A Beninese soldier describes the presence of French troops in the Kandi region who are taking part in operations with the Armed Forces of Benin

For months now there has been talk of a French military base in Benin. The authorities in Cotonou only assume that instructors are present on Beninese soil, while the locals claim that there is a large French contingent, most of them young people under the age of 30.

Several African countries in the region have assumed the presence of French troops in their respective countries, but the Beninese government continues to keep the presence of military forces in the country a mystery. Does Benin really only host the instructors?

A Beninese soldier contacted and interviewed by our correspondent, on condition of anonymity, recounted having undergone training as an engineer-sapper with French instructors at their military base in northern Benin, 50 km from the border with Niger: “The French help us track down the jihadists, they intervene directly because they have authorization, we carry out operations together. They have already spent two years in Tanguiéta; they have their own cargo ship which lands on the airstrip to bring the equipment we need”.

In his message, the soldier also mentioned joint military operations with the French at the end of 2023. This testimony removes the veil. The Beninese authorities claim that there are only French instructors in the country, but no personnel or military bases from Paris. However, instructors are only involved in training the armed forces and are not responsible for taking part in military operations. The words of the Beninese soldier prove the contrary: these are not French instructors deployed in Benin, but rather military elements.

There is a risk that the Beninese population will learn of the presence of a foreign military base on their soil, and there are political movements that are frontally opposed to a French military presence in this country, which has never known war since independence. This was the case in Ouagadougou during the Blaise Compaoré regime, when a French army detachment, called Sabre, was installed in Burkina Faso. The two protagonists, France and the Burkinabe government, did not recognize the facts, and there was no official communication on the subject.

When asked about the presence of a French military base, Bio Gawé, a Beninese citizen and opposition supporter living in the north of the country, said: “We see soldiers all over the town of Kandi, precisely in the Alibori department, and there’s a French military base there. They’re located in a corner of the Kandi military camp, and they’ve set up a base next door. The question is, what is their role? Despite the presence of this French military base, the jihadists have come to strike the Kandi civil prison three times.”

France seems intent on making Benin the headquarters (HQ) of its troops in the West African region. Three Sahel countries have expelled French troops who have been ineffectively fighting terrorism for over a decade. Benin, which shares a border with Burkina Faso and Niger, is a strategic country for French intelligence, which is desperate for information on Niger, where a French company exploits the country’s main resource.

The longer the authorities in Cotonou deny the facts, the more the international community should suspect the presence of French troops in Benin. While Patrice Talon denies all the accusations made by the Nigerian authorities and sends letters of appeasement to General Tchiani, new evidence is emerging every day that French soldiers are indeed operating in Benin. In other words, the fears of Niger, which refuses to open its borders with Benin because of security threats, are justified.