May 26, 2024

Benin civil crisis posing tri-border region security threat

A platoon lieutenant from Benin engages in a training exercise to combat civil threats, discussing tasks using a sand table diagram.

A platoon lieutenant from Benin engages in a training exercise to combat civil threats, discussing tasks using a sand table diagram.

In early May, approximately 100 individuals on motorcycles, armed with weapons, caused the deaths of 18 innocent people in Kaobagou, which is been touted as the Benin civil crisis. This incident occurred near the tri-border region shared by Togo and Burkina Faso.

According to witnesses, 15 people were tragically killed by having their throats cut, with one of the bodies also being rigged with a self-made explosive device. Additionally, 12 residents of the village are currently unaccounted for. All of the individuals affected were youthful males.

The Netherlands Institute for International Relations Clingendael reported that there have been ten occurrences of violence initiated by extremist groups or fueled by inter-community tensions in Kaobagou since February 3. Kaobagou is a region that falls within the authority of the Kérou commune.

Violence in the area has persisted without pause. The day following the tragic Kaobagou incident, three innocent individuals lost their lives, their throats brutally slit, while another individual was forcefully taken away in the neighboring village of Guimbagou.

Requesting the Assistance of Civilians

After the Kaobagou attack, the Beninese government urged civilians to promptly inform authorities about any unusual behavior or concerns.

According to Jannine Ella Abatan, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, the Beninese government has long used the Beninese Agency for Integrated Space Management to enhance security and foster growth in border regions.

The organization offers social support services aimed at strengthening the bond between the defense and security forces and the community, while also discouraging local residents from joining violent extremist organizations.

Additionally, Benin has introduced community policing and its armed forces engage with the public through the provision of healthcare services to local communities. This allows individuals to get acquainted with locals and helps foster collaboration and communication with security forces by encouraging them to report any potential threats.

The Togolese government has appealed to its citizens to assist in countering the expansion of violent extremist organizations from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea. In 2019, Togo formed the Inter-ministerial Committee for the Prevention and Combating of Violent Extremism, as pointed out by Abatan.

Similar to Benin, Togo has witnessed a rise in acts of violence targeting civilians. In early February, a total of 31 innocent individuals lost their lives in Tola and Gningou villages of Togo’s Savanes region due to targeted assaults.

According to a statement from the Togolese government, the committee has been assigned the responsibility of completely eliminating or greatly decreasing the dissemination of violent extremism across Togo. Additionally, it aims to strengthen cooperation and partnership among the administration, defense and security forces, and civil society.

The Togolese military is carrying out Operation Koundjoaré with the aim of increasing security along the border shared with Burkina Faso. The task involves offering complimentary medical consultations to the community as a way to motivate their engagement in intelligence operations.

Ensuring the Protection of Civilians

Abatan argued that in order to maintain the support of their people, it is crucial for Benin and Togo to ensure the safety of civilians amidst the rising number of attacks. Extremists have issued threats against civilians who assist state forces and their allies, warning of future retaliatory acts.

Abatan emphasized the importance of security forces being unwavering in their commitment to safeguarding their sources. Additionally, Abatan suggested that security forces should engage in conversations with civilians in order to enhance the state’s ability to effectively address the needs of communities.

“As the threat evolves, the impact of the various responses on civilians must be continually assessed so that necessary adjustments can be made,” Abatan wrote. “This will enable Benin and Togo’s authorities to be responsive to people’s needs and guarantee their safety — an essential recipe for long-term collaboration between the state and its people.”