Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 85: US militarization of the Sahara-Sahel: Security, Space & Imperialism

War on ‘terror’: Africom, the kleptocratic state and under-class militancy in West Africa-Nigeria

June 2010

The aim is no longer to transform the world, but (as the heresies did in their day) to radicalise the world by sacrifice. Whereas the system aims to realize it by force.
— Baudrillard (2002: 10)


The US, EU and Chinese compete to control strategic resources (oil, bauxite, uranium, subterranean water) in the Sahara, Sahel and proximate semi-arid zones as northern Nigeria, home of the young suicide bomber who failed to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 252 over Detroit in December 2009. US-NATO commands in Stuttgart and Brussels prosecute the ‘War on Terror’ to securitize ‘dangerous’ West African Muslim states (and quietly manoeuvre leases to exploit resources vital to US and EU capital accumulation).

The principal cause of growing youth militancy mobilising around ethnicity and Islamic reformism is the ruling class’s failure to ‘share’ the ‘dividends of democracy’ — e.g. rental incomes from ‘traditional’ community owned strategic resources as oil, gas, gold, bauxite, uranium, water — according to subaltern clients’ expectations. So the under-class experiences as ‘bad’ the ‘democratic’ West African State’s governance. Failed expectations are reflected in some radical elements’ readiness to sacrifice their lives in fighting the war machine — sheer force — of the repressive State. ‘Bad’ governance is the consequence not of corruption but of clientelism, that is informal political relations greased by money between patrons/‘big men’ and clients/‘small boys’; this largely illegal system of power and patronage generates venality and violence, but not as yet real terrorism (Obi 2006). Ironically, Islamic militants (northern Nigeria) and ethnic sovereignty movements (southern Nigeria, northern Niger, northern Mali) drawing on subaltern discontent share with international donors the same objective of securing ‘good’ (i.e. just, efficient, clean) governance, though under-class devout Muslim youth define good governance not in donors’ secular terms but in regard to Quranic precepts. The US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) and international aid practitioners target corruption as the cause of ‘dangerous’ under-development; they strengthen security agencies and hand out anti-corruption funds that the ruling classes mis-appropriate. The militarization of ‘development’ will succeed only, as elsewhere (e.g., Afghanistan), in nourishing the growth of real terrorism among, for example, Nigeria’s estimated 40-60 million largely unemployed youth and ethnic minorities.

A more peaceful strategy than US reliance on resource control by force is ECOWAS community capacity building. Subaltern classes could be empowered to strengthen management of traditional resources and land in strategic locations developed as hubs of sustainable economic growth and justice reform at the magistrate, native court, and Shari‘a court levels. Improvements in the local economy, governance and justice delivery as part of planned institution building for socially inclusive growth with equity could diminish subaltern discontent and encourage currently disempowered majorities to challenge peacefully the kleptocratic State’s reliance on force to ‘resolve’ political conflicts with and among citizens.

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