Benin Looks for External Security Support as Jihadist Threat Grows
Benin appeared on the radar of analysts after a series of attacks in December 2021 in the northern part of the country. Insurgents have since continued targeting Benin and its West African littoral neighbor states. Most recently, an attack against a police station in Dassari on June 29th resulted in the deaths of two police officers and the wounding of a third.
Recent reporting suggests that the attackers are members of JNIM (Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin), and their attacks are now on a trajectory to move towards the south. These concerns have prompted Benin to reach out to prospective partners for assistance in securing against looming insurgent threats. News of Benin’s talks with Rwanda intensified this week, and the latter is discussing security support to buttress domestic capabilities to fight off jihadists in the north.
Additional reporting suggests that both Niger and Burkina Faso are also having conversations with Rwanda about logistical support along with the provision of expertise as they deal with their own insurgent problems.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) released the results of a poll earlier this month covering specific regions in the littoral states (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Benin). The findings for Benin were quite notable. The sample size was 1,512 residents aged 18 and over with a response rate of 79%. The number-one concern in Benin, according to 34% of the respondents, was the economy. There were several specific security-related questions that the respondents were asked which yielded an interesting insight. Of those responding to the polls, 39% stated that violent extremism is the number-one security concern, while 71% felt that local police/defense and security forces are the key institutions capable of combatting violent extremism in their respective communities.
The government of Benin realizes that there is a threat that needs to be addressed, and it will require coordination with external partners. Hence the reports that emerged on September 9th that the Beninese government was reaching out to Rwanda to provide logistical support and military expertise to assist with the insurgency. If a deal can be finalized soon, the first Rwandan troops would be expected to arrive in October of 2022.
Rwanda’s experience with insurgencies comes from its military and security assistance activities in support of other African countries. Rwandan troops are currently deployed in the Central African Republic to support the peacekeeping mission there, as well as in northern Mozambique conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Cabo Delgado Province.
The government of Benin has been specifically seeking aid from parties that are known to have experience in dealing with insurgencies. However, it is notable that there is a paucity of available information on whether France or the United States has increased commitments to securing Benin’s north at this point in time. Yet, during the visit to the region by French President Emmanuel Macron, France did offer to Benin the use of UAVs to deal with the insurgency. It is not known at this time if the offer was accepted.
Benin is receiving some assistance from the United States already. The country is partnered with the North Dakota National Guard under the State Partnership Program. Before any major move and broader commitment by the US, we may expect an acceleration of training and exchange programs between the Beninese military and the North Dakota Guard.
When it comes to the big picture of African insurgencies and terrorism, Benin is a somewhat peripheral focus, however, more analysts are beginning to pay attention given the deteriorating regional security environment.