A two-day community dialogue took place this week in Natitingou, located in the northwestern region of Benin. Organized by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GITOC), it brought together participants from the municipalities of Tanguiéta and Matéri, including religious leaders, village chiefs, representatives of youth and women’s associations, herders, and farmers.
Following a pattern seen in other coastal countries, the primary aim was to contemplate the impact of illicit economies on these communities, and their connections to terrorism, and to devise solutions to address these challenges.
Participants discussed topics such as smuggling, the sale of fuel outside of service stations, and corruption. Around twenty individuals from two municipalities in Atakora, which shares borders with Burkina Faso and Togo and is home to the Pendjari National Park, a northern department in Benin that has witnessed several terrorist attacks since May 2019.
The objective, as outlined by Abdel Aziz Mossi, a teacher and the facilitator of this community resilience dialogue, was to educate the participants, including religious leaders, village chiefs, and representatives of various associations, about the illicit activities taking place in their localities.
The dialogue aimed to highlight the links between these activities, conflicts, and violent extremism, and provide tools to address them.
“If we don’t put a stop to these issues, people become impoverished, and the state suffers,” one participant emphasized. He plans to create small groups upon his return to his community to raise awareness and “sever the link to violence.”
However, another participant acknowledged that, in addition to open discussions, addressing illicit economies that facilitate the arrival of individuals from rural areas requires alternative economic opportunities. He called upon the government to take measures to improve the lives of citizens and prevent them from succumbing to the temptations of terrorists.