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Africa

AU warns Mali crisis may spread

Benin president and chairman of the African Union (AU) Thomas Boni Yayi has called on Germany to be more proactive in Mali crisis. But Berlin says it will not be sending in combat troops.

Benin's president and African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi has been tirelessly trying to persuade Africans, Europeans and the United Nations to commit themselves to the liberation of northern Mali from the Islamists. Although France has already launched a military offensive in Mali, Bon Yayi, who is currently visiting Germany, wants NATO to consider a military operation in the West African country similar to its intervention in Afghanistan.

Boni Yayi's task is to represent the African Union abroad. The 54 member states rotate this position annually and this weekend (26/27. 01.2013) the president of Benin hands the post over to Ethiopia.

Burkina's President Blaise Compaore (C) together with Benin's President Boni Yayi (L) and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara. (Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Benin will shortly hand over the post of AU chair to Ethiopia

Elke Erlecke, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank, in Cotonou, Benin, says Boni Yayi saw himself, as the chairman of the AU, "promoting stability and security."

Benin's stability

Boni Yahi, 61-year-old trained economist, is worried about the situation in Mali and his own country as well. The distance from Benin's border to Mali is just 500 kilometers. Benin's commercial hub, Cotonou, lies only 1,000 kilometers away.

Cotonouharbor is of strategically importance for the Islamists. "For weapons and drugs smuggling," says Elke Erlecke. It is also on the route to Europe.

Fear of radicalization

African Union head office in Addis Ababa. Foto: Carola Frentzen dpa

Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union.

It is not just the geographical proximity to Mali that is encouraging Benin's President to search for a solution to the crisis. He fears that radicalization is also developing in his own country. One out of four people in Benin is Muslim.

Even though they practice a moderate Islam, there are still concerns. The Muslims live in the north of the country where unemployment is high, energy prices are skyrocketing and inflation rampant.

These are the same factors that are said to have contributed to the violence in Nigeria blamed on the Islamist sect Boko Haram.

Sadikou Alao heads the Benin-based think tank GERDDES-Afrique, a research group that focuses on democracy, economy and social development in Africa. He says there are links between his own country and the crisis in Mali.

"Some reports say Beninese are among the leaders of the Islamist groups. This is not only a Malian problem," Alao told DW. The rebels who have entrenched themselves in the Malian desert, come from all parts of Africa.

"Benin is no exception," Alao said.

COTONOU, BENIN - (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Cotonou, lies only 1,000 kilometers away from Mali.

Problems of the military

President Yayi was able to convince his fellow Beninese and the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) to send troops to Mali. He recently increased the number of Beninese troops in the ECOWAS contingent from 300 to 650. That is about one-seventh of the Beninese army. Like any African country, the Beninese army is not particularly powerful, says Sadikou Alao.

"Benin's army is not different to that of many other African states. They are trained to maintain order at home, not to wage war abroad."

Boni Yayi also has to contend with the problems of domestic politics. His fight against corruption and nepotism is not always well received by his people. He is often blamed for rising prices in the poverty-stricken country.

Domestic politics

Boni Yayi appeared to be a beacon of hope when he was first elected president in 2006. "The problem was that he wasn't familiar with the workings of politics in the country and he has still yet to grasp things," says Erlecke.

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