Until now, Benin has not been a prime target of frequent terrorist aggression in neighbouring West African states, mainly in the semi-desert Sahel strip, although it shares their defensive ideals.
However, on 6 February, security forces killed a suspected terrorist during a siege against a military unit in the town of Yangoli in the north-western part of the country.
This was reported in the daily La Nouvelle Tribune.
Although there were no casualties among the soldiers and the attackers fled, this was a matter of great concern to the bodies responsible for maintaining stability in the country, where two soldiers were killed in a bomb blast earlier in the year. In the midst of an alleged offensive by extremist groups with distorted Islamic affiliations, a move towards the northwest Beninese region is not ruled out, in what could be the fundamentalists’ search for access to the Gulf of Guinea, which is important for trade and oil transfer.
Hence the strategic importance of ensuring the security of the small French-speaking state, neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, which also have bitter experiences of terrorist attacks and are struggling to neutralise such acts, which some observers with open pessimism consider difficult.
“The strategy of the radicals is to gain more and more ground and advance towards the northern regions of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea such as the Ivory Coast, where attacks are no longer a novelty, or Benin and Togo, which have suffered serious incursions (…)”, wrote journalist Jose Naranjo of El País.
According to experts, northern Benin possesses a series of conditions that would allow the advance and establishment of radical groups of a confessional nature, among other aspects because it is a sparsely populated region, which allows the transit of individuals or armed groups to take place without being traced. There are no indications of permanent bases of extremist formations in the country, but “they move around and have logistical resources and contacts with Beninese nationals in the northern provinces of Alibori, Atacora and Borgou”, where the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) operates, buying and/or stealing food and fuel.
Luis Antonio González Francisco in a situational analysis adds that “the JNIM settled in the W park on the Burkina Faso side when the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara, dependent on Daesh (Islamic State), was evicted from the territory”, thus confirming the interest of terrorist groups to remain in the area.
President Talon’s message specifies the army’s position in the face of terrorism to ensure the tranquillity of the critical zone and “guarantee peace and security in the entire national territory”, which is in line with the doctrine also adopted by its neighbours as the duty of each African government.
Researcher Bakary Sambe, director of the Tombouctou Institute in Mali, believes that the weakness of states unprepared for an asymmetric conflict such as the one that may ensue in an escalation by terrorist groups clearly benefits them to continue their advance.
All of the above attempts to explain the causes and consequences of the explosive attacks in the W National Park – a nature reserve of some 10,000 square kilometres that also includes areas of Burkina Faso and Niger – where the tranquillity of the fauna and flora is confronted by another enemy, cunning and fanatical. (PL)