Tensions rise between Benin, Niger over oil exports, border closure

Tensions between Benin and Niger flared up again this week after Benin detained five Nigerien nationals for allegedly entering a key oil pipeline terminal under false pretences. The arrests further complicate a dispute over crude oil exports from Niger via Benin.

Benin’s special prosecutor, Mario Metonou, accused the detainees of entering the Seme-Kpodji pipeline terminal clandestinely and claimed at least two were agents of Niger’s military junta. He suggested their motives were linked to potential threats against Benin’s security.

Niger’s government vehemently denies the accusations. Oil Minister Mahamane Moustapha Barke Bako stated the arrested individuals were inspectors overseeing a crude oil shipment, fulfilling an agreement with Benin.

This incident underscores the ongoing friction between the two West African neighbors. In May, Benin blocked Niger’s crude oil exports through its port, demanding Niger reopen its borders to Beninese goods and normalize relations. This move jeopardized Niger’s plan to export oil through the pipeline under a deal with China National Petroleum Corp.

While a temporary solution allowed one shipment in May, a long-term agreement remains elusive. Niger has now referred the issue to a regional arbitration court.

The roots of the conflict lie in Niger’s July 2023 coup. Regional sanctions imposed on Niger in response to the coup have since been lifted, but Niger’s continued border closure on Benin’s goods remains a sticking point.

The dispute threatens to disrupt trade flows in the region and stall Niger’s oil export plans. Resolving the underlying political tensions and reaching a sustainable agreement on border trade is crucial to ensuring smooth oil exports and regional stability.

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