put under the imperial control of France.
New African magazine of January 2017 has in one of its two cover stories beamed its investigative searchlight on the new wave of military engagements by western powers in the Sahel region of West Africa. According to the report, the development is happening at such a crucial point in history in which we are suppose to believe that Africa has passed the stage of old fashioned European colonial conquest of lands and peoples, especially with the declaration of political independence to almost all the colonized territories of Africa during the middle decades of the 20th century. However, that was not to be due mainly to the geostrategic diktats of a more ferocious mode of imperialism without a human face, an imperialism that would not be stopped by any consideration in its bid to realize its obnoxious objectives. Africa is today on the verge of re-colonization. As it is, economically viable regions were specifically penciled down and targeted for maximum exploitation without let.
In the name of containing Islamic State (IS) and its Jihadi ideology from spreading to all corners of the Sahel, according to New African magazine report, we have now a roll call of western powers, including resurgent Russia, scampering to establish military bases across the Sahel region. Even before the idea of setting up the United States Army African command (AFRICOM), the French army has been intervening militarily in the affairs of some of its former colonies in West Africa. Now, the IS pretext has led European Union, United States, France, Germany, Sweden and Netherlands establishing military bases all over the region. Their combined bases have effectively surrounded Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa. The US alone has two drone bases in Niger. While France has a total number of 8 military bases in the Sahel, the US has 5, with two that have been exclusively established for drone operations. Another American military base is strategically positioned in the Lake Chad region along the border of Nigeria and Cameroun.
Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad, three countries that have embroiled themselves in Boko Haram saga, are now effectively under the reconnaissance and surveillance operations of American drones. Germany also has 2 bases ensconced in-between Mali and Niger. EU similarly has 2 bases at the intersection of Mali and Niger, and Netherlands has only 1 in Mali. Russia will soon join the party. Recall how in the earlier days of the fourth republic in Nigeria, President Obasanjo gave the American army carte blanche to restructure the Nigerian army. Based on that arrangement, the marines were to teach the Nigerian army counter insurgency tactics, as they also prepare them for new form of insurgency warfare. This is meant to make them combat ready with the American “anticipation” of potential internal insurgencies in Nigeria. There were even the stalled talks that would have allowed the marines to open bases in Sokoto and Maiduguri. The attempt to resist opening up Nigerian army to the “restructuring” mission of American marines has cost Major General Victor Malu his position at the apex of Nigerian army.
Nobody is arguing here that the threat of IS offshoots by way of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Boko Haram (BH), two insurgency outfits in the Sahel that have pledged allegiance to ISIS, is not serious enough. However, there are more compelling nuances of insecurity in the region, prominent amongst which are grinding poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, disease, ignorance and banditry that nobody cares to attend to. There are also profound ecological problems, which all concerned must pay serious attention, but are ignored. So far, the war against ISIS and its offshoots all over the Muslim world, and its blowbacks in Europe, America and elsewhere, is only scratching the surface of the problem by merely attacking the symptoms rather than the actual malaise. You cannot address the problem of ISIS comprehensively without combating the ideology that nurtures that inhuman creed, if you are truly serious about it. Looking at unfolding developments in Iraq and Syria for instance, the West is fighting the menace of ISIS halfheartedly. In instances where the West is not using the IS war as a pretext to advance its nefarious agendas geared towards total domination of Muslim lands with active connivance of its surrogates across the Middle East, it is merely paying lip service to the problem. Why did the western world turn a blind eye when the dangerous ISIS ideology was propagated like bush fire in the Muslim world all in the name of Islam?
There is therefore more than meets the eye in the West’s war on ISIS in the Sahel. Despite assistance that the West claims to be providing to Nigeria, Niger, Cameroun and Chad, the Boko Haram insurgency has since turned into long-drawn and intractable warfare. France in particular was alleged to be not so transparent with its claims of supplying intelligence and logistics to contiguous countries around Lake Chad basin. The countries that have jointly formed military forces to fight against Boko Haram in their territories are really not cohesive enough as a result of mutual suspicion growing amongst them. And, the involvement of western powers is complicating issues the more. As a matter of fact, the more the West becomes militarily embroiled in the region the more the insurgency escalates while the affected countries appeared to be utterly helpless. What then is the real motive of the frenzied intervention of western world? Is it all meant to arrest the rising tide of the so-called Islamist insurgents? Put differently, is the western intervention truly because of the need to prevent ISIS from taking over weak and beleaguered states like Mali or the need to stop the destabilization of politically unstable countries like Nigeria?
Other ulterior reasons were believed to be responsible for the convergence of western powers and Russia in Sahel West Africa. Alternative media sources have for quite awhile been speculating that the use of GIS technologies in space has led to major discoveries of rare mineral deposits, underground fresh water (note that the future war is going to be over the control of fresh water sources), large quantities of uranium, oil and gas in the Sahel region. The rare minerals are believed to be the catalyst to reenergize smart technologies of future civilization. All these are sighted in large catches in different locations between South Sudan, through the Chad Basin and the Sahel proper. Indeed, the new GIS technology can, through its ultraviolet imaging technique, prod into the deep recesses of the earth down to its crust from the outer space. The potentials of this technology are everywhere necessitating reprioritization of imperialist interests, goals and objectives in different parts of the world.
The new space-based high-tech precision technology can efficiently map not just the topography of physical surfaces, but the actual locations of mineral deposits and other critical mineral resources for the emergent future smart civilization. Similarly, the acuteness of our current ecological problems is forcing us to hanker after those rare minerals. It surprises me not to discover that in the unfolding cyber hyperrealism, information has become the most important commodity. I have now fully grasped the meaning of that new dictum which says information is knowledge, and knowledge in turn is power. Information is about everything in the world. Right now, it is difficult to engage meaningfully without possessing vital information. Therefore, he who possesses information possesses power in its entire ramifications.
It should not surprise anybody that the new geopolitical conflicts over the control of critical resources are no longer going to be waged over hydrocarbon endowments. The flashpoints have now shifted to the urgent desire to control rare minerals, fresh water sources, buried under the ground, and the underground seas that have disappeared from the surface of the earth millions of years before the evolution of human kind. We may not easily understand the real motive or significance of the sudden spate of interests to grab seemingly arid African hinterlands by the forces of dominant civilization that have before now concentrated their geostrategic interests more on the coastal lines of countries that have all been surrounded by seas and oceans.
Mr Liman is professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria