China as referee between Niger and Benin

The tone has gone up a notch between Benin and Niger

Five Nigeriens were arrested by Benin. They would have illegally entered the terminal where Nigerien oil arrives.

“Politicians must find a diplomatic solution. This crisis is dangerous and disrupts the daily lives of too many people in Lare two countries. Beninese-Nigerians, we are the same people, we have a lot in common”explains Adrien Sonon, a young Beninese who studies at the University of Abomey-Calavi, not far from Cotonou, the economic capital.

Since the coup d'état in Niger which overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, 2023, the dispute has been burning between the boss of the Nigerien junta, General Abdourahamane Tiani, and the Beninese head of state Patrice Talon. The Beninese president, very close to his former Nigerien counterpart, was one of the main opponents of the junta in the region, not hesitating to advocate the use of force, through the mobilization of the Economic Community of African States of the West (ECOWAS), to restore President Bazoum.

An attitude which angered the junta which never accepted the reopening of the border between the two States after the “normalization” of relations between Niger and its neighbors.

Everyone is a loser

A border which has been crossed for several months by a pipeline responsible for sending the oil pumped from Niger, a country without a maritime outlet, to the Beninese port of Sèmè-Kpodji. But so far, because of these tensions, only one tanker has been able to weigh anchor.

A dead loss for Niger which was counting on an export rate of 90,000 barrels per day to replenish its coffers. A loss also for Benin which counts on the taxes levied on the passage of black gold to improve its daily life and an even more obvious loss for the West African Oil Pipeline Company (WAPCO), a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). ) which invested more than $4 billion in the construction of this 2,000 kilometer pipeline.

The agreement reached between the three parties in 2018 stipulates that CNPC advances this sum in exchange for 75% of future production. The remaining 25% goes to Niger.

However, today, not a drop is exported. The Chinese authorities sent a good offices mission to the two countries to try to resolve the dispute and at least restart business.

A mission which, despite the colossal weight of Beijing, did not make it possible to relaunch the transfer of crude from Agadem (location of extraction in Niger) to the Sémé Kpodji oil terminal and beyond on the ships responsible for export oil.

To make matters worse, while Niamey still refuses to open the border between the two countries, Benin announced, on June 5, the arrest of 5 Nigeriens intercepted in the Sèmè-Kpodji oil terminal where they were without permission. authorization or, worse, with false badges.

A highly publicized arrest in Benin where the prosecutor in charge of the fight against terrorism explained:instead of using the main entrance and checking in at the gatehouse, these people preferred to use a back entrance located at the rear of the site. They benefited from the complicity of the General Administrator of Wapco Benin “, pointing an accusing finger towards the representatives of the Chinese state enterprise but especially towards the military junta when the prosecutor added that at least two of the people arrested “ are Nigerien agents in the service of the National Council for the Protection of the Fatherland (CNSP), the Nigerien executive.

Niamey has denounced these arrests and has threatened to close the pipeline valves at its starting point. Niger, which welcomed its first Russian “instructors” a little more than two months ago, also accuses Benin of massing French troops, expelled from Niger, on the border between the two countries, which the government denies. Beninese and the French military authorities.

From accusations to denials, the tone continues to rise dangerously between the two neighbors and to the detriment of the Chinese company which manages around ten other projects of this scale in Africa (from Sudan to Mozambique via South Sudan).

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