U.S. out of Africa: Voices from the Struggle

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin #52

As anti-imperialist sentiment gains momentum in Africa, the Alliance of Sahelian States has demonstrated a clear resolve to reclaim sovereignty from foreign powers. The backlash against Western presence, and French presence in particular, has ignited a broader conversation about the future of foreign intervention and the true path to self-determination for African nations. Yet, while AFRICOM and Western military forces are being pushed out of the Sahel by people’s movements, we see a much different relationship elsewhere on the continent taking note, in particular, of the ongoing close coordination between the US and Botswana Defense Forces as well as the US and Kenya Defense forces even as they are illegitimately deployed against their own civil society.

With Kenya as a current poster child, we observe that in Africa, there are hundreds of political parties that do not serve the interests of African people. These parties serve as middlemen between imperialism and the masses of the people.  But even in more convoluted or reactionary political environments, there is always pushback. In tandem with the events in the Sahel, Kenya is witnessing its own wave of resistance against neocolonialism, particularly in the form of protests against President William Ruto and his collusion with the IMF to further immiserate the Kenyan people on behalf of Western interests. Ruto has also sent Kenyan police to Haiti, ostensibly to serve Western imperialist agendas under the guise of peacekeeping, in a plan crafted in large part by Meg Whitman, U.S. ambassador to Kenya. These moves have been met with significant opposition within Kenya, highlighting a broader continental struggle against foreign domination and exploitation. The ongoing events signal a rising Pan-African consciousness that seeks to dismantle the remnants of colonialism and resist new forms of imperialist control.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin spoke with Salifu Mack who is a high school English and History teacher, music lover, and sparkling water connoisseur. He is also a member of the Black Alliance for Peace and the All African People’s Revolutionary Party and an organizer with the Lowcountry Action Committee in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin: You recently spent time on the ground in Burkina Faso during or shortly after the uprisings that led to the backlash against the French colonialists. Did you feel that this was just another military coup in Africa or that this was different and why?

Salifu Mack: Even before arriving in Burkina Faso, it was quite clear to me that the character of this coup was different from what is commonly associated with coups in Africa. My comrades on the ground at the Thomas Sankara Center for African Liberation and Unity had been reporting for months prior about the sentiment that had been emanating from the masses.

During my time in Burkina Faso, it was quite clear to me that the movements of the Traore administration have been in direct response to, and many cases, in lock-step with the demands of the people of Burkina Faso. While many coups in Africa are a top-down imposition of the will of a few “strong-men”, moves in Burkina Faso such as the ejection of the French military, embassies, and certain NGO and media properties, were demands originally spurring from the grassroots. The military coup led by Captain Ibrahim Traore just provided the muscle to move those demands into reality.

This is quite different from the January 2022 coup that preceded Traore, led by Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. That coup administration was deeply unpopular with the masses and lasted only 8 months. Often in Western circles, it is easy to discuss the African masses as people who lack discernment, but the reaction to Damiba contrasted against the positive reaction to Traore should be enough proof to demonstrate that people in Burkina Faso are using sound reasoning and discernment skills to determine what is in their best interests.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin: Clearly, France was the primary target among foreign interests. What signs, if any, did you see that the focus would then shift to US AFRICOM next or in the future?

Salifu Mack: On February 2, 2024, I attended a rally outside of the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso, organized by an organization called the Black African Defence League. The group was there to deliver a letter to the US ambassador to Burkina Faso, demanding US military bases withdraw from the country immediately.

They also denounced US imperialist policy, stating that U.S. interference in the affairs of the Alliance of Sahel States would not be tolerated by the popular administrations and that consequences for such interference would be backed by the masses of the country. I remember being so blown away not just by this action, but by the very clear analysis that members of the organization displayed regarding imperialism.

They understood quite clearly the essence of the idea that imperialism is the primary contradiction in the world today, and they situated the U.S. at the center of that. They were declaring that while France has been the most visible hand in the oppression they’ve experienced, France would never have such abilities without the backing of the U.S. and NATO more explicitly. They pointed directly to the 2011 NATO-led invasion of Libya as a material starting point for the issue of terrorism plaguing the Sahel today. Two months later, the U.S. was dismissed by Niger, and the action was widely celebrated across Burkina Faso.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin: With the exit of the French, a power vacuum has been created in the Sahel. Some suspect that the US will fill that vacuum. Others think that Russia via its Wagner group or China might fill that void. In your view, how best can Africans fill that void?

Salifu Mack: This question comes up quite commonly in western Pan-Africanist spaces and I just want to point out that it goes back to what I mentioned in my first response, but unfortunately it’s going to be a little long-winded. Africans in the Sahel are not being lulled into compliance by the scent of some fancy Russian perfume or the promise of sweet words. The Sahel is a region of Africa that has been absolutely ravaged by the results of years of Western meddling in African affairs, direct and indirect. The Sahel has also, up to the point of establishing a relationship with Russia, received close to no real material support from any outside forces to help tackle that problem.

