BENIN president Thomas Boni Yayi said increased efforts to reduce youth joblessness in African nations blighted by poverty is key to cutting off a recruitment channel for Islamist militants.
“Youth unemployment is a time bomb, not just for Benin but other countries, and that’s why we need to settle this issue of terrorism,” Boni Yayi said in an interview in Washington on Thursday.
Militants “recruit young people, give them petty cash, have them carry bombs and weapons, and tell them when they die they go to paradise. And they believe this.”
Benin, one of the world’s poorest nations, will contribute as many as 800 troops to a multinational military force to fight Boko Haram, which has been waging a six-year insurgency in Nigeria to carve out a state ruled by its harsh version of Islamic law.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and its largest population with about 175 million people.
Benin, bordering western Nigeria, has so far avoided incursions from Boko Haram as the group has stepped up attacks from its base in northeast Nigeria. It’s been more fortunate than Nigeria’s other neighbours—Cameroon, Chad and Niger—which have faced cross-border assaults, drawing them into a regional force trying to end the insurgency.
“We have decided to send 750 to 800 men as a contribution to the task force,” said Boni Yayi. “For the moment Benin is not yet affected, but all the same we’re sharing the border with Nigeria, 800 kilometers, and we are concerned by what is happening.”
No third term
The 63-year-old leader, who has ruled the nation since 2006, said he will respect a constitutional two-term limit and won’t run again, stepping down after elections next year. Efforts to extend term limits by African leaders this year have spurred unrest in countries from Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi.
Boni Yayi on Wednesday signed a $375 million deal with the U.S. to invest in mostly power projects, in the country’s second, five-year Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, an aid programme that rewards nations that demonstrate good governance.
Benin’s government has taken steps to clamp down on corruption following the embezzlement of about $5 million of donor funds that led the Netherlands to suspend aid in July, said Boni Yayi.
The funding freeze may be lifted in “weeks or months” in recognition of Benin’s efforts to find the culprits and ensure they will be prosecuted, he said.
“It was an incident that was an exception to the rule,” said Boni Yayi.