Benin closes river crossing with Niger in escalating trade tensionsThu, 23 May 2024 15:19:08 GMT

Benin has blocked crossings of the river that marks the border with neighbouring Niger, sources told AFP on Thursday, in an escalation of tensions since the military seized power in Niamey last July.Earlier this year Benin announced it was reopening its side of the border, which was shut following the coup.It remained officially closed on the Niger side, but until now Benin had turned a blind eye to the informal transit to Niger of foodstuffs, particularly grains, by boat across the Niger River as a way to show solidarity with its neighbour.The two countries have engaged in increasing tit-for-tat accusations over the movement of goods in recent weeks.Relations over the border are also complicated by a spillover from expanding jihadist conflicts in Niger and Burkina Faso that increasingly threaten Benin and its Gulf of Guinea neighbours Ghana and Togo.  Benin had announced the opening of its border when the West African bloc ECOWAS lifted sanctions on Niger’s military rulers in February.But the border’s continued closure on the Niger side has irritated Beninese President Patrice Talon, who said Niger was treating them like “an enemy”.A source close to the Benin government confirmed the river crossing had now been closed.”The river is part of the border. Niger says its borders with Benin are closed. It’s a consequence,” the source told AFP.”With the flow of people on the river and the boats whose loading no one controls, if a tragedy occurs it won’t be good.”According to a Benin military official in the town of Malanville, a police officer in the area and residents who spoke to AFP, the Malanville bridge which provides the border crossing between the two countries remains closed on the Niger side, but the transport of goods across the Niger River is also now prohibited.  “The suspension was gradual. We first banned the passage of goods, now there is no more traffic on the water,” a military official told AFP on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.”We have been deployed to prevent any boarding here.” A Malanville resident, who only gave a first name, Alassane, said there was now a large deployment of Benin police and troops in the area.Several Malanville residents told AFP that Nigeriens were dispersed by troops on the other side as they could not cross the river.The closure of the river traffic is the latest in a series of decisions impacting trade between the two countries.Talon blamed informal border trafficking for the increase in the cost of living in Benin, which last month triggered a protest over high costs.Earlier this month, Benin said it would allow exports of Nigerien oil through its port of Seme, in a resolution of one of their points of dispute. A first vessel loaded with one million barrels of crude oil left Benin’s waters on Sunday, the government said, warning the move was “provisional”. As the tensions continue, Benin and regional powerhouse Nigeria have been holding talks to boost trade along their shared border.The border was closed off overnight in 2019 by former Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, a shutdown that lasted 18 months and choked Benin’s economy.