This report seeks to better understand how external developments explain and incentivise violence in Northern Benin. It asks the following question: How have the developments in Benin’s neighbouring countries impacted the security situation in Alibori and Atacora (the Northern Provinces of Benin) since the end of 2021? The report makes five observations.

The security situation in Northern Benin has worsened since the end of 2021. There have been three main changes: From December 2021 to March 2022 there was a ‘Maginot Line’ along the border to protect against incursions. From April to June 2022, an emerging security vacuum emerged as JNIM pushed through the border leading to the FAB withdrawal and from July to August 2022 VEOs took control of the Parks and their surroundings. By September 2022, the presence of ISGS also became clear;
This report finds that recent developments in Benin to date, are to a large extent driven by security developments and changing strategies of groups outside of Benin, most notably in Burkina Faso. From the end of 2021, the main JNIM group operating around Kompienga has been expanding in all directions (including in Ghana and Togo) and has progressively taken control of part of Benin. The goal seems to be to create a larger buffer zone stretching from Niger into Togo;
Interestingly, potential rationales for both JNIM operations in Northern Benin and ISGS’ open presence in Benin point to reasons that have far less to do with Northern Benin than one might expect from the worsened situation. JNIM might be motivated by military strategic objectives in Burkina Faso, protection against military coordination under the Accra Initiative or it may be seeking to create a supply zone for its Burkinabe operations. ISGS could be motivated by a response to the open JNIM presence in Alibori – a zone where ISGS has had some presence – or by seeking to link up with groups in Nigeria or preventing JNIM from doing so.
While they are difficult to really pin down, these motivations suggest that Benin is presently merely a theatre for VEO operations whose real goals, so far, lie outside of Benin. As such, this report provides a corrective to the idea that Benin’s many local tensions and communal conflicts (both of which are real and very troubling) are inherently going to lead to instability (as they are exploited by VEOs). While there are great problems within Northern Benin that need to be urgently addressed, this report suggests that driving forces outside Benin presently have a greater bearing than those that exist within Benin itself. However, it is likely that these internal drivers will gain in prominence and likely take over outside drivers in the future (some recent incidents suggest these micro-processes are unfolding).
The key implication of this report is that more programming is needed in two fields: a) there is a need to better understand security developments in the Sahel and how they affect Benin, followed by programming that responds to these security developments. This might take the form of seeking to improve relations between countries and their militaries and providing strategic advice for military operations (The recent Accra Meeting on November 22 speak to this concern – provided that it leads to real coordination); b) there is a need to engage in programmes that cross the divide between the Littorals and the Sahel (rather than only cross-Littoral programming). This could take the form of multi-country programmes to improve community relations, to address customary justice provision, to improve ethnic/religious collaboration etc. This is not meant to take anything away from programming that addresses the root causes of instability in the Littorals; local tensions are the fuel that allows the fire to spread from the Sahel. But in order to be more effective, we also need more complementary and comprehensive programming that looks at West Africa as one region rather than Sahel and Littoral Islands.