Addressing poverty 'key' to protecting African nations

If liberal democracies really want to do something to stem the growing influence of Russia and China in sub-Saharan Africa, they should help African nations tackle poverty, Professor Robert Patman says.

Speaking on Global Insight about the recent military coup in Niger, the international relations specialist said Western, liberal democracies were often tainted by a history of colonialism in Africa and risked viewing events on that continent through the lens of a global power struggle.

Africans did not view themselves as pawns in a global game and their colonial experiences could, understandably, make them suspicious of Western motives, the international relations expert at the University of Otago said.

Niger in Africa one of the world's poorest countries, with almost 75% of its population living in...
Niger in Africa one of the world's poorest countries, with almost 75% of its population living in poverty. Spain this year said it would triple its funding to promote food security, rural development, health and gender equality. Photo: Getty Images
At the same time, China and Russia’s authoritarian regimes were willing to help repressive leaders crush domestic opposition in return for access to their countries’ resources.

He said the best way for liberal democracies to respond was to tackle the real, felt needs of the people living in African nations.

‘‘Many of these countries are afflicted by poverty. So far, from their point of view, democratic regimes have failed them,’’ Prof Patman said.

‘‘It needs a re-think... to target those problems that many Africans are deeply concerned about.

‘‘In doing so, they will empower these countries to be more independent and more resilient to any foreign influence.’’

Watch full interview 

Prof Patman said there were parallels with liberal democracies’ difficulties in dealing with Pacific Island states.

He also spoke about suggestions Niger’s neighbours might use military force to reinstate the country’s deposed, democratically elected president and addressed why Africa has had six successful coups, and nine attempted coups, in the past three years.