French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna visited Nigeria on Friday, where she emphasized the importance of African nations maintaining strong relations with France instead of turning towards Moscow. During her visit to the capital city of Abuja, Colonna took the opportunity to highlight the growing cooperation between Nigeria and France. She also announced the imminent return of $150 million in funds that were embezzled by the late Nigerian military ruler, General Sani Abacha. These funds had been seized by the courts and frozen in France since 2021, and their return marks a significant step in Nigeria’s ongoing efforts to recover stolen assets.
General Sani Abacha, who passed away in 1998, has been accused of looting between $3 billion and $5 billion in public funds, according to Transparency International. The money was transferred abroad and ended up in financial institutions in various European countries and the United States. The Nigerian government has been working tirelessly to repatriate these stolen funds and put them to use for the benefit of the country and its citizens.
During a press conference, a journalist questioned Minister Colonna about France’s diminishing influence in Africa, citing recent ruptures in relations with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. In response, the minister emphasized her stance, stating, “I wouldn’t trade off France for Russia, if I were you.” This statement reaffirmed France’s commitment to maintaining strong ties with African nations and discouraging them from seeking alternative partnerships.
The three countries mentioned, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, were all former French colonies that experienced military overthrows of their pro-Paris governments. The most recent coup occurred in Niger earlier this year. These events have raised concerns about France’s influence and presence in the region. However, Minister Colonna made it clear that the Sahel region, which includes these countries, does not represent the entirety of Africa. She pointed out that there are many other positive situations and opportunities for cooperation beyond the Sahel.
In contrast to France’s efforts, many African nations have been cultivating warm relations with Russia. The Russia-Africa Summit held in St. Petersburg in July saw representatives from all 54 African countries in attendance, including 45 heads of state or government. During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a $2 million allocation to purchase food for Mali through UN channels. This gesture exemplified Russia’s commitment to enhancing trade and investment cooperation with African countries.
President Putin emphasized that Russia has been experiencing a growing trade turnover with many African nations. He also highlighted the common goals shared between Russia and African countries in constructing a fairer global order that opposes the neo-colonial policies of the West. This message resonated with African leaders who seek to break free from historical patterns of dependency and forge mutually beneficial partnerships.
As France reasserts its commitment to Africa, it faces the challenge of competing with Russia’s increasing influence on the continent. The African nations, on the other hand, must carefully navigate these dynamics to ensure that their partnerships align with their own interests and development goals. The dialogue between France and Nigeria serves as a reminder of the importance of international relations and cooperation in fostering economic growth and political stability in Africa.