China as referee between Niger and Benin

China as referee between Niger and Benin

American soldiers forced to live on a base with their Russian “colleagues”.

For the military junta which took power in Niger by overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, 2023, there is no doubt that the French military troops who were asked to leave Nigerien territory have partly found refuge in Benin which with which it shares 266 kilometers of border.

In Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin, President Patrice Talon has always refuted this information. The spokesperson for the Beninese government has repeatedly emphasized that his country has strengthened the military presence in the border areas since 2021 and has built a series “small camps” with a view to fighting more effectively against terrorist dangers at the country's gates. It is with this in mind that the Beninese army has launched a recruitment campaign for 5,000 soldiers, 3,500 of whom are already operational.

The Chief of Staff of the French armies, General Thierry Burkhard, confirmed these statements to the press during a visit to Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin, last December.

An eye for an eye

Niger at the center of a new cold war

Explanations which, officially, do not convince General Tiani who has arrived at the head of Niger. For him, French troops are present in his neighbor and are a threat to his regime. His country therefore decided not to reopen, last February, its border with Benin, closed following the coup d'état and the sanctions taken by the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) against the soldiers who ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum. For several observers, there is little doubt that Benin is paying for its very tough stance against the putschists in the aftermath of the coup. The Nigerien military junta has not forgotten that President Talon was one of the leaders of the fight for regional military intervention to restore President Bazoum with whom he maintained very close relations.

Black gold and revenge

For three months, the Beninese suffered from this closure which had a significant impact on their economy, with all trade being cut off between the two countries. But, at the beginning of May, the Beninese president found in oil the means to put pressure on the neighboring military junta.

Indeed, Niger must enter the league of oil exporters this May. To achieve this status, it must rely on the 2,000 kilometer oil pipeline, built by Chinese companies, which must transport black gold to the Beninese port of Sèmè Kpodji, on the Atlantic Ocean.

President Talon announced on May 7 that Nigerien oil would not be loaded on the ship flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. A dead loss for Benin, which should pocket more than 450 million dollars in taxes in 20 years thanks to the transit of oil, but especially for Niger which now produces 110,000 barrels every day, of which 90,000 are planned for export. This Beninese croque en leg has implications as far as Beijing, the big financier of this project, which, in addition to financing this oil pipeline for more than $2.3 billion, also granted a loan of $400 million to the new Nigerian power. Until then, withdrawing from this regional dispute, China has mobilized a mediation team which visited the two countries and obtained, this Wednesday, the lifting of the ban on loading oil which began on the following day. The first oil ship is expected to leave the port of Sèmè Kpodji this Sunday, May 19. But the Beninese have warned that this loading authorization is provisional and fully intend for Niger to reopen its border between the two countries and relaunch a form of peaceful collaboration with Porto-Novo.

Niger: Africa's largest oil pipeline takes shape

Russian-American military cohabitation

China has thus demonstrated in recent days its diplomatic weight gained thanks to economic investments. Russia has also made its mark in recent days by sending soldiers to Niger. At the request of the junta, which has already pushed France out and is negotiating the pace of the departure of American troops, men from the Africa Corps, the heir of the Wagner group, continue to arrive in the country and settle gradually in the installations abandoned by France and the United States causing astonishing scenes, such as in this air base where Russians and Americans have been living together for several days, as confirmed last week by the American Secretary of State for Defense Austin Powell.

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