A coffee break is an ideal meeting time for someone as quietly frenetic as Frannie Léautier. At the end of a long day of her virtual meetings ... in several different time zones, we connect via the ubiquitous Zoom, sipping our East African coffee as we work through my lengthy roster of questions.
According to our information, Aliko Dangote invited on September 12 the Beninese ministers Romuald Wadagni (Economy) and Aurélien Agbénonci (Foreign Affairs) to a meeting to discuss this thorny issue.
For the occasion, the Nigerian billionaire provided them with a private jet, which took them directly to Lagos.
In recent months, discussions have come to a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Dangote, who offered his good offices to Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Patrice Talon, then regularly received members of the Beninese government.
Change of tone
This mediation is a sign of a change in the tone of the businessman, who has the ear of the Nigerian president. He has indeed been, in the past, a strong advocate of a hard line vis-à-vis Cotonou.
“No country can survive with a neighbour like Benin,” he had even said on July 8, 2019, at a roundtable on growth of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). While cement exports from the Dangote group to Benin were blocked, Dangote also claimed to be a victim of sugar smuggling into Nigeria.
He said Abuja would “take drastic measures”.
A month later, Muhammadu Buhari unilaterally announced the closure of the land border without first informing the Beninese government.
The Nigerian authorities then explained that they wanted to put an end to the massive smuggling between the two countries, particularly of rice, while Abuja has embarked on a rice development program.
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