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In May 2019, two French tourists were kidnapped in the Pendjari park, in northern Benin, then released a few days later by the French army in Burkina Faso. This operation, during which their Beninese guide and then two French soldiers were killed, was triggered to prevent their transfer to the katiba Macina, a very active jihadist fighting unit in central Mali.
Although they are not permanently present in northern Benin, elements linked to extremist groups are circulating in this part of the country. They fuel the fear, shared by many observers, of an importation of violence from the Sahel to the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
Kars de Bruijne is a conflict researcher at the Institute for International Relations in Clingendael, the Netherlands. In a report made public Thursday, June 10, he analyzes the security and political dynamics in the sensitive regions of Alibori, Borgou and Atacora, bordering Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
For security but also political reasons, information on the situation in northern Benin is scarce. How did you establish this relationship?
The new data in this report comes from a local organization – whose name was withheld for security reasons – and the NGO Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (Acled). These data go from 2017 to the present day and show that there are various community conflicts in the north of Benin, that they have become deadly and that they are intensifying over the years. The Beninese government seems to be deliberately concealing these problems from the public even if, it is true, it seeks to solve them.
How do you describe the situation in northern Benin today?
The situation is more serious than we thought. Between 2017 and 2019, there were nearly 30% more violent incidents. Since March 2020, when the local partner organization began providing weekly information to Acled, the number of reported cases of violence has nearly tripled.
Regular reports from Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Nigeria and Ghana mention itinerant preachers, recruitment of young people by armed groups, transit of Sahelian combatants and trade with jihadists. This shows that the coastal areas of West Africa may be facing the risk of a major security crisis.
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