In a press conference in Benin Republic on Wednesday, France President Emmanuel Macron made a pledge to deliver drones, weaponry and intelligence to help combat the growing Islamist Insurgency bedevilling the West African country.
Benin was the second leg of his three-leg tour of Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau – his first visit to Africa in his new term as president. Macron hopes to strengthen political and security ties with the three countries, two of which are former French colonies.
Benin, alongside Togo and Ivory Coast which are located in the Gulf of Guinea, has seen a rise in attacks from militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in a sweep of violence from the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Recent weeks have seen Benin and Togo suffer deadly attacks. France is currently withdrawing thousands of troops from Mali after a decade there, with a new goal of redefining its strategy to tackle insurgency in the region.
While in Cameroon on Tuesday, Macron said France would help Niger and a few other Sahel countries where French troops will be based, and will “ expand counter-insurgency operations to Gulf of Guinea countries that are now dealing with terrorist groups who are spreading, and threatening the whole region”.
A main part of the new strategy is to help the countries fortify their armies, provide support and enable them take the lead in ground operations. On request, the countries could have French troops on ground. As at Wednesday, neither Benin nor Togo had made requests for French troops.
Macron said France had already provided Benin with some intelligence, training support and other civilian aid to develop areas that are vulnerable to jihadist attacks.
He also said they would soon deliver vehicles, de-mining equipment, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment.
Benin’s President Patrice Talon said that the country was hoping for more support because the fight against insurgency had become a major challenge, which could have a negative ripple effect on its economy.
“Unfortunately, we have so far not managed to convince French military authorities on certain aspects of military cooperation, particularly the supply of equipment, but I salute France’s support on intelligence and training,” said Talon.
Talon emphasised their need for weapons, while also explaining that the country was financially capable of acquiring equipment from other parties, but would rather deal with France.
President Macron also pledged to invest in Benin’s education sector and a new French cultural centre. He spoke of his desire to support Benin’s quest to become “an example of development” in west Africa.
Regarding education, Macron vowed to increase French funding and sign partnerships between academic institutions in the two countries, covering subjects ranging from the arts to vocational training.
President Talon said the two countries would partner to develop an “artistic hotspot” in Cotonou, Benin’s commercial capital. The hotspot will feature an equivalent to the Villa Medici, a French Mannerist villa and architectural complex in Rome.
Sources: Reuters, Swiss Info, France 24.