Introduction

In September 2023, during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly held in New York from September 18-26, Mr. Bassolma Bazie, the Minister of State for Burkina Faso, delivered a compelling speech1 advocating for fairness and justice. He spoke on behalf of Burkina Faso, emphasizing the nation’s dedication to Pan-Africanism and addressing the challenges faced by the countries in the West African Sahel. His speech on September 23 came at a significant time, as it coincided with the formation of the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS), a pact established on September 16, 2023 between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. This alliance was formed as a defensive and cooperative effort in response to regional instability and external threats, underlining a commitment to “collective security.”

The emergence of the ASS, also known as Liptako-Gourma, marked a significant development in the region’s political landscape, reflecting a shift towards greater sub-regional self-reliance and cooperation. This move, especially pronounced after the military coup in Niger in July 2023, indicated a growing sentiment among these nations against external influence, and coming together as a strategy for enhancing their mutual security. The formation of the ASS has also negatively impacted its relations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is supported by France,2 and Western nations.3 Tensions have escalated as the Sahel states pursue more autonomous collective policies and governance strategies that diverge from ECOWAS’ mechanisms and resolutions.

The timing of Mr. Bazie’s speech was crucial, as it underscored the urgency and relevance of the newly established alliance in the broader context of Africa’s contemporary international relations. It highlighted the Sahelian countries’ united front in advocating for their sovereignty and collective interests on the international stage. This move, and the subsequent activities of the ASS, have brought significant attention to the dynamics of power, cooperation, and self-determination in Africa, potentially reshaping interactions with international bodies and neighbouring regions.

The Emergence of the Sahel States Alliance: Deconstructing Colonial and Westphalian Legacies

Bazié’s declaration at the UNGA resonated with historical weight and urgency: “To take our destiny in our own hands” while underscoring the driving force and thinking behind the formation of the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS) by the military governments in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. This alliance, birthed from shared histories, mutual respect, and a vision of self-reliance, stands as a beacon reminiscent of Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement,4 and Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-African ideals.5 ASS represents a counter-narrative to the shackles of colonial and Westphalian impositions, and a beacon of hope for the Africa of the future.

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 is arguably the bedrock of contemporary state sovereignty. It underscores the principle that every state possesses undisturbed sovereignty over its territory and internal matters, without outside interference. Such a system entrenched the tenets of territorial sanctity and non-interference, profoundly influencing international politics for centuries. Yet, while it championed state-centric governance, it inadvertently provided legitimacy to colonial interventionist and extractive activities that carved up the lands and resources of continents, including Africa through violent colonial intervention, imposing borders that disregarded the intricate tapestry of cultural, ethnic, and historical ties. The member-states of the Sahelian Alliance draw upon their shared legacies, and a vision of decolonization, mutual esteem, and regional self-sufficiency to challenge the Westphalian paradigm and its inherent exploitative, divisive, and unjust impact on African countries. Rather than strictly adhering to colonially imposed boundaries inherited at independence, this alliance emphasizes African autonomy, interdependence, and right to self-determination. Through these efforts, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are not merely seeking to redefine regional collaboration but also to renegotiate the basis of their relationship with regional institutions and established and emerging global powers. A key element of their foreign policy is to confront the foundational elements of a system that has historically exploited and marginalized the African peoples.

To reach a better understanding of the significance of this Alliance, one must delve into the history of colonialism in Africa. The infamous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, known as the “Scramble for Africa,”6 marked a defining moment in the colonization of the African continent by European powers, driven by armed violence and greed for resources and markets. In his book “Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa, 1880-1914,”7 H.L. Wesseling noted that by 1880, Europeans viewed Africa as an “unknown continent.” Their colonial activities were justified through several ideologies: the “Civilizing Mission,”8 which purported to bring progress and modernization to supposedly backward societies; the “White Man’s Burden,”9 a concept suggesting that Europeans were superior to the rest of humanity and had a moral obligation to govern and impart their culture to non-European peoples; and the “Doctrine of Discovery,”10 a legal principle that gave Europeans the right to claim lands they “discovered” that were not inhabited by Christians. By 1910, they had imposed colonial rule on Africa, punctuating the landscape with artificial borders, seizing its vast natural resources, and forcefully subordinating the continent to demands of the global market on highly unequal terms, while holding its people captive. Even when independence was granted, mainly following the end of World War Two, the foundation was already laid for the unequal nature of the post-war world order, in which Africa was both marginalized and locked in asymmetrical power relations with world’s rich and most powerful countries.

