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Faith Nyasuguta

Niger’s military junta has agreed to discussions with Benin’s government, facilitated by two former Benin presidents, in an effort to restore relations after a coup in Niger last year resulted in border closures and the shutdown of a China-backed oil pipeline in May.

The decision to hold talks came after a meeting between Niger’s military leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani, and former Benin presidents Thomas Boni Yayi and Nicephore Soglo. The specific date for the discussions has not yet been set.

If successful, the talks could lead to the resumption of oil flow to China via the PetroChina-backed pipeline, which was suspended in mid-June. The pipeline, spanning 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from Niger to Benin’s coast, had its operations halted due to escalating tensions over the border closure.

Last year, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed border closures on land and air routes with Niger in an attempt to pressure the military junta, which seized power in a July coup, to reinstate civilian rule. While ECOWAS lifted these sanctions earlier this year, Niger has kept its land borders with Benin closed.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon expressed frustration over the situation, noting that Benin had promptly lifted sanctions and opened borders, but Niger had not reciprocated. “It’s unfortunate to note that since then, Niger hasn’t done the same,” Talon stated.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon /WADR/

The agreement to hold talks emerged from a meeting on June 24 between General Tiani and the former Benin presidents. 

Relations between Niger and its neighbors have been strained since the coup, with Niger accusing Benin of harboring insurgents plotting to destabilize the Sahel nation. Benin has denied these accusations. In June, an armed Niger rebel group opposed to the junta sabotaged the pipeline, causing minor damage.

General Tiani expressed openness to frank dialogue and accepted the proposal to defuse tensions, according to a statement from Niger’s government. “He agreed to the principle of forming a commission comprised of representatives from Niger’s government, Benin’s government, and the two visiting former Beninese heads of state,” the statement said.

The former Beninese leaders held a follow-up meeting with President Talon on Monday. “The president and the former presidents agreed on the need to reestablish dialogue as agreed by all parties,” they said in a separate statement.

This situation is reminiscent of other instances in Africa where military coups have led to strained relations and economic disruptions. For example, after the military takeover in Mali in 2020, the country faced sanctions and border closures imposed by ECOWAS. These measures were aimed at pressuring the Malian military junta to return to civilian rule. 

The sanctions included travel bans and asset freezes on individuals and entities associated with the junta. Mali eventually negotiated with ECOWAS, leading to the lifting of some sanctions, but tensions remained high as the junta delayed the transition to civilian governance.

Similarly, in Burkina Faso, a military coup in 2015 led to regional and international condemnation. The coup leaders faced significant pressure from ECOWAS and the African Union, resulting in economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. The transitional government that emerged had to navigate a complex landscape of domestic and international demands to restore stability and democracy.

The situation in Niger, like these past instances, highlights the challenges faced by countries in the Sahel region in maintaining stability and governance. 

In recent years, the Sahel region has been plagued by instability, with coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger disrupting regional cooperation and development efforts. 

The willingness of Niger’s junta to engage in dialogue with Benin is a hopeful sign, but the outcome of these discussions will depend on the commitment of both parties to find common ground and address underlying issues. 

/Afrique sur 7/

The involvement of respected former leaders in the mediation process provides a neutral platform for negotiation, but the success of these efforts will ultimately hinge on the political will of the current leadership in both countries.

As the region grapples with these challenges, the international community, including regional organizations like ECOWAS and global powers, must support efforts to promote dialogue, stability, and development in the Sahel. The resolution of the Niger-Benin dispute could serve as a model for addressing similar conflicts in the region, fostering a more cooperative and peaceful West Africa.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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