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Macron pledges French support in Benin for security, culture and education

by FRANCE 24
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world news French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to support Benin by investing in security, education and a new French cultural centre in a joint press conference with Benin’s President Patrice Talon in Cotonou on Wednesday. Macron’s visit to the west African nation comes after French opposition lawmakers warned of an “alarming” increase in human rights abuses in Benin.

Macron’s visit to Benin is the second stop of a three-nation tour of west African states. The four-day tour, ending in Guinea-Bissau Thursday, marks Macron’s first trip to Africa in his new term as French president as he seeks to reboot France’s postcolonial relationship with the continent. 

Macron spoke of an “unprecedented partnership” between France and Benin during the joint press conference and a desire to support plans to turn Benin into an “example of development” in west Africa.

Talon and Macron announced plans for further collaboration through investments in security, education and culture in Benin.

On the security front, France could deliver drones and more sophisticated weapons to Benin to help it tackle a worsening Islamist insurgency that is threatening the region, said Macron.

Benin, alongside Gulf of Guinea states Togo and Ivory Coast, has seen increasing attacks from militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State group as violence spreads south from the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

A new French strategy is to help the countries strengthen their armies, provide support and allow them to take the lead in operations on the ground.

Macron said France was already providing Benin with intelligence, training support and other civilian aid to help develop areas that are vulnerable to jihadist threats.

Macron pledged to deliver vehicles, de-mining equipment, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment soon.

Talon said that Benin was hoping for more because the fight against terrorism has become one of the country’s major challenges, and could hurt its economy.

“Unfortunately, we have so far not managed to convince French military authorities on certain aspects of military cooperation, particularly the supply of equipment, but I salute France’s support on intelligence and training,” Talon said.

“We need weapons,” Talon said, adding that the country had the financial means to acquire the equipment from third parties but would prefer to deal with France.

In the field of education, Macron pledged to increase French funding and sign partnerships between schools and universities in the two countries covering various subjects from the arts to vocational training.

Cultural development was also high on the agenda.

The French president was lauded for championing the return in 2021 of more than a dozen artefacts looted from Benin by French colonial forces in 1892, soothing a source of friction between Paris and its former colony.

Talon said the two countries would develop an “artistic hotspot” in Cotonou including the opening of an equivalent to the Villa Medici, a French cultural institution in Rome.

Letter from opposition lawmakersMacron’s visit comes after 75 French opposition lawmakers on Tuesday wrote a letter to the president drawing attention to the “alarming” situation of political prisoners in Benin amid a crackdown by the Talon administration on opposition figures.

02:58

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) meets with Benin’s President Patrice Talon at the presidential palace during an official visit in Cotonou on July 27, 2022. © Ludovic Marin, AFP Talon denied that the country was holding political prisoners. “In Benin no one is in prison for political reasons, they are in prison because they have committed crimes for political reasons,” he said.

He maintained that these crimes “should be punished” and chastised the media for focusing on when prisoners would be freed.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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