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French Foreign Minister Colonna: ‘Françafrique died a long time ago’

Catherine Colonna, at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Paris, September 1, 2023.

Catherine Colonna has been France’s minister of Europe and foreign affairs since May 2022. In an interview with Le Monde, she defends Paris’s positions after the coups that took place in Niger and Gabon this summer, often to the detriment of French interests and calls for patience with regard to Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia.

Is France at an impasse in Niger?

France’s policy is simple. On the one hand, we condemn any seizure of power by putschists, especially in a country like Niger where democratic institutions were functioning. On the other hand, we support the efforts of countries in the region to restore constitutional order. The heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] have formulated a number of demands and decided on economic and financial sanctions, the closure of borders, and the possible use of a regional force if the diplomatic efforts underway are not crowned with success. The only authorities in Niger that we recognize, as does the entire international community, are President Mohamed Bazoum and his government. There is nothing unusual about our position in this respect.

Isn’t it risky to keep the French ambassador in Niamey at all costs?

He is our representative to the legitimate authorities of Niger, accredited as such, and we don’t have to bow to the injunctions of a minister who has no legitimacy; not according to the countries of the sub-region, nor the African Union, nor the United Nations, nor France. That’s why we’re keeping our ambassador. We are making sure that he can safely face up to any pressure from the coup leaders.

In such a climate of mistrust, is it possible to maintain the presence of French troops, whose departure the junta is demanding?

It’s important to remember that these troops are there at the request of Niger’s authorities, to support them in the fight against armed terrorist groups, and to carry out training activities. Today, this mission can no longer be carried out, since we no longer have de facto joint operations with Niger’s armed forces.

After Mali, do you fear the intrusion of Wagner’s Russian mercenaries into Niger?

The main author of the coup [General Abdourahamane Tchiani] seems to have acted primarily for himself and not at the instigation of Wagner or Russia. But I think it’s pretty clear that Russia, here as elsewhere, saw a possible opportunity gain. I’m not convinced that everyone in the country sleeps with a brand-new Russian flag under their pillow and pulls it out at the first opportunity. There’s a populist temptation to attack France and rally against it. It’s part and parcel of populism to find a scapegoat and go around waving this kind of ideological ready-to-wear.

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