International Man: Since 2020, coups have replaced pro-Western governments in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, and now Niger with governments more aligned with Russia.
What is your take on what is going on here?
Doug Casey: Every country in Africa is an artificial construct. They’re just random agglomerations of tribes. Their borders were created in the boardrooms of Europe with absolutely no respect for who lived there.
Every country on the continent has dozens of different tribes and clans flowing across its borders; most are at odds with each other. The idea that democracy has any meaning at all in Africa is ridiculous. It’s a fraud.
All of these governments have constant coups. And if they have an election, it’s usually one man, one vote, one time. If the leadership ever changes, it’s usually because of a coup.
In Africa, much more than in the West, the purpose of government is for the leader to steal as much money and garner as much power as possible for himself and his cronies. It has absolutely nothing to do with improving the state of the country.
International Man: Fourteen countries in western and central Africa do not have their own currency and use the CFA franc—controlled by France—as their currency.
A common theme among the coups was resentment towards France, the former colonial power.
How do you see the situation evolving?
Doug Casey: It’s perfectly understandable that many Africans resent European colonial powers. Nobody likes aliens of a different race, language, religion, and culture bossing them. On the other hand, the Europeans hugely raised their standard of living.
There’s an old joke, but it’s quite true, that when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, if he’d just thrown out a wheel, Africans should have been eternally grateful to the Europeans. But he would’ve had to throw out an instruction book as well—except nobody south of the Sahara would have been able to read it.
It’s too bad the Europeans conquered and forcefully colonized Africa instead of simply trading peacefully with the natives. Africa would have developed very differently and much faster. Of course, it’s also true that slaves, captured by Arabs and other tribes, were about all Africa had that was of any current value. Slavery was endemic worldwide. It only ended because Europeans brought forth the Industrial Revolution, making it uneconomic. In fact, it was still legal in Mauretania, where I spent a week or so a few years ago, until 1985. But there are still plenty of de facto slaves there.
It’s true that France exploits its ex-colonies by bribing or otherwise influencing local politicians to trade mainly with the mother country and use the CFA. But on the other hand, if the local governments had their own local currencies, they’d likely be even less prosperous than they are today. Why? Because they’d use Modern Monetary Theory, i.e., massive inflation, to generate government revenue. They can’t effectively do that with the CFA.
There’s no question that France is ripping them off, but not nearly as badly as their own parasitic elites. Other than their own backward cultures, the problem is that these countries are chronically and enthusiastically exploited by their ruling classes through their governments. A group captures the government, uses it to steal all they can and ship the proceeds off to Switzerland. Or France to buy a chateau on the Côte-d’Or.
The ideal solution, of course, is to use gold as a currency. This was something that Muammar Gaddafi tried to do. But that was one of the reasons that the CIA, the US, and NATO overthrew him.
International Man: The largest American drone base in the world is in Niger, a country most US taxpayers would struggle to find on the map.
What is really going on here?
Doug Casey: It is strange that the US, which has no trade to speak of with Africa, has a division of the military called AFRICOM.
The US military is said to have roughly 1,200 soldiers in Mali, and I’d speculate about the same number in Niger. In other words, about two battalions of troops in each. But who knows what the real numbers are? Even though about a score of US soldiers have been killed there in the past few years (as far as I can determine from official sources), the US keeps it pretty quiet.
The question is: Why are they there? They say it’s to fight terrorism, but I think it’s mainly to justify their own existence. And, by the way, inadvertently turn primitive herders into “terrorists.” It appears the US places a lot of value on its bases in Niger, and is inducing neighboring countries to overthrow the new regime. Great. Just what West Africa needs is war fomented by the US.
Of course, Africa has always been a land for military adventures.
There are quite a few mercenary groups operating in Africa, including the Russian group Wagner. It makes sense. Government leaders, oil companies, and miners all need competent outsiders to help keep a lid on things.
