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How France armed Biafra’s bid to break from Nigeria
France secretly armed Biafra in the self-proclaimed republic’s attempt to break away from Nigeria in a bid to weaken British and US influence in Africa, documents seen by RFI reveal 50 years after the beginning of a war that cost up to two million lives.
The ethnic Igbo-majority Eastern Region declared its independence on 30 May 1967, following a military coup, a counter-coup and what French diplomats described as “pogroms” of tens of thousands of Igbo living in northern Nigeria the previous year.
The attempt to break away led to a 32-month war, which was to see about between 500,000 and two million deaths from starvation caused by Nigeria’s blockade of the breakaway region.
Nigeria’s former colonial ruler, Britain, backed the Lagos government’s One-Nigeria policy, covertly providing weapons and military intelligence.
The US declared itself neutral, while the Soviet Union gave full support to the Nigerian government.
Although France – unlike allies Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire — never recognised Biafra diplomatically, it backed what then-president Charles de Gaulle called its “just and noble cause.”