The emergence of the Alliance can be interpreted as a step of resistance against the inequalities and injustices embedded in the colonial legacy that has continued to haunt Africa. The Alliance of Sahel States (ASS) is more than just a new partnership; it actively confronts the entrenched global systems that Stephen Krasner has termed “organized hypocrisy.”11 Created in response to regional threats and internal instabilities, the ASS aims to bolster collective security and enhance regional autonomy, particularly in the face of opposition from France and the EU. Its core objectives include defense against both external aggression and internal rebellions, thus strengthening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member states.

The alliance’s choice of the name “Liptako-Gurma,” originating from the African language Fulani, with the words “Liba” (to overcome) and “Ta-a-ko” (indomitable) meaning “what cannot be overcome,” signifies a profound commitment to transcending past failures and reinstating pre-colonial solidarity among its members. In doing so, the ASS not only promotes self-reliance but also significantly changes how these Sahelian nations engage with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), frequently resisting its perceived overreach. The ASS is redefining its members’ roles within both regional and global contexts, marking a steady deconstruction of historical divisions.

Bazié’s statement, relating to “so-called friends who want our so-called goods or who threaten us with war to impose their friendship,”12 captures the essence of a resurgent Africa. This new Africa not only acknowledges its past but is also committed to reshaping its future, explicitly naming those who have historically exploited, oppressed, and dominated it. It envisions an Africa that is unified, prosperous, and commands widespread respect within the global community.

Africa’s Lack of Representation: A Crime of the UN

In addressing the broader issue of African representation in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Bassolma Bazié, passionately confronted a gap in a strategic global forum. This gap is symbolized by the non-representation of over a billion people, their cultures, and interests in the apex decision making a body of global peace and security. According to Bazié, “Africa’s lack of permanent membership or veto rights in the Security Council is a state crime.”13 His words underscored the incongruity of Western nations sending their military forces to the Sahel to purportedly defend democracy, freedom, human rights, and peace, while Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, the second most populous in the world, encompassing 30,415,873 square kilometers and 54 sovereign states, is denied a permanent seat with veto power in the UN Security Council. This is a discrepancy that cannot be excused as a mere diplomatic oversight; it is, in Bazié’s words, a “Crime of the UN”14 that demands rectification as a step towards a more equitable, just, and peaceful world.

  1. Bassolma Bazié, “Speech at United Nations,” 23 September 2023, https://gadebate.un.org/en/78/burkina-faso
  2. France 24 News Wires. “France supports ECOWAS intervention in Niger, foreign minister says,” https://www.france24.com/en/france/20230805-france-supports-ecowas-intervention-in-niger-foreign-minister-says
  3. VOA News. “EU, US Join ECOWAS Call for Niger Military Junta to Halt Coup.” July 31, 2023. https://www.voanews.com/a/eu-us-join-ecowas-call-for-niger-military-junta-to-halt-coup-/7205646.html
  4. Stuart A. Kallen, Marcus Garvey and the Back to Africa Movement. 1st ed. Lucent Books, 2006.
  5. Michelle D. Commander, “Ghana at Fifty: Moving toward Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-African Dream.” American Quarterly 59, no. 2 (June 2007): 421-441. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40068469
  6. Matthew Craven, “Between Law and History: The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 and the Logic of Free Trade.” London Review of International Law 3, no. 1 (2015): 31-59. doi:10.1093/lril/lrv002
  7. H. L. Wesseling, Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa, 1880-1914, Westport and London: Praeger Publishers, 1996.
  8. Harry Liebersohn, “Introduction: The Civilizing Mission.” Journal of World History 27, no. 3, Special Issue: Preaching the Civilizing Mission and Modern Cultural Encounters (September 2016): 383-387. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44631471. University of Hawai’i Press.
  9. “The White Man’s Burden:” Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism. https://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5478/
  10. Bill Chappell, “The Vatican Repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ Which Was Used to Justify Colonialism.” NPR, Religion. March 30, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/30/1167056438/vatican-doctrine-of-discovery-colonialism-indigenous
  11. Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  12. Bassolma Bazié, “Speech at the United Nations,” 23 September 2023. https://gadebate.un.org/en/78/burkina-faso.
  13. idem
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