When I was at Georgetown, one of the few individual classes that I actually remember was taught by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who subsequently became the US ambassador to the UN. She pointed out that Africa was a ripe territory for military adventurism—that even a small number of mercs could take over a whole country. Of course, that’s exactly what almost happened in the Congo about then. I suggest you look up Mike Hoare and Bob Denard, the two most famous mercs of the era. I had two unrelated intros to Denard, and it’s one of my great regrets that I didn’t fly to the Comoros to meet him after he took the place over.
Anyway, the fact is that the US government is training and arming any number of local armies in Africa now. It’s idiotic and will have at least three effects, none of them good.
First, making African armies militarily competent will just enable, even encourage, them to fight wars with each other.
Second, the main use of the military in Third World countries is to dominate the population. Which foments “terrorism.” That’s apart from the fact that almost all coups are done by the military.
Third, shipping arms to them essentially upgrades the means of mass murder. Things can be much worse than in Rwanda in 1994, when maybe 800,000 people were killed, mainly with machetes. You never hear about the African World War of 1996 to 2001, when 4-5 million people died.
It’s criminal idiocy to train soldiers and ship arms to these countries. The US will just wind up with much more competent and dangerous enemies. The so-called terrorists AFRICOM is killing with its drones, and SpecOp guys are primitive, mostly religiously oriented herders. They’ve got a genuine beef against their governments, who are supposedly allies of the US. Now they’ll have a real beef with the US as well.
Every one of these supposed US allies is only an ally as long as the money lasts or until the next coup. The weapons we send to Africa, just like the weapons going to the Ukraine, will wind up all over the world in the hands of unfriendly people.
International Man: Niger is one of the larger uranium producers in the world. Other African countries are well-endowed with strategic commodities.
Perhaps that’s why Africa has increasingly drawn the interest of the US, China, and Russia.
How do you see the geopolitical competition playing out in Africa?
Doug Casey: All the pundits talk about Niger’s uranium. They’re ignorant. Niger produces less than 5% of world supplies, and production has been dropping for years.
There’s no shortage of yellowcake in the market now at $55 per pound, which is not much above most costs of production. I’m bullish on uranium, but trying to mine it in a war zone makes no sense. Uranium has got zero to do with what’s happening in Niger. There are other things at play—mainly theft, banditry, secession, civil war, and general corruption. Uranium is just an excuse for US involvement. I was pleased to see Victoria Nuland, the pear-shaped neocon warmonger, treated with the respect she deserved, namely none, on her recent visit.
There’s no value in Niger, or the other Sahel countries. These places are just playthings for foreign powers. Trade amounts to someone offering a skinny cow for three emaciated goats or a couple of camels as a dowry. Niger may have 25 million people, but they’re liabilities, not assets—sorry to sound un-PC. These Sahel countries are each roughly the size of the Eastern US, but they’re basically desert and have very limited resources. If foreign aid dries up, their populations could drop 90% to the level they were before the French invaded. Of course, they won’t all starve; many will make their way to Europe. Or the US.
International Man: What investment or speculative opportunities do you see for taking advantage of the battle for strategic resources in Africa?
Doug Casey: Well, there is no such thing as “investing” in Africa. You can only speculate in Africa, and that’s based mainly upon politics and corruption.
Nothing happens in Africa without payoffs, connections, and under-the-table deals. That’s unlikely to change, and it’s why Africa will remain the world’s poor man for generations to come. Their main export will remain unprocessed commodities and impoverished young males.
Do I see opportunities there? Sure. But it’s strictly a matter of cold-blooded calculation of cost-benefit and risk-reward. Nothing is a long-term holding in Africa.
I’ll give you an example. The largest Russian gold company produces about 1/3rd as much as Newmont, but it sells at only 3% of Newmont’s market cap—even though its all-in-sustaining costs are comparable at $1,200 per ounce.
In other words, you can buy Russian gold mining companies with international assets for roughly ten cents on the dollar today. I think they’re probably a good buy, partly because most will eventually list in places like Dubai, and come closer to world market values.
Speculating in Africa is somewhat analogous to that. It’s best done by buying foreign-listed companies with assets in Africa.
Africa is for playing politics and speculating—not investing.
Reprinted with permission from International Man.