The Sahel is surrounded by countries that at best are hollowed-out shells of nations due to years of neocolonial leadership, and at worst, are treacherous lackeys of Western imperialism who willingly engage in acts of sabotage against nations who won’t comply with it. This question and criticism are also often raised by the Western diaspora, who must be mindful of our inability to materially change anything about our situations abroad, and who should be honest about the fact that our powerlessness has led to a passive complicity with U.S. imperialism. With that context in mind, I think we must discuss Sahelian partnerships with Russia, or whoever else they may engage with in the future, with a bit of humility.

While navigating desperate conditions, leaders of the AES have still managed to initiate quite meaningful security partnerships with the Russian state. Russian flags stand tall beside flags of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger at roundabouts in all three countries. And it is not because Burkinabe are engaged in a delusion of “friendship” but because they understand the utility of strategic alliances.

In an ideal world for most people I encountered, Africa solves its own problems. However, the Sahel is forced to deal very acutely with the reality that Africa at this very moment has been conquered. They are also more honest about the reality that Africa does not exist in a world apart from the rest of this planet. Sahelian partnerships with Russia have assisted in the longstanding fight against terrorism, creating space and opportunity for meaningful attempts at development. The need for development in the Sahel states is an ill-understood aspect of the struggle there.

The concern moving forward, in my opinion, needs to be less about filling a void, and more about building upon the achievements of the current struggle. This phase in the AES is just a building block, and each of us has a role to play in building new ones. Africans in the West need to turn our attention towards AFRICOM (through organizations like the Black Alliance for Peace) because its meddling against the region is only going to escalate from here. I also think that we need to be engaged in moving resources to organizations in the Sahel, like the Thomas Sankara Center so that they can continue to facilitate opportunities for in-person work with the masses throughout the region. There are quite energetic anti-imperialist and socialist organizations in the Sahel. Organizations are attempting to do a lot at this moment with very limited resources. The defense of our liberated territories has to be a priority because as these nations increase their capacity, they can increase the power of their material contributions toward the struggle for Pan-Africanism, which is also a very clear motivation of the masses in these countries. I have never encountered Africans with a more serious commitment to pan-African unity than I did in Burkina Faso.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin: What evidence of structural or policy changes can you identify on the ground that has directly and positively impacted the material reality of the masses since the uprisings and coup?

Salifu Mack: The Traorè administration has received a lot of positive attention for kicking out the French military, NGOs, and enemy media, and rightfully so. I think many people living in the deluded realities of Western states that commit and fund terrorism but do not have to bear the brunt of terrorists running around unchecked, can not appreciate how meaningful it is to Burkinabè to see their anxieties about security being dealt with effectively for the first time in years. But in my opinion, more attention should be paid to the administration’s intense focus on development.

Captain Ibrahim Traoré has demonstrated that he is wholly invested in the process of nationalizing Burkina Faso’s resources. In 2023, the administration announced it would be nationalizing the sugar sector. The SN SOSUCO sugar company, which was once privatized during the term of the counterrevolutionary president, Blaise Compaoré, is now state-owned.

This administration has also positioned Burkina Faso, one of Africa’s foremost gold-producing states, to develop technology to process gold mine residues on-site. Construction on the factory began in November, and it was opened this January. In his formal announcement, Captain Ibrahim Traoré noted that the facility is 40% owned by the state.

In addition, Burkina Faso has long implemented land reform policies limiting the amount of land that can be privately possessed to 5 hectares. To boost production, the current administration is subsidizing the cost of agricultural equipment for farmers and has set a goal to increase the productivity of irrigated areas by at least 50%.

AFRICOM Watch Bulletin: Many African people in the United States question why we should care about what goes on in the Sahel. How would you respond to this and how can those who do care get involved?

Salifu Mack: In chapter 19 of Africa Must Unite, Kwame Nkrumah states that “… any effort at association between the states of Africa, however limited its immediate horizons, is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction: the eventual political unification of Africa.” In my observation, the average, everyday African in Burkina Faso is extremely concerned with the total unity of not just the Sahelian states, but all of Africa. It’s my most sincere hope that the AES can model something that will be the envy of Africans across the continent. The AES states have taken on a huge responsibility which must be delivered on by any means necessary. And this means that Africans everywhere — we are around the world — have a responsibility to defend it.

This defense, however, can not be actualized as passionate individuals reposting content on social media. We have to be members of political formations with clear principles, and goals, that have an emphasis on political education and action. We need to develop an analysis that helps to draw very succinct connections between what is going on in places like the Sahel and Haiti, and places like Baltimore and Los Angeles. Places where concepts like “terrorists” and “gangs” are being weaponized against the African masses to manufacture consent for police brutality and imperialist invasion.

There is no cure for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, no way to “free” Sudan, no end to settler colonialism in Western Sahara, or true liberation for Africans in the United States without this unity. No confrontation of violent client states, or our ruthless petit bourgeoisie. No path to true development— not a single road or hospital built truly to our advantage. There is no way forward for our individual states in this modern era that does not involve political and economic unity, and unity presupposes organization. Word to Nkrumah!

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) seeks to recapture and redevelop the historic anti-war, anti-imperialist, and pro-peace positions of the radical black movement. Read other articles by Black Alliance for Peace, or visit Black Alliance for Peace's website.