These military initiatives contribute to the African continent’s status as a longstandingfieldsite for experimentation that traverses the colonial and postcolonial eras. More recently, since the publication of the Berg Report, Africa has been a proving ground for the neoliberal thought that permeates development economics, advocating for structural adjustment policies while most foreign direct investment is concentrated in resource extraction economies. This thinking tended to stop well short of acknowledging the enduring damage done by colonialism on the continent. Niger’s colonial experience was particularly vicious, with French military violence used to “pacify” the territory. This trend continued in the lead-up to Niger’s 1960 independence, as French military forces suppressed opposition so the French state could consolidate control over uranium deposits discovered between 1957 and 1967 and other minerals useful for high-technology industries. Today, uranium from French mines accounts for about 70% of Niger’s exports, but tax exemptions mean that little of that value flows to the state or its citizens.
It is against this background that Niger provides a good case study of the intersection between the rural poor’s land struggles and US military presence. Most Nigeriens are subsistence farmers whose land tenure rights are insecure. The country is susceptible to frequent drought and severe food shortages, conditions which have been exacerbated by climate change. As of 2004, 9% of Nigeriens (about 870,000 people) were enslaved or lived as bonded laborers. As there are few formal political channels or avenues for dispute resolution, conditions are ripe for rural rebellions. Mediated through religion, these rebellions are antagonistic toward a state that is unable to consistently provide services; indeed, rebel groups present themselves as a viable counter governing authority to the weak Nigerien state. But for the US, assisting the Nigerien state in putting down these rebellions is coded as counterterrorism, a rhetorical move that misunderstands the basic drivers of local conflict while also supporting the very forces that cause these rebellions.
One way of thinking about the US military’s Niger operations is to see them as laboratories for warfare, testing new forms of observability and lethality guided by the US state’s algorithmic gaze, the components of which are built from the kinds of metals and minerals that are extracted from Niger’s mines. Arguably, because of strategic non-oversight, West Africa is conducive for testing these weapons systems and assessing how they form a kind of “predatory formation” that spans from the borders to the hinterlands of the world.
Feature photo | Two soldiers from the Forces de Armees de Niger at a US military training facility. Robert Timmons | DVIDS
Scott Timcke studies issues of race, class, and social inequality. His second book, Algorithms and The End of Politics (Bristol UP) was released in February 2021.
Ancient grey haired naked rebel and activist always looking to better the Human condition. Dreaming about what could be. Lifting the veil on the imposed illusion. Only a few will survive the depopulation wars fought by the (self proclaimed) 'Chosen Ones'. Only a few will survive the mindfuck. Maybe some of the stuff I write or share will be of some value (to you). I share it out of love knowing Mankind deserves so much better.
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