December 21, 2023

Benin’s president urges renewal of ties with coup-hit Niger

Benin's president urges renewal of ties with coup-hit Niger

Patrice Talon

Benin President Patrice Talon on Thursday called for relations to be swiftly re-established between his country and neighbouring Niger, which is now controlled by military rulers after a coup.

In his annual address to the nation before parliament, Talon expressed the “wish to see relations between Benin and the countries where coups have happened quickly re-established”.

He said he had not “failed to address, in a discreet and repeated way, messages to these brotherly nations, notably Niger” where President Mohamad Bazoum was overthrown in July.

There is “a time to condemn, a time to demand and a time to take stock and take note”, he said.

“Our partners need to play their part and say clearly what their intentions are, and what they want from the international community,” he told lawmakers.

“The ball is in the court of the de facto rulers, who must show goodwill.”

Sanctions imposed on Niger by the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, have led to the closure of the border with Benin and have badly hit the latter’s economy.

Benin has seen a fall in revenues after the transport of goods to Niger via its ports was halted.

Both countries are also concerned about a giant oil pipeline that will allow Niger — one of the world’s poorest countries — to sell its crude on the international market for the first time, via the Benin port of Seme.

The export of Niger crude through the nearly 2,000-kilometre-long (1,200-mile) oil pipeline is due to begin in January.

Towards lifting of sanctions 

Niger’s leaders say the investment in the pipeline has allowed the country to increase oil production to 110,000 barrels per day, with an official target to increase to 200,000 barrels per day by 2026.

Benin, for its part, hopes transit duties will help offset customs revenue lost due to the sanctions on Niamey.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed the heavy economic and financial sanctions against Niger and cut off trade after the July 26 coup.

At a summit this month, the bloc opened the way to reducing sanctions provided there was a “short transition” back to civilian rule.

It also decided that a heads of state group from Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone would engage with the Niger regime to decide on progress towards a transition and other conditions for lifting the sanctions.

In mid-December, Togo Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said he had reached an agreement “on the content and timing of the transition” with Niger’s junta-appointed prime minister. The plan would be presented to the West African bloc, he added.

Four of the 15 members of ECOWAS are now led by military leaders who have seized power in coups since 2021: Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Niger.

A French military withdrawal from the Sahel — the region along the Sahara Desert across Africa — is also increasing concerns about jihadist conflicts spreading south to Gulf of Guinea states Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast.

ECOWAS members Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau have also experienced what their authorities say were attempted coups.