What ‘the giant of Africa’ should do
By Timeyin Mammah
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday attended the One Planet Summit held in Paris, France, along with 50 other world leaders.
However, in a world where ‘national interest’ continues to be a first factor in the exercise of international relations, it still has to be seen what the specific and tangible benefits of the Nigerian leader’s attendance at the summit would bring.
Convened by the youthful president of the Western European nation, the event was called to review global commitment to the Paris Climate Accord in the wake of America’s President, Donald Trump’s opposition to the treaty.
Underscoring the need to situate this development alongside several others that have been made in recent times, is the fact that for France, its present forays on the global stage, and even as they have to do with Africa also, are indeed borne out of very deep and deliberate reflection and and agenda-development.
For example, only recently, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Africa on a three-day tour that took him to Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana respectively. One of the aims of his visit was his desire to redefine his country’s waning relationship with Africa. It is clear that Macron seeks a stronger relationship between his country and Africa, and one that should hopefully free the nation from the hitherto most restrictive tags of ‘Francophone domination’ and ‘imperialist tendencies.’
France historically has influence in over 20 African countries due to its colonial linkages. Over the years, France’s influence on its former colonies and its policy of Francafrique has been in decline majorly due to pressures from home (France) and an amended policy of ‘France first.’ It is clear that France is no longer interested in overseeing its ex-colonies to the extent of paying its bills and as a result its relationship in Africa has waned.
Yet there are still some areas in which France’s influence remains visible: military, trade and commerce. It can be argued that France is only committed to these areas because of its national interest.
In terms of military support, France’s hold is still very strong as can be seen in Mali where it has about 4000 troops fighting the Islamic insurgents. Also, France maintains a military relationship where France offers military support to about all of its ex-colonies.
In terms of trade and commerce, French nationals and companies still have massive investments in its former colonies and even a seeming quasi-monopoly in the most strategic areas such as electricity, infrastructure, mining and airports.
France is also highly dependent on its former colonies and Africa for its raw materials. France imports a large amount of uranium from Niger, even as Nigeria (a long-standing friend of France, though not its direct ex-colony) still largely supplies a lot of France’s crude oil demand.
With President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to redefine that nation’s relationship with the continent and his accompanying attempt to reach out to other countries in Africa outside the Francophone bloc as shown in his historic visit to Ghana which made him the first French President to visit the West African country, it is clear that traditional giants in the continent like Nigeria have to put on their analytical caps.
In the light of these developments in the arena of French-African relations, the Nigerian foreign relations apparatchik in particular clearly has to respond to France’s ambition to have a greater influence on the continent.
In this writer’s view, Nigeria first has to sort out its foreign policy agenda and have a clear and concise policy that would be beneficial to the national interest. Nigeria must be able to harness the opportunities that come with France increasing links with Africa and tame any potential disadvantages and possible exploitation that could arise from its untramelled run also.
Also noteworthy is the fact that despite the fact that Nigeria is the largest recipient of French exports in Africa and its second largest trading partner at the moment, the French President Emmanuel Macron did not see it important to include a trip to Nigeria during his recent three-day trip to Africa. What point was being made by this ‘snub?’ Nevertheless, Nigeria and France relations still remains generally cordial and beneficial to both countries.
Again, France’s renewed attempt to revive its relationship with Africa could prove harmful to Nigeria’s relations with other African countries if not well managed. It is to be noted that France’s earlier shift towards de-emphasizing its Africa relations had opened up a greater political, economic and diplomatic haven for Nigeria as Francophone countries like Niger, Chad, Togo and Benin to name a few had almost all turned towards Nigeria for trade and other reliefs.
This relative dependency on Nigeria had restored some semblance of heft to the giant of Africa title that had been conferred on the continent’s most populous nation. Underscoring this point, a West African President is on record as having once said that ‘if Nigeria coughs his country also coughs!’
With France seeking to revive its relationship with Africa, Nigeria’s dominance in West Africa might be threatened. Its neighbours that were becoming increasingly dependent on her might turn to France and seek to ‘free themselves from dependence on Nigeria.’
Nigeria has to utilise the massive benefit and edge its population and rich mineral resources gives it in Africa and in the world market and it must therefore position itself properly to benefit from France’s expanded interest in Africa.
Nigeria should at all cost maintain its power status in West Africa and forge stronger relationships with its West African neighbours.
Pix: President Emmanuel Macron of France