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The We've Got to Do Something Syndrome – by Amir Taheri for The Gatestone Institute – 13.08.23

Is the Sahel region in West Africa becoming a new hub for international terrorism, as the bad-lands of Afghanistan were almost three decades ago? Last week, the question forced its way into global policymakers' circles with the military coup in Niamey, the capital of Niger, an impoverished state in that region.

The Biden administration in Washington, having long claimed that it wouldn't neglect Africa as Donald Trump had done, did its own "we've got to do something" number by sending Acting Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Niamey for what she described as "a harsh but serious", and in reality useless, conversation with some of the jackboots.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin did his own "we've got to do something" by having local agents distribute Russian flags and envelopes filled with cash among the rent-a-mob crowds supporting the coup in Niamey.

That was followed by rumors that Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin's friend-cum-foe has phoned the generals to offer support from his Wagner Group mercenaries who did the same for coup leaders in Mozambique, Libya, Central African Republic, and more recently Mali.

Western expression of support for "democratically elected leaders" has seldom been more than diplomatic posturing. The mere holding of elections doesn't turn a society into a democracy. Even then, there are quite a few democratically elected undemocratic leaders.

The Western idea of a one-size-fits-all is an illusion.

The USSR reaped no benefits from spending money and prestige to prop up African dictators who continued to talk of socialism but put their stolen money in Western banks.

Today, Putin's Russia is even less likely to do any better. Apart from wheat and corn, it has nothing to sell that Africans want to buy, while Africans have nothing to offer that Russians might wish to purchase. Worse still for Putin, Wagner Group has turned local African opinion against Russia in many places, including the Central African Republic, Libya, Mozambique, and more recently even Mali.

As for the growing jihadi threat, letting Putin do the fighting on behalf of the African governments may not be a bad option. The French fought the jihadis in Mali and prevented them from entering the capital Bamako and seizing power only to end up as a target for hatred of the very rulers they had saved from annihilation.

Trying to impose the Western democratic model on African states by force hasn't worked in at least a dozen countries. Sanctions don't work either; they inflict suffering on the poorest masses without affecting the ruling cliques. Many years ago I visited an African "republic" under severe international sanctions to interview its president. The dinner he offered us was truly five-star, while the people of his capital, in ruins after a bloody civil war, were starving.

Military coups do pose a problem. But contrary to the French Cartesian illusion, not every problem has a ready solution. And when there is no ready solution wisdom advises patience, allowing people to make their mistakes and learn from them, not theatrical "we've got to do something" gesticulations that discredit those who make them.

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Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article originally appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat and is reprinted with some changes by kind permission of the author.

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